I glanced up. We had reached a pair of double doors at the end of the room, and the small bald man was looking at me apologetically.
"I’m sorry," he said. "But we have to take this one into surgery now. Some of his wounds are quite severe, and we still don’t know if he’s been bitten. You need to let him go." I didn’t know what "surgery" was, but I didn’t want to let Zeke go, suddenly afraid that if he went through those doors without me, I’d never see him again. "I can’t be there with him?"
"I’m sorry," the man said again, blinking behind his glasses.
"I’m afraid it’s not allowed. Too dangerous, you see, both for the patient, and yourself. But I swear we’ll do everything we can for him. He’ll be in good hands, I assure you." I looked at Zeke again. He lay there, pale and bloody under the harsh lights, eyes closed. One of the women had stuck his arm with a needle earlier, and it had put him out completely.
His fingers around mine were limp.
"You can wait outside the room, if you want." The bald man gave me a tired, understanding smile. "And we’ll let you know how he is as soon as we’re done. But you need to let him go now. Let him go."
Gently, he took my wrist, easing it away from Zeke’s hand.
I resisted a moment, then let it drop. The bald man smiled again and patted my arm.
They wheeled Zeke through the doors, and I followed them down a narrow, dimly lit hall until they vanished through another pair of doors with no windows, a bright No Entry painted on the metal in vivid red. I caught a whiff of old blood through the doors as they swung shut, and my stomach turned in both fear and Hunger.
I stayed in the hallway, staring at the doors, feeling the hours tick away. I wondered how the others were doing. I wondered if Zeke was all right, if he would pull through.
There had been so much blood. If he had been bitten…if he turned into one of those monsters…
I shook my head, abandoning that thought. Leaning back against the wall, I looked up at the ceiling and let my eyes slip shut.
I don’t know if you can hear me, I thought in the general direction of the sky, or if you’re even listening. But, if you have any sense of justice at all, you won’t let Zeke die in there. Not when he’s this close. Not when he’s sacrificed everything to see the others here alive. I know you’re probably anxious to get him home, but he’s needed down here a little more. Just let him stay a little longer.
The hall remained empty, silent. I bowed my head, letting my thoughts drift. I wondered, suddenly, where Kanin was, if he was still alive. If he could sense me, feel where I was, or if he even cared. If he was still sane enough to care. I wondered if he was sorry that one of his offspring had killed the other.
I felt it then. A f lash of rage and hate so strong, I jerked my head up, bashing my skull into the wall. Wincing, I stared down the corridor, feeling my fangs poking through my gums, growling softly. For a split second, I’d felt him, seen his face. I felt his anger, directed right at me. Not Kanin. Not psycho vamp.
Jackal. He was alive.
The doors at the end of the hall swung open. I leaped upright as the bald man emerged looking very tired, smears of blood on his white coat.
"Your friend is going to be fine," he said, smiling, and I collapsed against the wall in relief. "He’s lost a lot of blood, has a slight concussion, and there was an old gunshot wound on his leg, but he isn’t infected. I expect him to make a full recovery."
"Can I see him?"
"He’s sleeping now." The bald man gave me a severe look.
"You can visit him later, but I believe you need stitches, too, young lady. Judging from those rips in your clothes, I’m surprised you’re not in worse shape. Has someone examined you? Hold still a moment." He swung a strange device off his neck and stuck the ends in his ears. "This won’t hurt," he promised, holding up the shiny, metallic circle on the end of the tube. "I’m just going to listen to your heart, check your breathing-"
He moved the device toward my chest…and my hand shot out, grabbing his wrist before either of us knew what was happening.
He jumped, startled by how fast I moved, and looked up at me with huge round eyes behind his glasses. I met his gaze sadly.
"You won’t find anything there," I murmured, and he frowned a moment, confused. Then his face drained of color, and he stared at me, frozen. I heard his heartbeat speed up, and a sheen of sweat glistened on his brow.
"Oh," he whispered in a tiny, breathy voice. "You’re a…
Please don’t kill me."
I released his wrist, letting mine drop to my side. "Go on," I muttered, turning away. "Do what you have to do." He hesitated, as if fearing a trick, that I would turn and pounce on him the second his back was turned. Then I heard his footsteps, sprinting off down the hall, running to spread the word about vampires in the hallways. I didn’t have a lot of time.
Hurrying to the surgery doors, I pushed my way inside.
The room was dark, save for a single bright light that shone down on a bed in the middle of the room, surrounded by beeping machines and shelves of metal instruments. Zeke lay on his back, clean gauze wrapping his chest, one arm in a sling, breathing peacefully. His pale hair gleamed under the lights.
I approached the bed and leaned close, smoothing the hair from his eyes, listening to the sound of his heart. "Hey," I whispered, knowing he probably couldn’t hear me, unconscious as he was. "Listen, Zeke, I have to go. There’s something I have to do, someone I have to find. I owe him a lot, and he’s in trouble now. I just wanted to say goodbye." Zeke slept on. I put my hand on his uninjured arm, squeezing gently. My eyes burned, but I ignored them. "You probably won’t see me again," I murmured, feeling something hot slide down my cheek. "I got you here, like I promised I would. I wish…I wish I could’ve seen your Eden, but this place isn’t for me. It never was. I have to find my own place in the world."
Bending down, I brushed my lips to his. "Goodbye, Ezekiel," I whispered. "Take care of the others. They’ll be looking to you now."
He stirred in his sleep, but didn’t wake. Releasing him, I turned and walked away, out of the room and through the doors. As they swung shut behind me, I thought I heard him murmur my name, but I did not look back.
Walking back through the main hall was a much more hostile journey than when I’d arrived. The men and women in white coats either glared or cringed back from me, huddled along the wall, watching as I strode through the room. No one from our original group was there to say goodbye. Probably better that way. Caleb would make a fuss, and the others might want to know where I was going. But I didn’t know where I was going. All I knew was Kanin, and now Jackal, were out there. I had to find my sire, see if I could still help him. I owed him that much. As for my "blood brother," I was pretty sure he would find me, eventually. And I didn’t want to be around those I cared about when he did.
Outside, the storm had moved on, and the stars glimmered brightly through the clouds. A breeze cooled my skin, smelling of sand and fish and lake water, and a new beginning. Just not for me.
A squad of soldiers came rushing up to me, led by Sergeant Keller. I raised my hands as they surrounded me, leveling their guns at my chest, their faces hard with suspicion and fear.
The sergeant stepped forward, his previously smiling mouth pulled into a grim line. "Is it true?" he asked, narrowing his eyes. "Are you a bloodsucker, like the doc says?" When I didn’t reply, his face hardened. "Answer me, before we start pumping you full of holes to see if you die or not."
"I don’t want any trouble," I said calmly, keeping my hands where he could see them. "I was just leaving, in fact. Let me walk out of here, and you’ll never see me again." Sergeant Keller hesitated. The other soldiers kept their guns trained on my heart. From the corner of my eye, I saw movement on the waters of the lake; a faded white ferry pulling up to the dock. The boat that would take everyone but me to Eden.
"Sarge," one of the men growled. "We should kill it. Now, before anyone hears we let a vampire through the gates. If the mayor finds out, there’ll be a citywide panic." I met Keller’s eyes, keeping my expression calm, even though I felt my body tense, ready to explode into violence if needed. I didn’t want to hurt these men, but if they started firing, I would have no choice but to tear them apart. And hope they didn’t shoot me full of holes before I could escape.
"You’ll leave?" Keller asked gravely. "You’ll walk away and not come back?"
"You have my word."
He sighed and lowered his gun. "All right," he stated, as a few of his men started to protest. "We’ll escort you to the gates."
"Enough, Jenkins!" Keller glared at the man who had spoken. "She hasn’t hurt anyone here, and I’m not about to start a fight with a vampire if there’s no need. Shut up and stand down."
The soldiers relented, but I felt their glares on my back as they led me across the muddy yard, back to the huge iron gates guarding the entrance. Keller yelled a command, and one of the gates creaked open, just enough for one person to walk through.
"All right, vampire," Keller said, nodding to the gate. I heard the click of their weapons behind me, a half dozen barrels leveled in my direction. "There’s the door. Get out and don’t come back."
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t look back. I walked to the gates and slipped through, feeling them grind shut behind me, sealing me off from humanity, Eden and Zeke.
We are vampires, Kanin had told me, on one of our last nights together. It makes no difference who we are, where we came from. Princes, Masters and rabids alike, we are monsters, cut off from humanity. They will never trust us. They will never accept us. We hide in their midst and walk among them, but we are forever separate.
Damned. Alone. You don’t understand now, but you will. There will come a time when the road before you splits, and you must decide your path. Will you choose to become a demon with a human face, or will you fight your demon until the end of time, knowing you will forever struggle alone?
A silent road stretched before me, damp with rain and littered with cars. As I watched, pale figures began to slip through the trees or claw their way out of the earth. Rabids edged onto the pavement, filling the road, their hisses and snarls rising into the air. Their empty white eyes blazed with madness and Hunger, and they began to sprint forward.
Reaching back, I drew my blade, feeling it rasp free, gleaming as it came into the light. Looking up at the approaching rabids, I smiled.