The Immortal Rules, Page 8Julie Kagawa
One night I woke up, alone as usual, and wandered down the hall to Kanin's office, only to find him gone. A note sat in the middle of the desk in neat, spidery handwriting: Down on the lowest floor. Practice patterns 1-6 on your own. You've learned all I can teach you about vampire society. -K.
A strange f lutter went through my stomach. This was it.
Kanin was absent, and tonight I could do what I wanted. I wouldn't get a better chance.
I left the office and walked to the reception area with my katana, as the note instructed me to do. But I didn't stop there. Without pausing to think, I hurried to the elevator shaft, grasped the cables and pulled myself up the tube as fast as I could go.
On the surface, the sun had just set over the jagged horizon, and the sky was dark blue with bloodred clouds. It had been a long time since I'd seen anything but darkness and night, and for a brief moment I stared at the splashes of color across the sky, marveling at how quickly I'd forgotten what a sunset looked like.
So you're going to stand there gaping at some pretty clouds like a moron until Kanin finds you outside, then? With an annoyed mental slap, I wrenched my gaze from the horizon and hurried away from the hospital, not daring to look back.
I felt a strange thrill, creeping through the shadows and alley ways on my own, the same feeling I'd gotten while exploring beyond the wall: excited and terrified at the same time. I wasn't supposed to be out here. There was no doubt in my mind that Kanin was going to be pissed, but it was too late to worry about that now. I'd been planning this moment for days, and I needed to discover some things for myself. Besides, he couldn't keep me in that old hospital forever, like some sort of prison guard. Before we'd met, I went where I wanted when I wanted, and no one could stop me. I wasn't going to start submitting now, just because some moody, evasive vampire told me I had to forget.
I slipped through the sectors, remembering the paths Kanin had used but also my own knowledge from when I was a Fringer. It was much easier, now that I was dead, to move like a ghost through the darkness, to be able to leap onto the roof of a two-story building to avoid the guards, to freeze and become part of the stones and shadows. Unseen and unheard, I crept through the streets, weaving around buildings, until I reached a familiar chain-link fence. Slipping under the links, I crossed the empty lot quickly and walked into the shadowy halls of my old home.
It seemed much emptier than before, silent and deserted.
I found my old locker, opened it with a creak and sighed.
Empty, as I'd feared. The scavengers had already found this place.
Half heartedly, I walked toward my old room, knowing I'd probably find it stripped clean. It never took long for scavengers to move in; I only hoped that maybe they'd left a certain crate alone, having no use for something that could get them killed.
I turned the knob, swung open the door and stepped inside, not realizing until too late that someone was already there.
A body looked up from where it crouched in the corner, leaning against the wall. I started, automatically going for my sword, thinking for one terrifying moment that it was Kanin.
It wasn't, but it was another vampire, a lean, bony male with white skin and a head as bald as an egg. He smiled, showing perfect teeth, and the moonlight shining through the broken windows fell across his pale features and the vivid web of scars slashed across his face.
"Evening, little bird. " His voice, soft, raspy and somehow very, very wrong, made me shiver. "Out for a midnight f light, on wings of blood and pain? Like razor blades across the moon, they cut the night and make the sky bleed red. " He chuckled, sending chills down my back. I drew away, and the stranger cocked his head at me. "Oh, don't mind me, love.
I get a little poetic sometimes. The moonlight does that to me. " He shook himself, as if shaking off the crazy, and rose to his feet.
I noticed the book in his long, bony hands, then, and stepped forward. "Hey! What are you doing with that? Those are mine. "
"Are they?" The vamp moved, coming away from the wall.
I tensed, but he only crossed the room to set the book gently on a shelf. "Then perhaps you should have taken better care of them, love," he purred, staring at me with soulless black eyes. "The rats here were using them to keep their skinny hides warm. "
He nodded to the corner. I looked over and saw a pair of human bodies sprawled out on my old mattress, pinched and ragged-looking-the scavengers that had moved in. From their unnatural stillness and the scent of old blood, they were obviously dead. I looked closer and saw their throats were gone, the skin around them dark and stained, as if they'd been torn out. Horror crept over me, and I nearly f led the room, away from the vampire who was truly a monster.
But there was a spot on the cement f loor next to the mattress that was blackened and charred, and I had to know what it was. As I studied the remains of book pages, scattered among the ashes, my heart sank. All that time, all that work, and in the end my collection had been burned to keep two strangers warm.
The strange vampire chuckled. "They won't need words now," he mused. "Not to read, not to burn, not to nibble on.
Always nibbling, the rats. Creeping into dark places to get warm, spreading their filth. No more words for them. No more anything. " He chuckled again, the empty sound making my skin crawl.
I resisted the urge to draw my weapon. He wasn't making any threatening moves, but I felt as if I was standing close to a coiled, venomous snake. "Who are you?" I asked, and his blank gaze switched to me. "What's your business in New Covington?"
"Just looking for something, little bird. " Another of his eerie smiles, and this time his fangs showed, just the tips.
"And if you want my name, you'll have to give me yours. It's only polite, and we're a polite society, after all. " I hesitated. For whatever reason, I did not want this creepy bloodsucker to know my name. Not that I was worried that he would report it to the Prince who, according to Kanin, did not instantly know the name of every vampire in the whole city, especially the Type-3 riffraff. The Prince was concerned only about those in his immediate circle; the common vampires were below his notice.
But I did not want this vampire to know me, because I knew, somehow, that he would remember, and that seemed like a very bad idea.
"No?" The vampire smiled at my silence, unsurprised. "Not going to tell me? I guess I can't blame you. I am a stranger and all. But you'll have to forgive me if I don't disclose my identity, then. Can't be too careful these days. "
"I want you to leave," I told him, feigning a bravado I really didn't feel. "This is my sector, my hunting grounds. I want you out. Right now. "
He gave me a long, eerie stare, as if sizing me up. He was perfectly still, but I could sense those tendons coiling beneath his pale skin, ready to unleash. And suddenly, I was terrified of this stranger. This thin, motionless vampire whose eyes were as dark and soulless as Kanin's. My hands shook, and I crossed my arms to hide them, knowing the stranger would see the smallest detail. I knew I stood in the presence of a killer.
Finally, he smiled. "Of course," he said, nodding as he stepped away, and my knees nearly buckled with relief. "Terribly sorry, love. Didn't mean to intrude. I'll be leaving now. " He stepped aside, moving toward the door, but paused, giving me a thoughtful stare. "Little bird, your song is so different than his," he crooned, to my utter confusion. "Don't disappoint me. "
I didn't say anything. I just held his gaze, hoping he would go away. The vampire gave me one last terrible smile, then turned and vanished through the door. I listened for his footsteps, walking away, but heard nothing.
The world seemed to breathe again. I waited several minutes, unmoving, wanting the creepy vampire to get as far away as he could, before I finally strode to the open crate, lying against the wall, and peered inside.
Two books. That was all that was left. Two books out of a lifetime of effort, and neither was the one t
I sank to my knees, feeling my throat close up, my stomach twisting. For a moment, I wished the two greedy scavengers were still alive so I could hurt them, make them feel the same pain. I had nothing left now, nothing to remind me of my past. My mom's book, the only thing I had to remember her by, was lost forever.
I didn't cry. Numbly, I pulled myself to my feet and turned away, stif ling my anger and despair, letting cold indifference settle over me. Loss was nothing new. Those two strangers only had done what anyone would to survive. Nothing lasted in this world; it was everyone for himself. Allie the Fringer knew that; Allison the vampire just needed the reminder.
I left the school without looking back. There was nothing there for me anymore, and I was already putting it from my mind, shoving it down into the deepest parts where I kept all the memories I didn't want to remember. You don't dwell on what you've lost, you just move on. The night was waning, and I had something else to do, one more piece of my past to check on, before Kanin discovered I was missing.
I made my way to the old warehouse with a growing sense of urgency. Slipping inside the building, I scanned the room and the boxes in the center of the rubble piles, looking for a familiar face. It seemed most of the gang had returned already, for there were about a half-dozen young people bunched together around the fire, talking and laughing. I looked closely at each of them, but Stick was not among them.
And then I saw him, huddled off to the side, his thin frame curled around himself. He was shivering, hunched over and miserable, and I felt a f lare of anger and disgust. Anger for these people who shunned him, who weren't taking care of their own, who would let him slowly die from starvation and cold right in front of them. But I also felt a sudden contempt toward Stick, who still hadn't learned to take care of himself, who was still relying on others to save him, when it was obvious that they didn't care.
Quietly, I made my way through the rubble, keeping to the shadows, until Stick was just a few yards away. He looked even thinner than usual, a near-skeleton of a boy with pinched skin and greasy hair and dull, dead eyes.
"Stick," I whispered, casting a quick glance toward the group by the fire. They all had their backs to me, or to Stick, more likely, and didn't notice us. "Stick! Over here! Look this way!"
He jerked and raised his head. For a few seconds, he looked confused, gazing around blearily, his eyes staring right through my hiding spot. But then I waved to him, and his eyes nearly bugged out of his head.
"Shh!" I hissed, drawing back into the shadows as some of the gang members half turned their heads, frowning. I gestured for him to follow, but he just sat there, staring at me as if I was a ghost.
In a sense, I suppose I was.
"You're alive," he whispered, but his voice lacked the excitement, the relief, I was expecting. It sounded dull, almost accusing, though he wore a confused expression. "You shouldn't be alive. The rabids. . . I heard. . . " He shuddered violently, curling into himself. "You didn't come back," he said, and now there was a definite note of accusation in his voice.
"You didn't come back for me. I thought you were dead, and you left me alone. "
"I didn't have a choice," I said through gritted teeth. "Believe me, I would have come here sooner if I could, but I didn't know you were alive, either. I thought the rabids got you, like Rat and Lucas. "
He shook his head. "I went back home and waited for you, but you never came. I stayed there, alone, for days. Where were you? Where have you been all this time?" He sounded like a pensive toddler, and my frustration in-creased. "Near an old hospital in Sector Two," I snapped,
"but that doesn't matter now. I came here to see if you're all right, if you're taking care of yourself. "
"What do you care?" Stick muttered, fiddling with his tattered sleeve. His watery gaze eyed my coat and narrowed darkly. "You never really cared what happened to me. You always wanted me gone. You and everyone else. That's why you never came back. "
I swallowed a growl, barely. "I'm here now, aren't I?"
"But you're not staying, are you?" Stick looked up at me, his eyes hooded. "You're going to leave again, leave me alone with these people. They hate me. Just like Rat and Lucas did.
You hated me, too. "
"I didn't, but you're sure pushing me in that direction," I grumbled. This was crazy. I had never seen Stick like this and had no idea where the sullen rage was coming from. "God, Stick, stop being a baby. You can take care of yourself. You don't need me around to look after you, I've always told you that. "
"Then. . . you're
not staying. " Stick's voice trembled, and his anger melted away into real panic. "Allie, please. I'm sorry!
I was just scared when you didn't come back. " He scrambled forward, pleading, and I cast a nervous look at the group around the fire. "Please, don't go," Stick begged. "Stay with us. This place isn't so bad, really. Kyle won't mind another person, especially someone like you. "
"Stick. " I shushed him with a sharp gesture, and he fell silent, his eyes still begging me to stay. "I can't," I told him, and his expression crumpled. "I wish I could, but I can't. I'm. . .
different now. I can't be seen aboveground. So you'll have to survive without me. "
"Why?" Stick crept forward. His chin trembled; he was near tears. "Why can't you just stay? Do you hate me that much? Am I that pathetic, that you can just leave me alone to die?"
"Stop being dramatic. " I half turned, embarrassed and angry, both at myself and him. Kanin was right, I should never have come here. "You're not helpless," I said. "You've been Unregistered just as long as me. It's time you learned to fend for yourself. I can't help you anymore. "
"No, that's not a reason," Stick protested. "There's something you're not telling me. "
"You don't want to know. "
"Why are you keeping secrets? Don't you trust me? We never kept anything from each other before. "
"Stick, leave it alone. "
"I thought we were friends," he insisted, leaning forward.
"No one here likes me, no one understands me like you. I thought you were dead! But now you're back, and you won't tell me what's going on. "
"All right!" I turned to face him fully, narrowing my gaze.
"All right, you really want to know why?" And before he could answer, before I could ref lect on the absolute stupidity of my actions, I opened my mouth and bared my fangs.
Stick went so pale, I thought he would faint. "Don't scream," I told him urgently, retracting my fangs, knowing it had been a mistake the second I showed him. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm still me, just. . . different now. "
"You're a vampire," Stick whispered, as if he'd just figured it out. "A vampire. "
"Yeah. " I shrugged. "I was pulled down by rabids and would've died, but a vampire happened to be in the area and Turned me instead. But the other vamps are looking for us now, that's why I can't stay. I don't want them to come after you, too. "
But Stick was edging away, every muscle in his body tight with fear. "Stick," I tried again, holding out my hand. "It's still me. Come on, I'm not going to bite you or anything. "
"Stay away from me!" Stick's frantic cry finally roused the others around the fire, and they looked toward us, muttering and rising to their feet. I felt my lips curl back, my fangs lengthen, even as I gave my old friend one last, desperate look.
"Stick, don't do this. "
"Vampire!" he shrieked and lunged backward, sprawling in the dirt. "Vampire, over here! Get away from me! Help!
I growled and drew back as the group around the fire leaped to their feet, shouting and cursing. Stick half ran, half crawled back to the fire, shouting and pointing in my direction, and the rest of the camp exploded into terrified chaos.
Screams of "Vampire" echoed through the warehouse as the small group of Unregistereds scattered to every corner of the room, diving thr
ough windows and shoving each other aside to escape. Stick gave one last cry and f led into the darkness, out of sight.
The noise from the panicked Unregistereds was almost deafening, stirring something primal within, something that urged me to give chase, to slip into the crowd and start tearing out throats. For just a moment, I watched the humans scramble to escape a predator they didn't even see, who could kill them before they knew it was there. I could sense the terror, smell the hot blood and sweat and fear, and it took all my willpower to turn away, to draw back into the shadows and leave them alone. They f led before me, but in the mass confusion, I slipped through a window, and I didn't look back until the howls and screams of terror had faded into the night.
He was sitting at the office desk when I crept back down the elevator shaft into the hospital. I didn't see him in the reception area or the halls, and thought I was home free as I tiptoed back to my room. But then I passed his office door.
"Did you enjoy your time with your friend?" I winced, freezing midstep. Kanin sat behind the desk with a stack of files, scanning another document. He didn't look up as I slipped warily into the room.
"I had to," I told him softly. "I had to know if he was all right. "
"And how did that work out for you?"
I swallowed hard, and Kanin finally put down the paper, watching me with unreadable black eyes.
"Did he scream?" he asked calmly. "Did he curse you and f lee in terror? Or was he 'understanding' and promised nothing would change, only you could see how terrified he was?" I didn't answer, and Kanin's mouth twitched in a humorless smirk. "I'm guessing there was screaming and running. "
"You knew," I accused. "You knew I would go after him. "
"You aren't the most pliable student in the world. " Kanin didn't sound amused or angry or resigned. He just stated it as a fact. "Yes, I knew, eventually, you would seek out the last remnants of your old life. Everyone does. You aren't one to listen to advice you don't agree with-you had to see it for yourself. That said. . . " His voice went cold, and his eyes glittered in that blank, terrifying stare. "Our time together is drawing to a close. If you disobey me again, I will take that as a sign that you don't need a teacher any longer. Is that un-derstood?"
I nodded, and Kanin's expression softened, even if his voice did not. "What did the boy say?" he asked. "After you showed him?"
"Nothing," I said miserably. "He just screamed 'vampire'
and ran. After everything I did for the ungrateful little. . . " I stumbled to a halt, not wanting to think about it, but Kanin raised his eyebrows, silently telling me to go on. "I knew him for years," I growled. "I shared my food with him, looked out for him, stood up for him when he would've gotten his ass kicked-" My chest felt tight, and I crossed my arms. "And after all that. . . " I paused, not knowing if I wanted to cry or rip a door off its hinges and f ling it through the wall. "After all that. . . " I tried again.
"He still saw you as nothing more than a monster," Kanin finished.
With a cry, I turned and drove my fist through the wall.
The plaster f lew inward, leaving a six-inch hole behind.
"Dammit!" I slugged the wall again, feeling it give way with a satisfying crunch. "I was his friend. I was the only thing that kept him alive, all those years of picking up his slack, all those years of going hungry so he wouldn't starve!" I slammed a fist into the wall once more, then leaned into it, feeling chalky plaster against my forehead. My eyes burned, and I squeezed them shut, willing the pain to go away. "He should've known better," I whispered through clenched teeth. "He should've known me better. "
Kanin hadn't moved, letting me rip apart his wall without comment. Finally, he rose, coming to stand just behind me.
"Did you tell him where we were?" he asked in a low voice.
"No. " I shook my head against the wall and finally pulled back. "I didn't. . . wait. Yes, I might've. . . mentioned the hospital. But he doesn't know where it is. " I half turned, looking up at Kanin, who watched me gravely. "He wouldn't come looking for it, anyway," I said, hearing the bitterness in my voice. "He's too scared to leave the hideout most of the time, much less the sector. "
"You're still being naive. " Kanin rubbed a hand over his eyes, stepping back. "Stay here. Don't leave the hospital. I'll be back soon. "
"Where are you going?" I said, suddenly on edge. A thought entered my mind, and my stomach went cold. "You're not. . . going after him, are you?"
"No," Kanin said, pausing in the doorway, and I sagged in relief. "But I need to set up alarms around the area. The few already in place won't be enough, I fear. "
"For what?" Frowning, I followed him down the hall. He didn't answer, and I gaped at him as I realized. "You think Stick will tell someone," I guessed, hurrying to keep pace with his long strides. "That's not going to happen. I'm telling you, Kanin, you don't have to worry about that. He's too much of a coward to go to anyone. "
"Perhaps. " Kanin strode into the reception area and stopped me at the desk. "And perhaps he will surprise you. Wait here. Practice your sword techniques. Don't leave the hospital grounds, understand? After tonight, you won't be able to go anywhere without triggering an alarm unless I'm with you. "
"I still think this is pointless, Kanin. "
The look he gave me was pitying. "Maybe it will be as you say. Maybe this boy will surprise me. But I've lived far too long to leave anything to chance, particularly when it comes to human betrayal. If there is nothing to lose, and even very little to gain, you can almost count on it. Now, give me your word that you won't try to leave. "
"What if I need to go outside?"
"Either stay here or leave now and don't come back. Your choice. "
"Fine. " I glared at him. "I won't try to leave. "
"Forgive me if I don't take your immediate word," Kanin deadpanned in a cold voice. "I want your promise. Do you swear?"
"Yes!" I bared my fangs at him. "I swear. " He nodded curtly and turned away. I watched him shimmy up the elevator tube, trying to work my way through a jumble of swirling emotions: anger, frustration, disappointment, hurt.
One second I hated Stick, and the next I could almost understand his instant terror. I despised it and thought it sucked, especially after all I'd done for him, but I could understand.
After all, he'd reacted to a vampire appearing suddenly in his home. If he'd suddenly disappeared and shown up as a bloodsucker, I might have reacted the same way. Or I might have attempted to see through my knee-jerk reaction and actually tried to talk to him, for friendship's sake. I didn't know. I did think Kanin was overreacting, setting up alarms and forbidding me to leave the hospital when there was no need.
Only when he was gone did I remember the strange vampire I'd met in my old room earlier, the one with the dead eyes and terrible smile. I considered climbing the shaft and hurrying after Kanin to warn him, but I'd just promised him I wouldn't leave the hospital. Besides, Kanin was a big, capable vampire. He could take care of himself.
I practiced my sword drills, thought of Stick and what I could have done differently, and wandered the halls, waiting for my mentor to come back.
But Kanin did not return that night.