The stairwell door did not open onto a hallway.
Instead, Lilith was facing a wide open space, devoid of furniture, the floor poured concrete and the ceiling criss-crossed with beams. People hung upside-down from those beams, cloaks wrapped tightly around their bodies, exposing only small pointy noses and unblinking black eyes.
All of them were staring at her.
She pressed back against the wall and stared back, heart pounding. Not only were these infected hanging upside-down like bats; their eyes were a solid ring of black, with no whites visible. Were they dangerous? The only exit was behind her, back onto the stairwell, but she didn’t want to risk meeting the trackers. She clutched the sheet tightly around her and waited for the infected to make the first move.
The one closest to her shifted on its perch, then spoke—but not in any language Lilith had ever heard.
She shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, hesitant. “I don’t understand.”
This time it spoke in English. “Who you?” it said, startling Lilith. Multilingual infected that hung upside-down from ceilings: the situation was absurd.
“Lilith.” She cleared her throat, staring at the reddish cast of its cloak. “My name is Lilith.”
Red’s voice sounded irritable. “No. What you?”
Of course it wasn’t her name they’d wanted, but her race. Lilith grabbed hold of the fang necklace and held it up. She opened her mouth to reply but Red beat her to it.
“Werekin upstairs!” it cried.
The others took up the chant. “Werekin upstairs! Werekin upstairs!”
Their voices were sing-song, mocking. Panicked, Lilith put her finger up to her lips and shushed them, surprised when it worked. The chanting stopped and they stared expectantly. These infected were a far cry from Wolf’s tightly reined savagery or Sla’ik’s smooth talking ways. If anything, they were rather like children.
She kept her voice gentle, non-threatening. “I’ll go back upstairs soon. I’ll just hide here for a bit. There are some bad people upstairs.”
Red cocked its head sideways. “Trackers?”
“Trackers! Trackers! Trackers!” The others flapped their cloaks out to either side, and it was then Lilith realised that they were not wearing cloaks. These people—creatures— had wings. The ceiling beams creaked ominously with their movements
Lilith shushed them once more. “Yes, trackers!” And she’d thought Wolf was bad. At least he’d shown some intellect; these bats, for lack of a better word, were nothing more than oversized mammals. Semi-intelligent oversized mammals, but animals nonetheless.
Yet there seemed to be some kind of primitive social hierarchy even in these creatures, for the bats on the right side of the room turned as one and said to the others, “Your side.”
The left bristled collectively. “Your side!”
The bats fell silent before she had to shush them. A long staring match ensued, the bats glaring and serious, like children intent on a game whose rules only they knew. Lilith had to stifle her giggles, struggling to make herself as small and still as possible in the hopes that she’d be forgotten.
Then the bats seemed to reach an unspoken agreement, for they began to stare at one of their companions in particular. The bat in question shuffled uncomfortably, then sighed in defeat, letting go of the beam. It unfurled its wings and twisted in midair, landing several feet away from Lilith.
Her amusement vanished. She watched the infected approach with wary concern. It hobbled awkwardly towards her, claws scraping the floor. Up close, Lilith could see the short, dark fur which covered its face. The features were those of an animal: long snout, black button nose, and curved leathery ears. The torso, however—ignoring the covering of fur—was unsettlingly human. It stopped right in front of her and Lilith tensed, unsure whether to lash out or escape.
The bat cocked its head to the side and yapped several times, ears flicking back and forth. “Not dangerous,” it pronounced to the room. “Cub.” But it didn’t look away, and now the other bats were staring, shuffling restlessly. What did these bats eat?
Lilith slid her hand along the wall, towards the door handle. “I’ll just go now. Sorry for bothering you.”
The bat bared its teeth. “Stay?”
The chant was taken up by the others. “Stay! Stay! Stay!”
The bat waved a wing and the others fell silent. It shuffled closer, seeming to relish the attention. “Stay. Pay.” Another step closer. “Blood. Pay.” Its mouth hung open, the fangs gleaming white against a bright red tongue. The other bats were nodding in agreement, ruffling their wings, preparing for flight. “Blood!”
Her hand closed around the door handle. Lilith didn’t hesitate. She pulled the door open and raced through, slamming it shut behind her. The bats began shrieking, chanting incomprehensibly as she backed away, her shoulders hitting the cold stone wall on the other side of the landing. She could hear the whooshing sounds of flight, but the door remained closed.
A door upstairs thumped open. A man spoke, his voice gravelly. “Something’s bothering the teras.” Lilith’s skin crawled: it was a tracker.
“Everything bothers the teras,” a second voice replied, almost condescending. “Let’s move to the fourth floor and keep searching.”
“Orders are orders,” the first said. “Investigate all disturbances. That’s the orders.”
“Fine.” There was a brief silence, then heavy footsteps, marching down.
Lilith hurried down the stairs on her tiptoes, cursing her luck. After her encounter with the bloodthirsty bats, she wasn’t going to risk hiding on the first floor. Her only option was to wait outside until the trackers left. But what if the Snake was in reception?
She hesitated when she reached the bottom of the stairwell, making sure her necklace was clearly visible. The door to the reception opened soundlessly. She peeked outside, breathed a sigh of relief. The room was empty. Pulling the sheet firmly around her, Lilith walked across the reception, her pace brisk but unhurried. Her stomach was a tight bundle of nausea.
She had just reached the entranceway when the stairwell door banged open. It was the trackers, the cloaked figure closely followed by the stern rock-like men. They paused when they saw her, took in her white sheet. The man in the cloak pointed. “You there. Stop!”
Lilith broke into a run. She raced down the alleyway, heart galloping in her chest, the sheet billowing out behind her like a wedding train. Eventually she burst out onto the main street, where the market was still in full swing, and turned right, back the way they had come.
This time infected did not move out of her way. She ducked and twisted through the crowd, her ears echoing with the growing shouts behind her. Then a hand closed over her bicep, bringing her to an unceremonious halt. A man with a drooping moustache eyed her, the green cross-shaped tattoo on his cheek creased by his scowl. He opened his mouth to speak, noticed the necklace hanging around her neck, and dropped her arm as if burnt. Lilith didn’t question her luck: she ran on.
Lilith ducked between two stalls and into a side street, hoping to lose her pursuers. It was darker, here—the narrow street ran between two buildings tall enough to keep the cobblestones in constant shade. Then the heavy stench rotting food hit her. Four industrial-sized rubbish bins lined one wall.
But she’d made the wrong choice, for the street was a dead end, cut off abruptly by a tall wire fence. Lilith’s legs almost buckled beneath her at the sight. She hooked her fingers into the wire, tried to pull herself up. It was too high, her arms were too weak. Only seconds remained before they caught up with her. She had to hide, but where? The bins were too obvious a choice.
Frantic, Lilith looked at the buildings on either side. There was a ledge running across the side of one building, which ran past a fire-escape ladder. Knotting the sheet around her neck, Lilith moved closer to one of the rubbish bins. Black insects droned in the air. As she climbed on to the bin, one landed on her arm. She yelped, shook it off. It didn’t bite.
When she stood on top of the bin, the ledge was level with her waist. She pulled herself onto the ledge, stood up slowly. Keeping her body sideways, Lilith began to shuffle along towards the ladder.
The trackers pounded into the side street. “You! Stop! That’s an order!”
Two of the rock-men clambered on to the rubbish bins and began pulling themselves on to the ledge. The other rock-man and the cloaked figure had their heads bent together, conferring rapidly. They backed out of the alleyway. Two less to worry about.
Lilith crossed the wire fence, kept moving towards the ladder. The rock-men moved more slowly than her, their wider frames harder to balance on the thin ledge. She could do it. She could escape. Lilith grabbed the ladder, pulled herself on. Her feet hit the rungs loudly and she began to climb, skipping several rungs at a time.
Something whizzed past her head. The rock-man furthest away had pulled out a gun and was aiming it at her. There was an odd click; she ducked instinctively and heard another bullet hiss past. As she straightened, something clattered down the side of the wall. Lilith looked down and her heart sank. Gleaming innocently from the bottom of the alleyway was her hotel key.
The ladder shook as the rock-man in the lead reached the bottom rung. Lilith forced herself to keep moving. She’d deal with the key later.
The window on the first floor was closed. On the other side of the glass was a vampire who had his face pressed against the window. Surprise flitted across his face when he saw her, his lips parting, exposing his fangs.
The gleam of his bright blue eyes and his teeth sucked her in. Lilith couldn’t look away, her mind flashing back to the carnage in the theatre, her limbs heavy with fear. She froze on the ladder and watched in numb disbelief as the vampire slid the window open and leaned out to grab her.
His hand was inches away when the vampire jerked and emitted an odd garbled cry. He clutched his neck, pulled out a feathered dart. A tranquiliser. They both looked down to find the rock-men aiming their guns at the vampire. Then the vampire fainted, his body half-in and half-out the window.
The surge of adrenaline unlocked her muscles. Lilith began to climb further up the ladder just as the vampire was pulled back into the bedroom. His unconscious body was replaced by two more vampires, a male and a female, their mouths contorted into vicious snarls. Within seconds they’d launched themselves out of the window and at the rock-men, arms outstretched. The force of their attack knocked both trackers off of the ladder, and the four fell down to the ground, a tangle of limbs.
Lilith didn’t stay to watch. She continued upwards to the second floor, where there was open window. She hauled herself through, grunting at the effort, only to come face to face with the third rock-man, the cloaked figure behind him.
“Hello, pebble,” the rock-man said, jabbing a dart into her neck.
Then everything went dark.