Authors: Darren Shan
Copyright © 2004 by Darren Shan
All rights reserved.
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First eBook Edition: May 2006
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Also in the CIRQUE DU FREAK series:
Cirque Du Freak
The Vampire’s Assistant
Tunnels of Blood
Trials of Death
The Vampire Prince
Hunters of the Dusk
Allies of the Night
Killers of the Dawn
The Lake of Souls
Bas — my globetrotting pal
(Order of the Bloody Entrails) to:
Maiko “Greenfingers” Enomoto
Megumi “The Voice” Hashimoto
“Queen” Tomoko Taguchi
“Eagle-eyed” Tomoko Aoki
Yamada “Papa” san
And everybody else on the Japanese Shan team
who worked so hard to make June 2003 such a special
time for me
Gillie “The Don” and Zoë “The Mom”
The Christopher Little Posse
N THE DISTANCE A WAVE
of blood was building. Red, towering, topped with spitting heads of fire. On a vast plain, a mass of vampires waited. All three thousand or so faced the onrushing wave. At the rear, separated from the crowd, I stood alone. I was trying to push forward — I wanted to be with the rest of the clan when the wave hit — but an invisible force held me back.
As I struggled, roaring silently — my voice didn’t work here — the wave swept ever nearer. The vampires pulled closer together, terrified but proud, facing their deaths with dignity. Some were pointing spears or swords at the wave, as though they could fight it back.
Closer now, almost upon them, half a mile high, stretching in an unbroken line across the horizon. A wave of crackling flames and boiling blood. The moon disappeared behind the crimson curtain and a blood-red darkness descended.
The foremost vampires were eaten by the wave. They screamed in agony as they were crushed, drowned, or burned to death, their bodies tossed about like pieces of cork within the heart of the scarlet wave. I reached out to them — my people! — and prayed to the gods of the vampires to free me, so that I could die with my blood-brothers and sisters. But still I couldn’t break through the invisible boundary.
More vampires vanished beneath the breaking surf of fire and blood, lost to the wave of merciless red. A thousand lives extinguished . . . fifteen hundred warriors eliminated . . . two thousand souls sent soaring to Paradise . . . twenty-five hundred death howls . . . three thousand corpses, bobbing and burning in the flames.
And then only I was left. My voice returned, and with a desolate cry I collapsed to my knees and glared hatefully up at the crest of the wave as it teetered overhead. I saw faces within the walls of flaming blood — my friends and allies. The wave was taunting me with them.
Then I saw something hovering in the air above the wave, a creature of myth but oh so real. A dragon. Long, glittering, scaled, terrifyingly beautiful. And on its back — a person. A figure of pulsating darkness. It was almost as though his body had been created from shadows.
The shadow man laughed when he saw me, and his laugh was a ghostly cackle, evil and mocking. At his command, the dragon swooped lower, so that it was only ten feet above me. From here I could see it’s rider’s features. His face was a mass of dancing patches of darkness, but when I squinted I recognized him — Steve Leopard.
“All must fall to the Lord of the Shadows,” Steve said softly, and pointed behind me. “This is my world now.”
Turning around, I saw a vast area of wasteland dotted with corpses. Over the dead bodies crawled giant toads, hissing black panthers, grotesque human mutants, and more nightmarish creatures and shapes. Cities burned in the far distance, and great mushroom clouds of smoke and flames filled the air overhead.
I faced Steve again and roared a challenge at him. “Face me on the ground, you monster! Fight me now!”
Steve only laughed, then waved an arm at the wave of fire. There was a moment of hushed calm. Then the wave crashed to earth around me and I was swept away, face burning, lungs filling with blood, surrounded by the bodies of the dead. But what terrified me most before I was swallowed by eternal blackness was that I’d snatched one final glimpse of the Lord of the Shadows before I died. And this time it wasn’t Steve’s face I saw — it was
Y EYES SNAPPED OPEN
. I wanted to scream, but there was a hand over my mouth, rough and powerful. Fear gripped me. I lashed out at my attacker. Then my senses returned and I realized it was just Harkat, muffling my screams so that I didn’t disturb any of the sleepers in the neighboring caravans and tents.
I relaxed and tapped Harkat’s hand to show that I was OK. He released me and stepped back, his large green eyes alive with concern. He handed me a mug of water. I drank deeply from it, then wiped a shaking hand across my lips and smiled weakly. “Did I wake you?”
“I wasn’t asleep,” Harkat said. The grey-skinned Little Person didn’t need much sleep and often went two or three nights without dozing. He took the mug from me and set it down. “It was a bad one this . . . time. You started screaming five or six . . . minutes ago, and only stopped now. The same nightmare?”
“Isn’t it always?” I muttered. “The wasteworld, the wave of fire, the dragon, the . . . Steve,” I finished quietly. I’d been haunted by the nightmare for almost two years, screaming myself awake at least a couple of times a week. In all those months I hadn’t told Harkat about the Lord of the Shadows and that wretched face I always saw at the end of the nightmare. As far as Harkat knew, Steve was the only monster in my dreams — I didn’t dare tell him that I was as scared of myself as I was of Steve Leopard.
I swung my legs out of my hammock and sat up. I could tell by the darkness that it was only three or four in the morning, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep anymore. The nightmare always left me shaken and wide awake.
Rubbing the back of my neck, I found myself studying Harkat out of the corner of my eye. Although he wasn’t the source of my nightmares, I could trace their origins back to him. The Little Person had been built from the remains of a corpse. For most of his new life he hadn’t known who he was. Two years ago, Mr. Tiny — a man of immense power, with the ability to travel through time — transported us to a barren wasteworld and sent us off on a quest to discover Harkat’s previous identity. We fought a variety of wild creatures and twisted monstrosities before finally fishing Harkat’s original body out of the Lake of Souls, a holding place for damned spirits.
Harkat used to be a vampire called Kurda Smahlt. He’d betrayed the vampire clan in a bid to prevent war with our blood-cousins, the purple-skinned vampaneze. To make up for his sins, he’d agreed to become Harkat Mulds and travel back into the past to be my guardian.
I’m Darren Shan, a Vampire Prince. I’m also one of the hunters of the Lord of the Vampaneze — a.k.a. Steve Leopard. Steve was destined to lead the vampaneze to victory over the vampires. If he won, he’d wipe us out entirely. But a few of us — the hunters — had the ability to stop him before he came fully into his powers. If we found and killed him before he matured, the war would be ours. By helping me as Harkat, Kurda hoped to help the clan and prevent their destined destruction at the hands of the vampaneze. In that way he could put right some of the wrongs he’d committed.
Having learned the truth about Harkat, we returned to our own world — rather, our own
Because what we worked out later was that the wasteworld wasn’t an alternative universe or Earth in the past, as we’d first thought — it was Earth in the future. Mr. Tiny had given us a glimpse of what was to come if the Lord of the Shadows came to power.
Harkat thought the ruined world would only come to pass if the vampaneze won the War of the Scars. But I knew about a prediction that I hadn’t shared with anybody else. When the hunt for Steve was finally concluded, there would be one of two possible futures. In one, Steve became the Lord of the Shadows and destroyed the world. In the other future, the Lord of the Shadows was
That’s why I woke in a cold sweat, to the sound of my own screams, so often. It wasn’t just fear of the future, but fear of myself. Would I somehow play a part in creating the barren, twisted world I’d seen in the future? Was I damned to become a monster like Steve, and wreck all that I held dear? It seemed impossible, but the uncertainties gnawed away at me all the same, prompted by the ever-repeating nightmares.
I spent the time before dawn chatting with Harkat, small talk, nothing serious. He’d suffered terrible nightmares before finding out the truth about himself, so he knew exactly what I was going through. He knew what to say to calm me down.
When the sun rose and the Cirque camp started to come to life around us, we made an early start on our day’s chores. We’d been with the Cirque Du Freak since returning from our grueling quest in the waste-world. We knew nothing about what was happening in the War of the Scars. Harkat wanted to return to Vampire Mountain, or at least make contact with the clan — now that he knew he had once been a vampire, he was more concerned than ever for them. But I held off. I didn’t feel the time was right. I had a hunch that we were meant to remain with the Cirque, and that destiny would decide our course as and when it saw fit. Harkat strongly disagreed with me — we’d had some very heated arguments about it — but he reluctantly followed my lead, though I’d sensed recently that his patience was coming to an end.
We performed a variety of jobs around the camp, helping out wherever we were needed — moving equipment, mending costumes, feeding the Wolf Man. We were handymen. Mr. Tall — the owner of the Cirque Du Freak — had offered to find more responsible, permanent positions for us, but we didn’t know when we’d have to leave. It was easier to stick to simple tasks and not get too involved in the long-term running of the show. That way we wouldn’t be missed too much when the time came to part company with the freakish folk.
We’d been performing on the outskirts of a large city, in an old, run-down factory. Sometimes we played in a big top that we transported around with us, but Mr. Tall always liked to take advantage of local venues whenever possible. This was our fourth and final show in the factory. We’d be moving on in the morning, to new pastures. None of us knew where we’d be going yet — Mr. Tall made those decisions and usually didn’t tell us until we’d broken camp and were already on the move.
We put on a typically tight, exciting show that night, built around some of the longest-serving performers — Gertha Teeth, Rhamus Twobellies, Alexander Ribs, Truska the bearded lady, Hans Hands, Evra and Shancus Von. Usually the Vons rounded off the show, treating audiences to one final scare when their snakes slid from the shadows overhead. But Mr. Tall had been experimenting with different lineups recently.
Onstage, Jekkus Flang was juggling knives. Jekkus was one of the Cirque helpers, like Harkat and me, but tonight he’d been billed as a star attraction and was entertaining the crowd with a display of knife tricks. Jekkus was a good juggler, but his act was pretty dull compared to the others. After a few minutes, a man in the front row stood up as Jekkus balanced a long knife on the tip of his nose.
“This is rubbish!” the man shouted, climbing onto the stage. “This is meant to be a place of magic and wonder — not juggling tricks! I could see stuff like this at any circus.”