The Immortal Rules, Page 9Julie Kagawa
I jerked awake, hissing and baring my fangs, the nightmare ebbing away into reality. I'd been dreaming, for the first time since I'd become a vampire, about dark tunnels and twisting corridors and something terrible lurking within them, stalking me. I remembered the cold fear, sensing the unknown evil drawing closer, and then a blinding f lare of pain as the creature finally pounced, though I never saw its face. It was enough to wake me up, and upon ref lection, I thought it was very strange. How did the dead dream, exactly? I'd have to ask Kanin about that.
Kanin. Rising, I grabbed my sword and hurried to his office, hoping I would see his calm, efficient form sitting behind the desk with a stack of documents, as always.
The office was empty. Nor was there any note on the desk, telling me my assignments for the night. I prowled the halls, peering into every room, every corner I might've overlooked.
Nothing. No sign of him anywhere. He was truly gone.
For a moment, I wondered if he had left on purpose, if last night, he'd had no intention of coming back. Had he gotten tired of his stubborn, moody, impossible student and decided it was time to be free of her? I shook my head. No, Kanin wasn't like that. He was cold, unsympathetic, jaded and sometimes scary as hell, but he was not a liar. If he wasn't here, then he was out there, somewhere. Was he hurt? Captured?
Stop that, I told myself. Just because Kanin wasn't in the hospital was no reason to panic. Maybe he was in the tunnels, setting up traps or alarms. Or maybe he was somewhere in the hospital still, in a room I hadn't checked or. . .
was one more place I could look.
At the bottom of the stairs, the red metal door groaned and swung open reluctantly as I pushed on it, revealing a long corridor. I caught a glimpse of a broken security cam-era mounted above the red door and another at the end of the hall. As I slipped into the hallway, the door groaned shut behind me, closing with a bang and plunging the narrow space into darkness.
My new vampire sight let me see even in pitch-blackness, however, and I made my way to the end of the hall, where another door was set firmly into the wall. It was stainless steel, barred from the outside and heavy enough to stop a train. It didn't have a normal handle or doorknob but a wheel set in the very center, rusty with age.
What were they keeping back here? I wondered, turning the wheel to the right. It spun reluctantly, then with a faint hiss, the door swung outward.
Past the frame, I stepped into yet another dark, claustrophobic hallway. Only this time, large windows ran along the wall, looking into isolated rooms. Though some of the windows were smashed and broken, the glass was extremely thick, and more than a few were still intact. I looked closer, and a chill skittered down my spine.
Thick steel bars ran vertically across the windows, like cages. The doors on the rooms were the same thick, heavy metal, and they all locked from the outside. Within each room, the walls were white and crumbling, but I saw gouges in the tile, as if something had clawed at it, all the way down to the metal beneath.
"What the hell is this place?" I whispered.
My voice slithered into the room, unnaturally loud in the silence. The darkness seemed to reach for me, trying to draw me in. I could smell blood and pain and death, worked into the very walls, seeping from the cracks in the f loor. Movement f lickered at the corners of my eyes, faces peering out of the glass, ghostly images of things not there.
My skin crawled. Whatever had happened here, whatever secrets lay beyond those doors, it was something I didn't want to uncover.
There was a thump on the stairwell, soft footsteps padding into the corridor.
I shivered with relief. "Kanin," I called, striding up to the thick metal door. It was halfway shut, and I pushed it open.
"Where the hell have you been?"
And the vampire with the terrible smile grinned down at me.
"Hello, love," the vampire purred, smiling as I backed away, drawing my blade as he eased into the room. "What a surprise to run into you again. Some little birdie has been lying to me. "
I kept my blade between me and the vampire, circling with him as he prowled the edges of the room. His eyes weren't on me, however, but rather staring blankly at the walls and glass windows lining the hall. "What are you doing here?" I growled, trying to control my fear. "How did you find this place?"
"Ahhhh. . . " the vampire breathed, the air rasping through a windpipe that hadn't been used in years. "That is a fine question, little bird. " He reached out and put one pale claw against the glass, pressing his cheek against it. I noticed a splash of old, dry blood on his neck, as if something had slashed at him recently. "Did you know these walls will talk to you? If you ask them. They'll tell you their secrets, though sometimes you have to beat it out of them, yes. Sometimes it was necessary. " He straightened and turned to me, his eyes empty black holes in his smiling face. "Where's Kanin?" he asked in a patient, understanding voice. "Tell me now, and save me the trouble of pulling off your fingers. "
"He's not here," I said. The vampire didn't look surprised.
"Not back yet then? I must've hit him harder than I thought. Very well, we can wait for him. I have all the time in the world. "
"What did you do to him?" I snarled.
He chewed a fingernail, ran a tongue along his thin lips, and smiled at me. "Have you ever filleted a fish?"
"What?" God, this freak was creeping me out. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"No? It's quite easy. " There was a f lash of metal, and the vampire was suddenly holding a thin, bright blade. I jumped; he was so quick I hadn't even seen his hand move. "The trick is to start skinning them as soon as you pull them out of the water, before they have a chance to die. You just slip the knife beneath the f lesh and pull. . . " He demonstrated with the blade, making a long, slow cut in the air, "and the skin peels right off. " He looked me in the eye, and his grin stretched wider, showing fangs. "That's what I did to Kanin's last little fish.
He screamed, oh, did he scream. It was glorious. " He waggled the knife at me. "I wonder if you will be so obliging?" My arms shook, making the sword tremble, and I squeezed the hilt to stop them. I could barely move, frozen with a terror unlike any I'd known before. An image came to mind before I could stop it: a body hanging from the ceiling, raw muscles exposed to the air as it writhed and screamed in agony.
I slammed that thought away before I was sick.
"Why. . . why do you hate him so much?" I asked, mostly to keep him talking, to buy myself some time. My voice wavered, making me furious with myself. Dammit, I could not show fear in front of this psycho. I bit my cheek, tasting blood, and that was enough to rouse the demon inside. My next words were stronger. "Why do you want to kill him?"
"I don't want to kill him," the vampire explained, sounding surprised. "That would be too good for Kanin. Surely he's told you. What he is? What he's done? No?" He chuckled, shaking his bald head. "Always keeping your spawn in the dark, hmm, old friend? They don't even know why they must suffer for you. " He moved toward me, and I jerked backward, muscles tightening, but the vampire only crossed the room, running his fingers down one of the metal doors.
He was no longer smiling, his face as empty as a blank sheet, making him a thousand times more terrible.
"I remember," he mused, his voice a cold whisper in the darkness. "I can't ever get it out of my head. The screams.
The blood on the walls. Watching everyone around me turn into those things. " He shivered, curling his lips back, and suddenly his resemblance to the creatures in the ruins was unmistakable. "They stuck me with the same needles, pumped the same sickness into me. But I never turned. I've always wondered about that. Why I never turned. " My eyes f lickered to the exit, judging the distance between me and the heavy metal door. Not enough time. Psycho vamp was probably just as fast as Kanin, which meant he was much faster than me
. I'd have to buy myself more time, a few seconds at least.
Keeping one hand on the sword, I slowly reached down, into my jeans, and closed my fingers around the familiar handle of my knife. Pulling it out slowly, f licking open the tiny blade, I cupped it in my palm, hiding it from view.
"But I know now. " Psycho vamp turned, and that awful grin was back on his face. "I know why I was spared. To punish the one responsible for our pain. Every scream, every drop of blood, every strip of f lesh and shattered bone, I will revisit upon him tenfold. He will know the pain, and fear and despair of every life within these walls. I will scour the earth of his blood, I will raze his lineage from existence. And only when his screams and the screams of his offspring replace the ones in my mind, when I can no longer see their faces and hear their cries of anguish, only then will I grant him leave of this world. "
"You're a freaking psychopath," I said, but he only chuckled.
"I don't expect you to understand, little bird. " He turned toward me fully, fingering his blade and smiling. "I expect you only to sing. Sing for me, sing for Kanin, and make it a glorious song. "
He lunged at me, coming in fast and catching me off guard, even though I was expecting it. I swung the katana at him one-handed, aiming for his neck, but he slithered aside, stepped within my guard and slammed me into the wall. My head struck the glass, and I felt something crack beneath me, either my head or the glass itself. Before I could react, a cold, dead hand clamped around my sword arm, threatening to snap it, and the point of a blade pierced my jaw.
"Now, little bird," psycho vamp whispered, pressing his lean body against mine. I tried throwing him off, but it was like steel cables, pinning me to the wall. "Sing for me. " I bared my fangs in his face. "Sing yourself," I hissed and thrust my free hand up, jamming the pocket knife into one crazy black eye.
Psycho vamp screamed and reeled away, clutching his face.
I sprang from the wall and rushed for the door, but I hadn't taken three steps when the vampire's scream turned into a chilling roar of fury that made my hair stand on end. Fear made me quick. I reached the exit and lunged through the opening, dropping my blade and spinning around to push it shut. I saw psycho vamp racing toward me, his face a mask of rage, fangs bared, eyes bloody and murderous, and shoved hard on the door. It groaned as it swung shut, and I wrenched the wheel to the left, sealing it tight as a thunderous boom echoed from the other side.
My arms shook as I grabbed my katana and backed away from the door. It was strange; I felt my heart should be pounding a mile a minute, my breath coming in short, panicked gasps. But of course, there was none of that. Only the slight tremble in my arms and legs showed how very close I had come to death again.
Another hollow boom against the steel door made me wince. How long would it be before psycho vamp got out?
Could he get out? If he did, he would be coming for me, no question about it. I had to put as much distance between me and murderous psycho vamp as I could.
I took another step back, turned to f lee, and ran into a body in the hallway.
"Kanin!" I nearly fainted with relief, putting out my arms to steady him. Kanin staggered back a step, leaning heavily against the wall. He looked even paler than usual, and his shirt was stained with dried blood. His own. "You're hurt!"
"I'm all right. " He waved me off. "It's old. I've already fed, so don't worry about me. " His eyes scanned the hallway, narrowing to slits. "Did Sarren come down here?"
"Sarren? You mean psycho vamp with the messed-up face?
Yeah. Yeah, he did. " I jerked my thumb toward the steel door, just as another thud echoed down the hallway, followed by a desperate screech. "Friend of yours, Kanin? He seemed very interested in peeling my skin off. "
"You're lucky to be alive," Kanin muttered, shaking his head, and I thought I heard the faintest note of admiration in his voice. "He surprised me last night. I didn't think he would find me here so soon. "
"Are you all right?"
He shook himself, pushing off the wall. "We have to get out of here," he continued, staggering away. "Hurry. There's not much time. "
"You think Smiley can get out of there?" I glanced back at the door. "Really? It's like two feet of solid steel. "
"No, Allison. " Kanin looked back at me, his face darken-ing. "Your friend went to the authorities this evening. He told them that two unauthorized vampires are hanging around the old hospital grounds. The Prince's men are coming. We have to move now. "
I stared at him in horror, hardly believing what I'd just heard. "No," I said as he turned away, walked back down the hall. "You're wrong. Stick wouldn't do that to me. That's the one rule everyone understands-we don't sell each other out to the bloodsuckers. "
are a bloodsucker now. " Kanin's voice echoed back, dull and weary. "And it doesn't matter. Someone tipped them off, and they're on their way. If they catch us here, they'll kill us. We have to get out of the city. "
"We're leaving?" I hurried after him, feeling my stomach twist. "Where are we going?"
"I don't know. " Kanin suddenly slammed a fist into the wall, making me jump. "Dammit," he growled, bowing his head. "Dammit, I was so close. If I only had a little more time. . . " He smashed his fist into the wall again, leaving a gaping hole, and I shifted uncomfortably. It occurred to me that whatever he'd been looking for, whatever he had been researching all this time, was lost. Either he hadn't found it, or it wasn't here in the first place. Weeks of searching, reading endless files and documents, all for nothing in the end.
And then everything-the research, the hospital rooms, the crazy vampire with a vendetta against Kanin-clicked into place. And I felt like an idiot for not realizing it sooner.
"It was you. " I stared at the hunched figure against the wall. And I couldn't be sure, but I thought I saw his shoulders f linch, just a little, at the words. "You were the vampire, the Master, that sold out the other vampires for a cure to Red Lung. You were the one working with the scientists. And this place-" I glanced back at the steel door "-this was where it all happened. That was what Smiley was talking about. The experiments, the screaming. You're the one responsible for the rabids!"
Kanin straightened, though he didn't look at me. "That vampire is gone," he said in the coldest voice I'd ever heard.
"He was foolish and idealistic, and his faith in mankind was horrendously misplaced. It would've been better had he let the virus run its course-some humans would have survived, they always survive. And if our kind had starved, if vampires all went extinct, maybe that would have been preferable to this. "
I was silent, not knowing what to say. I thought I would hate him; this was the vampire whose actions had created something horrible, who was responsible for the spread of the rabids, who had inadvertently caused the enslavement of the entire human race. But even in my darkest, angriest moments, I could not match the depth of loathing I heard in Kanin's voice, the absolute hatred for the vampire who had doomed both species, and the desperate need to make things right.
"Let's go," he finally said, starting forward again. "We have to keep moving. Take nothing you don't need, we'll want to travel light, and we have only a few hours to clear the wall and get out of the ruins. "
"I'm good to go," I said, holding up my sword. "I don't have anything except this. " It was kind of sad, really. That I'd lived in a place for seventeen years and had nothing to show for it but a sword and the clothes on my back. And they weren't even mine. For a second, I wished I had some keep-sake of my mom's, something to remember her by, but the vampires had taken even that.
And then it really hit me. I was leaving. I was leaving the only place I'd ever known, the place that had been home my entire life. What lay beyond the Wall, beyond the ruins, I had no idea. From what Kanin told me, I knew there were other vampire cities, scattered about the wilderness, but I had no idea where any of them were located. Kanin always seemed reluctant to talk about his travels, ab
out the world outside, so it rarely came up. Were there humans out there, scorning vampire protection, living free? Or was the world beyond a wasteland of dead buildings and forests teeming with rabids and other horrors?
I guessed I would find out, because Kanin was giving me no time to consider. "Hurry," he snapped as we jogged to the elevator shaft. This would be the last time we used it. "Get up there now. They're probably almost here. " I scurried up the dark tube and came out in the hospital ruins, stepping aside so Kanin could follow me up. Around us, the blackened remains stood silent, but across the empty lot, slithering like the wind through the grass, I could hear footsteps. Lots of footsteps. Coming this way.
And then, over the tops of the grass and weeds, I saw them.
Vampires. A whole lot of them, their skin pale under the glowing moon, moving in tandem over the lot. Surrounding and f lanking them were several human guards carrying very large weapons-assault rif les. The vampires looked unarmed, but the sheer number of them, gliding noiselessly through the weeds like an army of corpses, made me bite my lip until I tasted blood.
Kanin gripped my shoulder, and I glanced up at him, trying to hide my fear. He pressed a finger to his lips and pointed silently into the city. We slipped away into the darkness, as voices and the steady march of footsteps drew closer to our location.
I'd never run so fast in my life, or death, for that matter.
Kanin was relentless, leading me through the city, down side streets, into alleyways, under and through old buildings on the verge of collapse. It was a good thing I never got winded or tired anymore, running along behind Kanin as we f led the army at our backs. Frighteningly, our pursuers didn't get tired, either, and had apparently called in reinforce-ments once they discovered we were on the run. Vehicles and armored trucks scoured the once empty streets, bright spotlights piercing the darkness, armed guards ready to open fire at anything that moved. All humans had wisely moved indoors; not even the gangs were roaming the alleyways tonight. A citywide manhunt, where even the vampires were out in the open, in large numbers, was cause enough for the bravest thug to stay off the street.
The streets rapidly became too dangerous for us to cross, but Kanin wasn't planning on staying aboveground for long and took us into the undercity as quickly as he could. Prying up a manhole cover, he motioned me down the hole, and I dropped into the belly of the city without hesitation.
"We can't slow down," Kanin cautioned after he'd landed noiselessly beside me. "They'll be searching the tunnels, as well. Perhaps even more extensively than the streets. But at least down here we'll be out of the open, away from the trucks. "
I nodded. "Where to now?"
"We head for the ruins. Past the edge of the city, they probably won't follow us. "
I felt my stomach clench at the thought of going into the ruins, and the rabids that waited there, in the place that I'd died. But I squashed down my fear. It was either face the threat of rabids, who might kill us, or stay here and wait for the Prince's men, who definitely would. Between the two, I'd rather have a fighting chance.
"Not much night left, Kanin," I said, feeling the hours slip away from us. He gave a curt nod.
"Then we'll have to pick up the pace. " We did, running madly through the tunnels, hearing the echo of voices around and above us.
They were waiting for us at the edge of the old city.
The ruins were crawling with soldiers and guards, more than I'd seen before in my life. Whether through testament to Kanin's infamy or Prince Salazar's hatred, we had barely come out of the tunnels when there was a shout in the darkness and machine-gun fire ricocheted around us, sparking off the pavement and walls. We f led, ducking through overgrown lots and between buildings, but the alert was sounded, and they all knew we were here. Gunfire and shouts echoed from all directions. A trio of snarling dogs came at us and Kanin had to cut them down before we could move on.
"This way," Kanin hissed, ducking around an old brick building half covered in vines. "We're not far from the city limits now. See those trees?" He pointed over the rooftops to where a blanket of leaves crowded the horizon. "If we can get into the forest, we'll be able to lose-" A roar of gunfire erupted from a line of cars in front of us, making little explosions of blood erupt from Kanin's chest, and he jerked back with a painful hiss. I cried out in terror.
Staggering away, Kanin turned and dived through the window of the old building, shattering the glass and dropping from sight. Ducking bullets, I scrambled through after him.
The interior of the building smelled of oil, grease and rust, and the skeletons of several cars sat on the cement f loor as I rolled to my feet, glancing around wildly. The vampire lay a few feet from the window, surrounded by broken chips of glass, and I dropped beside him as he pushed himself to his knees. He was grimacing, teeth clenched tightly together, his fangs smeared with blood. Blood also spattered his clothes, fresh stains against the old ones, and pooled from holes in his chest and stomach, the gunshot wounds he had taken head-on.
As I watched, horrified and fascinated at the same time, he dug his thumb and two fingers into the holes, clenching his jaw, and pulled out three lead slugs, dropping them to the pavement with a clink. The gaping wounds sealed, though the blood on his shirt, chest and hands remained.
Kanin shuddered, slumping against the wall. Voices echoed around us, men shouting, calling for backup. Through the window, the sky against the horizon was a dark blue, and a faint orange glow signaled the approach of the sun.
"Allison. " Kanin's voice was soft; I barely heard it against the backdrop of shouting and gunfire. "Our time together has come to an end. This is where we have to part. "
"What? Are you crazy?" I stared at him wide-eyed. "Screw that! I'm not leaving you. "
"I've brought you as far as I can. " Kanin's eyes were glassy; I realized he was probably starving, after taking those shots to the chest. But he still tried to speak calmly. "You know almost everything you need to survive. There's just one more thing I have to tell you. " A bullet ricocheted off a car, sparking in the shadows, and I f linched. Kanin didn't seem to notice. "One last skill every vampire should know," he went on in a near whisper. "When you're caught outside with no shelter, you can burrow deep into the earth to escape the sun. It's something we do instinctively. It's also how the rabids sleep during the day, so be careful, because they're known for appearing right under your feet. You have to find a strip of natural earth, not rock or cement, and you must cover yourself completely.
Do you understand? You might need it very, very soon. " I shook my head, barely listening to him, as the shouts and wild barking drew even closer. "Kanin," I began, feeling my eyes start to burn, "I can't! I can't leave you here to die. "
"Don't underestimate me, girl," Kanin replied with the faintest of smiles. "I've lived a long, long time. You think this is the worst situation I've encountered?" The smile got bigger, more evil, before he became serious again. "You, however. You will not survive this. Not now, not as you are. So you go out there, and you live, and get stronger. And someday down the road, we might meet again. " A howl of discovery, and a hail of gunfire peppered the wall, as we ducked down even farther. Kanin snarled, fangs springing to light, the glassy look in his eyes getting brighter.
He looked at me and curled his lip. "Go! Head for the forest.
I'll keep them busy for a while yet. " A bullet hit the wall, spraying us with grit, and he growled, "Go! Leave me. "
He roared, his face turning demonic, the first real glimpse of what he could become, and I shrank back in terror. "Go!
Or so help me, I will tear your heart out myself!" I bit back a sob. Turning, I crawled across the f loor and slipped through a broken window on the far wall, half expecting a bullet in the spine at any second. I didn't look back.
Kanin's howl rose into the air, a chilling sound of defiance and rage, followed by a frantic burst of g
unfire and a desperate scream.
Reaching the edge of the lot, I f led into the ruins, hot bloody tears streaming down my face, blinding me. I ran until the sounds of battle faded behind me, until I left the ruins and entered the forest, until the lightening sky forced my limbs to a sluggish crawl.
Finally, I collapsed, snarling and crying, at the roots of several old trees. Dawn was seconds away from touching the earth and turning me into a fiery inferno. Half blinded by red tears, I buried my fingers in the cool, damp ground, scraping away dirt and leaves, wondering if I could really burrow fast enough to escape the sun. It was hot, so very hot. I scraped faster, frantic, wondering if smoke really was rising from my skin.
The earth rippled and seemed to melt beneath me, swallowing me up. I dropped into a black hole, cold dirt settling around me like a cocoon, and the heat vanished immediately.
Cool, blessed darkness f looded in, and then there was nothing.
When I woke again, the world was quiet, and I was alone.
Shaking free the dirt that clung to my hair and clothes, I gazed around, listening for gunfire, for any signs of life in the darkness. Nothing moved except the leaves, rustling in the trees above me. Through the branches, the sky blazed with stars.
Kanin was gone. I searched the area half heartedly, back-tracking toward the edge of the ruins, but I knew finding him was impossible. If he was dead, there would be nothing left behind but ash. I did stumble across a couple of human corpses, torn apart and savaged by what looked like a vicious beast. One of them still clutched an assault rif le in one bloody hand. I examined it, but the gun was empty, the rounds spent, and it was too useless and awkward to take with me.
Only when I was certain I was truly alone did I wonder what I would do next.
Damn you, Kanin, I thought, trying to stif le the fear, the uncertainty, threatening to smother me. Where could I go now? What was I going to do? I didn't dare go back to the city; the Prince would certainly have me killed for my association with the vampire world's Most Wanted. But whatever lay beyond the ruins was a mystery. What was out there, really? Another vampire city, perhaps. But maybe not. Maybe it was all wilderness, as far as the eye could see. Maybe nothing existed out there but rabids, crawling over everything, killing any human they came across.
But I wasn't human anymore. And I wasn't as afraid of them as I once was. I was part of their world now, part of the darkness.
I was still scared. I hated the thought of leaving home and the relative safety of the city. But there was a part of me that was a tiny bit excited, as well. Maybe everything in my short miserable life had led up to this. I was outside the walls. I was far from vampire inf luence. True, I was dead, but there was a strange freedom in that. Everything in my other life was gone. I had nothing to go back to.
Go out there, and live, and get stronger.
"All right then, Kanin," I muttered. "Guess I'll just go see what's out there. "
Turning, I gazed through the trees, back toward the ruins and the city, sparing one last look at the lights of my old home. Then, with nothing but my sword and the clothes on my back, I put New Covington behind me and stepped forward, into the wilderness. And I didn't stop until I was certain I would see nothing but trees if I looked back.