Dimitri made another abrupt turn, one that caused him to run a red light and only narrowly miss a number of cars. More honking ensued, but the move had been too sudden for our tail to keep up. I saw our pursuers whiz past on the main road, brake lights flashing as they searched for a place to turn around.
Dimitri had taken us into a mall parking lot. It was packed with cars, and I glanced at the clock to get a grasp for human time. Almost eight o'clock at night. Early in the Moroi day, prime entertainment time for humans. He drove past a few entrances to the mall and finally selected one, pulling into a handicap spot. He was out of the car in one fluid motion, with me following just as quickly.
"Here's where we split up,' he said jogging toward a set of doors. "Move fast, but don't run when we're inside. Don't attract attention. Blend in. Wind through it for a little bit; then get out through any exit but this one. Walk out near a group of humans and then head for the theater.' We stepped into the mall. "Go!'
As though afraid I might not move, he gave me a small push toward an escalator while he took off on the main floor. There was a part of me that wanted to just freeze and stand there, that felt dumbfounded by the sudden onslaught of people, light, and activity. I soon pushed that startled part aside and began heading up the escalator. Fast reflexes and instinctual reactions were part of my training. I'd honed them in school, in my travels, and with him.
Everything I'd been taught about eluding someone came rushing back to my head. What I wanted to do more than anything was look around and see if I had a follower, but that would have definitely attracted attention. I had to imagine that, at most, we had a couple minutes' lead on our pursuers. They would have had to turn around to get back to the mall and then circle to spot our car, presuming they figured out we'd gone into the mall. I didn't think Harrisburg had enough of a Moroi presence to summon very many guardians on short notice. The ones they had would likely split up, some searching the mall and some guarding the entrances. This place had too many doors for the guardians to watch them all; my escape choice would be pure luck.
I walked as fast as I reasonably could, weaving through couples, families with strollers, and giggling teens. I envied that last group. Their lives seemed so easy compared to mine. I also passed the usual mall stores, their names registering but not much more: Ann Taylor, Abercrombie, Forever 21 ... Ahead of me, I could see the center of the mall where several corridors branched out. I'd have a choice to make soon.
Passing an accessories store, I ducked inside and pretended to look at headbands. As I did, I covertly glanced back out to the mall's main section. I saw nothing obvious. No one had stopped; no one had followed me into the store. Beside the headbands section was a clearance bin filled with items that obviously deserved to be on clearance. One item was a "girly' baseball cap, hot pink with a star done in rainbow rhinestones on the front. It was god-awful.
I bought it, grateful the guardians hadn't taken away the meager cash I'd had on me when arrested. They probably figured it wasn't enough to bribe anyone. I also bought a ponytail holder, all the while still keeping an eye on the store's doorway. Before leaving, I bound my hair up as much as I could with the holder and then put on the hat. There was something silly about being reduced to disguises, but my hair was an easy way to ID me. It was a deep, almost-black brown, and my lack of any recent haircut had it hanging to my mid-back. In fact, between that and Dimitri's height, we would have made a very conspicuous pair walking through here.
I merged back into the shoppers and soon reached the mall's center. Not wanting to show any hesitation, I took a left toward Macy's. As I walked, I felt slightly embarrassed at the hat and wished I'd at least had time to find a more stylish one. Minutes later, when I spotted a guardian, I was glad I'd made such a quick fashion choice.
He was near one of those carts you always see in the center of malls, pretending to be interested in cell phone covers. I recognized him first because of his stance and the way he was managing to act interested in a zebra print phone cover while simultaneously searching around him. Plus, dhampirs could always distinguish each other from humans with close enough examination. For the most part, our two races appeared pretty identical, but I could spot one of my own.
I made sure not to look right at him and felt his eyes pass over me. I didn't know him, which meant he probably didn't know me either. He was likely going off a photo he'd seen once and expected my hair to be a big giveaway. Keeping as casual an air as I could, I moved past him at a leisurely pace, glancing in windows that kept my back to him but sent no obvious messages that I was on the run. All the while, my heart pounded in my chest. Guardians could kill me on sight. Did that apply to the middle of a mall? I didn't want to find out.
When I was clear of the cart, I picked up my pace a little. Macy's would have its own outside door, and now it was just a gamble to see whether or not I'd made a good call coming in this direction. I entered the store, went down its escalator, and headed toward the main floor exit--passing a very nice selection of cute berets and fedoras. I paused near them, not because I planned on upgrading my hat, but because it allowed me to fall in step just behind a group of girls who were also exiting.
We left the store together, and my eyes quickly adjusted to the change in light. There were lots of people around, but I again saw nothing threatening. My girls stopped to chat, giving me an opportunity to get my bearings without appearing totally lost. To my right, I spotted the busy road Dimitri and I had come in on, and from there, I knew how to get to the movie theater. I exhaled in relief and cut across the parking lot, still watching my surroundings. The farther I walked from the mall, the less crowded the parking lot became. Lampposts kept it from being totally dark, but there was still an eerie feel as things grew quieter and quieter. My initial impulse was to head right for the road and take the sidewalk directly to the theater. It was well lit and had people. But a moment later, I decided it was too conspicuous. I was pretty sure I could cut across parking lots much more quickly to get to the theater.