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Cirque Du Freak: Hunters of the Dusk
Book 7 in the Saga of Darren Shan
By Darren Shan
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Copyright © 2002 by Darren Shan
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
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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.
First eBook Edition: July 2007
The Hachette Book Group Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
Also in the Saga of Darren Shan:
Cirque Du Freak (Book 1)
The Vampire's Assistant (Book 2)
Tunnels of Blood (Book 3)
Vampire Mountain (Book 4)
Trials of Death (Book 5)
The Vampire Prince (Book 6)
IT WAS ANOTHER LONG, tiring night in the Hall of Princes. A Vampire General called Staffen Irve was reporting to me and Paris Skyle. Paris was the oldest living vampire, with more than eight hundred years under his belt. He had flowing white hair, a long, grey beard, and had lost his right ear in a fight many decades ago.
Staffen Irve had been active in the field for three years, and had been giving us a quick rundown of his experiences in the War of the Scars, as it had come to be known (a reference to the scars on our fingertips, the common mark of a vampire or vampaneze). It was a strange war. There were no big battles and neither side used missile-firing weapons — vampires and vampaneze fight only with hand-to-hand weapons like swords, clubs, and spears. The war was a series of isolated skirmishes, three or four vampires at a time against a similar number of vampaneze, fighting to the death.
"There was four of us 'gainst three of them," Staffen Irve said, telling us about one of his more recent encounters. "But my lads was dry behind the tonsils, while the vampaneze was battle-hardy. I killed one of 'em but the others got away, leaving two of my lads dead and the third with a useless arm."
"Have any of the vampaneze spoke of their Lord?" Paris asked.
"No, sire. Those I take alive only laugh at my questions, even under torture."
In the six years that we'd been hunting for their Lord, there'd been no sign of him. We knew he hadn't been blooded — various vampaneze had told us that he was learning their ways before becoming one of them — and the general opinion was that if we were to have any chance of preventing Mr. Tiny's predictions, we had to find and kill their Lord before he took full control of the clan.
A cluster of Generals was waiting to speak with Paris. They moved forward as Staffen Irve departed, but I signaled them back. Picking up a mug of warm blood, I passed it to the one-eared Prince. He smiled and drank deeply, then wiped red stains from around his mouth with the back of a trembling hand — the responsibility of running the war council was taking its toll on the ancient vampire.
"Do you want to call it a night?" I asked, worried about Paris's health.
He shook his head. "The night is young," he muttered.
"But you are not," said a familiar voice behind me — Mr. Crepsley. The vampire in the red cloak spent most of his time by my side, advising and encouraging me. He was in a peculiar position. As an ordinary vampire, he held no recognizable rank, and could be commanded by the lowliest of Generals. Yet as my guardian he unofficially had the powers of a Prince (since I followed his advice practically all the time). In reality, Mr. Crepsley was second in command to Paris Skyle, yet nobody openly acknowledged this. Vampire protocol — go figure!
"You should rest," Mr. Crepsley said to Paris, laying a hand on the Prince's shoulder. "This war will run a long time. You must not exhaust yourself too early. We will need you later."
"Nonsense!" Paris laughed. "You and Darren are the future. I am the past, Larten. I will not live to see the end of this war if it drags on as long as we fear. If I do not make my mark now, I never will."
Mr. Crepsley started to object, but Paris silenced him with the crooking of a finger. "An old owl hates to be told how young and virile he is. I am on my last legs, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool, a liar, or both."
Mr. Crepsley tilted his head obediently. "Very well. I will not argue with you."
Paris sniffed. "I should hope not," he said, then shifted tiredly on his throne. "But this has been a taxing night. I will talk with these Generals, then crawl off to my coffin to sleep. Will Darren be able to manage without me?"
"Darren will manage," Mr. Crepsley said confidently, and stood slightly behind me as the Generals advanced, ready to advise when required.
Paris didn't make his coffin by dawn. The Generals had much to argue about — by studying reports on the movements of the vampaneze, they were trying to pinpoint the possible hiding place of their Lord — and it was close to midday before the ancient Prince slipped away.
I treated myself to a short break, grabbed some food, then heard from three of the Mountain's fighting tutors, who were training the latest batch of Generals. After that I had to send two new Generals out into the field for their first taste of combat. I quickly went through the small ceremony — I had to daub their foreheads with vampire blood and mutter an ancient war prayer over them — then wished them luck and sent them off to kill vampaneze — or die.
Then it was time for vampires to approach me with a wide range of problems and questions. As a Prince I was expected to deal with every sort of subject under the moon. I was only a young, inexperienced half-vampire, who'd become a Prince more by default than merit, but the members of the clan placed their trust completely in their Princes, and I was given the same respect as Paris or any of the others.
When the last vampire had departed, I snagged about three hours of sleep, in a hammock that I'd strung up at the rear of the Hall. When I woke, I ate some half-cooked, salted boar meat, washed down with water and followed by a small mug of blood. Then it was back to my throne for more planning, plotting, and reports.
I SNAPPED OUT OF SLEEP to the sound of screaming.
Jerking awake, I fell out of my hammock, onto the hard, cold floor of my rocky cell. My hand automatically felt for the short sword that I kept strapped by my side at all times. Then the fog of sleep cleared and I realized it was only Harkat, having a nightmare.
Harkat Mulds was a Little Person, a short creature who wore blue robes and worked for Mr. Tiny. He'd been human once, though he didn't remember who he used to be, or when or where he lived. When he died, his soul remained trapped on Earth, until Mr. Tiny brought him back to life in a new, stunted body.
"Harkat," I mumbled, shaking him roughly. "Wake up. You're dreaming again."
Harkat had no eyelids, but his large green eyes dimmed when he was asleep. Now the light in them flared and he moaned loudly, rolling out of his hammock, as I had moments before. "Dragons!" he screamed, voice muffled by the mask he always wore — he wasn't able to breathe normal air for more than ten or twelve hours, and without the mask he'd die. "Dragons!"
"No," I sighed. "You've been dreaming."
Harkat stared at me with his unnatural green eyes, then relaxed and tugged his mask down, revealing a wide, grey, jagged gash of a mouth. "Sorry, Darren. Did I wake . . . you?"
"No," I lied. "I was up already."
I swung back onto my hammock and sat gazing at Harkat. There was no denying he was an ugly creature. Short and squat, with dead, grey skin, no visible ears or a nose — he had ears stitched beneath the skin of his scalp, but was without a sense of smell or taste. He had no hair, round, green eyes, sharp little teeth, and a dark grey tongue. His face had been stitched together, like Frankenstein's monster.
Of course, I was no model myself — few vampires were! My face, body, and limbs were laced with scars and burn marks, many picked up during my Trials of Initiation (which I'd passed at my second attempt, two years ago). I was also as bald as a baby, as a result of my first set of Trials, when I'd been badly burnt.
Harkat was one of my closest friends. He'd saved my life twice, when I was attacked by a wild bear on the trail to Vampire Mountain, then in a fight with savage boars during my first, failed Trials of Initiation. It bothered me to see him so disturbed by the nightmares that had been plaguing him for the last few years.
"Was this nightmare the same as the others?" I asked.
"Yes." He nodded. "I was wandering in a vast wasteland. The sky was red. I was searching for something but I didn't . . . know what. There were pits full of stakes. A dragon attacked. I fought it off but . . . another appeared. Then another. Then . . ." He sighed miserably.
Harkat's speech had improved greatly since he'd first started speaking. In the beginning he'd had to pause for breath after every two or three words, but he'd learned to control his breathing and now only stalled during long sentences.
"Were the shadow men there?" I asked. Sometimes he dreamed of shadowy figures who chased and tormented him.
"Not this time," he said, "though I think they'd have appeared if you . . . hadn't woken me up." Harkat was sweating — his sweat was a pale green color — and his shoulders shook slightly. He suffered greatly in his sleep, and stayed awake as long as he could, sleeping only four or five hours out of every seventy-two.
"Want something to eat or drink?" I asked.
"No," he said. "Not hungry." He stood and stretched his burly arms. He was wearing only a cloth around his waist, so I could see his smooth stomach and chest — Harkat had no nipples or belly button.
"It's good to see you," he said, pulling on his blue robes, which he'd never grown out of the habit of wearing. "It's been ages since . . . we got together."
"I know," I groaned. "This war business is killing me, but I can't leave Paris to deal with it alone. He needs me."
"How is Sire Skyle?" Harkat asked.
"Bearing up. But it's hard. So many decisions to make, so many troops to organize, so many vampires to send to their deaths."
We were silent a while, thinking about the War of the Scars and the vampires — including some very good friends of ours — who had died in it.
"How've you been?" I asked Harkat, shrugging off the morbid thoughts.
"Busy," he said. "Seba's working me harder all the time." After a few months of milling around Vampire Mountain, Harkat had gone to work for the quarter-master, Seba Nile, who was in charge of stocking and maintaining the Mountain's stores of food, clothes, and weapons. Harkat started out moving crates and sacks around, but he'd learned quickly about supplies and how to keep up with the needs of the vampires, and now served as Seba's senior assistant.
"Do you have to return to the Hall of Princes soon?" Harkat asked. "Seba would like to see you. He wants to show you . . . some spiders." The mountain was home to thousands of arachnids, known as Ba'Halen's spiders.
"I have to go back," I said regretfully, "but I'll try to drop by soon."
"Do," Harkat said seriously. "You look exhausted. Paris is not the only one who . . . needs rest."
Harkat had to leave shortly afterward to prepare for the arrival of a group of Generals. I lay in my hammock and stared at the dark rock ceiling, unable to get back to sleep. This was the cell Harkat and I had first shared when we came to Vampire Mountain. I liked this tiny cubbyhole — it was the closest thing I had to a bedroom — but rarely got to see much of it. Most of my nights were spent in the Hall of Princes, and the few free hours I had by day were normally passed eating or exercising.
I ran a hand over my bald head while I was resting and thought back over my Trials of Initiation. I'd sailed through them the second time. I didn't have to take them — as a Prince, I was under no obligation — but I wouldn't have felt right if I hadn't. By passing the Trials, I'd proved myself worthy of being a vampire.
Apart from the scars and burns, I hadn't changed much in the last six years. As a half-vampire, I aged only one year for every five that passed. I was a little taller than when I left the Cirque Du Freak with Mr. Crepsley, and my features had thickened and matured slightly. But I wasn't a full-vampire and wouldn't change much until I became one. As a full-vampire I'd be much stronger. I'd also be able to heal cuts with my spit, breathe out a gas that could knock people unconscious, and communicate telepathically with other vampires. Plus I'd be able to flit, which is a super-fast speed vampires can attain. On the downside, I'd be vulnerable to sunlight and couldn't move around during the day.
But all that lay far ahead. Mr. Crepsley hadn't said anything about when I'd be fully blooded, but I gathered it wouldn't happen until I was an adult. That was ten or fifteen years away — my body was still that of a teenager — so I had lots of time to enjoy (or endure) my extended childhood.
I lay relaxing for another half hour, then got up and dressed. I'd taken to wearing light blue clothes, pants and a tunic, covered by a long, regal-looking robe. My right thumb snagged on the arm of the tunic as I was pulling it on, as it often did — I'd broken the thumb six years ago and it still stuck out at an awkward angle.
Taking care not to rip the fabric on my extra-tough nails — which could gouge holes in soft rock — I freed my thumb and finished dressing. I pulled on a pair of light shoes and ran a hand over my head to make sure I hadn't been bitten by ticks. They'd appeared all over the mountain recently, annoying everyone. Then I made my way back to the Hall of Princes for another long night of tactics and debate.
THE DOORS TO THE HALL of Princes could be opened only by a Prince laying a hand on the doors or touching a panel on the thrones inside the Hall. Nothing could break through the walls of the Hall, which had been built by Mr. Tiny and his Little People centuries before.
The Stone of Blood was kept in the Hall, and was very important. It was a magical artifact. Any vampire who came to the mountain (most of the three thousand vampires in the world had made the trek at least once) laid their hands on the Stone and let it absorb some of their blood. The Stone could then be used to track that vampire down. So, if Mr. Crepsley wanted to know where Arrow was, he could lay his hands on the Stone and think about him, and within seconds he'd have a fix on the Prince. Or, if he thought of an area, the Stone would tell him how many vampires were there.
I couldn't use the Stone of Blood to search for others — only full-vampires were able to do that — but I could be traced through it, since it had taken blood from me when I became a Prince.
If the Stone ever fell into the hands of the vampaneze, they could use it to track down all the vampires who'd bonded with it. Hiding from them would be impossible. They'd annihilate us. Because of this danger, some vampires wanted to destroy the Stone of Blood — but there was a legend that it could save us in our hour of greatest need.
I was thinking about all this while Paris used the Stone of Blood to maneuver troops in the field. As reports reached us of vampaneze positions, Paris used the Stone to check where his Generals were, then communicated telepathically with them, giving them orders to move from place to place. It was this that drained him so deeply. Others could have used the Stone, but as a Prince, Paris's word was law, and it was quicker for him to deliver the orders himself.
While Paris focused on the Stone, Mr. Crepsley and me put field reports together and built up a clear picture of the movements of the vampaneze. Many other Generals were also doing this, but it was our job to take their findings, sort through them, pick out the more important ones, and make suggestions to Paris. We had lots of maps, with pins marking the positions of vampires and vampaneze.
Mr. Crepsley had been intently studying a map for ten minutes, and he looked worried. "Have you seen this?" he asked eventually, calling me over.
I stared at the map. There were three yellow flags and two red flags stuck close together around a city. We used five main colors to keep track of things. Blue flags for vampires. Yellow for vampaneze. Green for vampaneze strongholds — cities and towns that they defended like bases. White flags were stuck in places where we'd won fights. Red flags where we'd lost.
"What am I looking for?" I asked, staring at the yellow and red flags. My eyes were bleary from lack of sleep and too much concentrating on maps and poorly scrawled reports.
"The name of the city," Mr. Crepsley said, running a fingernail over it.
- On Sale
- May 11, 2005
- Page Count
- 224 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers