City of the Snakes


By Darren Shan

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New York Times bestselling novelist Darren Shan presents the final book in his The City series.

For ten years Capac Raimi has ruled the City. Created by the first Cardinal to continue his legacy, Capac cannot be killed.

Then Capac disappears. His trusted lieutenant, Ford Tasso, suspects the mysterious villacs, ancient and powerful Incan priests. To Ford, only one man has the cunning to outwit such adversaries-Al Jeery, who has taken the guise of his father, the terrifying assassin Paucar Wami.

Al has no love for Capac and no wish to tangle with the villacs. Until Ford promises him the one thing he truly craves-retribution against the man who killed those he loved most and destroyed his life. Lured into the twisted, nightmarish world of the Incan priests, Al will learn more about the City than he ever imagined, and be offered more power than he ever desired.

But in the City, everything comes at a cost…


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Table of Contents

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part one

pretender to the throne


a toast

The Cardinal is dead—long live The Cardinal!"

Cathal Sampedro and the three other men in my office applaud soundly as Gico Carl makes the toast. They're all grinning inanely—they love me to death. I smile obligingly and tip my crystal glass to Gico's. I'm not a champagne man by nature, but when the occasion calls for it…

"Ten years, Capac," Gico beams, licking his lips nervously. I pretend not to notice the giveaway gesture. "Seems like only yesterday."

This is boring. I know they're here to kill me. I wish they'd stop wasting my time with small talk and just get on with it.

"Remember the night…," Cathal begins and I tune out. Cathal has the gift of making the most fascinating anecdote sound incredibly dull. His stories are best ignored if possible, and since I'm The Cardinal, lord of the city, I can ignore anyone I damn well please.

The Cardinal is dead—long live The Cardinal. It's been said to me many times over the last decade, occasionally by those who mean it, more often by fools like these who think they can replace me.

Ten years. A long time by most standards, but Gico—once-loyal Gico Carl, the man I chose to succeed Frank Weld as head of the Troops—is right. It does seem like yesterday. I can recall every detail of Ferdinand Dorak's twisted expression as he stepped up to the edge of the roof of Party Central. Half excited, half fearful, thoroughly demented. "Here's to a long life, Capac Raimi," he cheered. Then, with one final "Farewell!" he leaped and the reins of power passed to me. I've been fighting to cling to them ever since.

I've had a lot of people killed since I took over, but nowhere near enough. Running a corrupt cesspit like this city is damn near impossible. No ordinary man could do it. You'd need several lifetimes to stamp your authority on these streets and make them your own. Fortunately I have those lifetimes, and more besides. I'll wear down the dissidents eventually, even if I have to die trying… repeatedly.

Cathal and Gico are rambling, quaffing champagne, working up the courage to kill me. They were fine servants of the original Cardinal. When I stepped in, they swore allegiance to me and for several years remained true to their oath. But their loyalties have swayed. Like so many, they've come to believe I'm not up to the task of leadership. They see the trouble I'm in, the strain the city's under, the threat of rival gangs, and they think the time has come to push me aside and install a new supremo.

Slipping away from the knot of assassins, I gravitate toward the balcony, brooding on how it's all gone wrong. For the first few years I ruled smoothly. I faced opposition, and assassination attempts were frequent, but that was to be expected. Things settled down as The Cardinal had predicted in the plans he'd left behind for me. It seemed that I was over the worst and I commenced planning for the next phase, expansion out of the city. That's when it all started to fall apart.

I study the dozens of puppets hanging from the walls. Dorak's macabre Ayuamarcans. He could create people. He had the power to reach beyond the grave, bring the dead back to life, and give them new personalities. A group of blind Incan priests—villacs—constructed puppets and aided Dorak in his resurrection quests. It sounds insane, but the Ayuamarcans were real. I know because I'm one of them.

I step out of the office. The balcony's a new addition. I've kept this place in much the same state as Dorak left it—sparsely decorated, a long desk, a plush leather chair for myself, simple plastic chairs for the guests—but I replaced the bulletproof glass. When The Cardinal created me, he made me immortal. I can be killed but I always bounce back. As a man with no fear of death, I don't need to cut myself off from the world as my predecessor did. I like to step out here and gaze down upon my city. Normally it calms me, but not tonight.

Why am I struggling? Why the unrest on the streets? Why the renewed assassinations? Those days should be behind me. I haven't weakened. I've stayed true to my course, as my nature dictates. I've pushed ahead with The Cardinal's plans, improvising when I have to, using my initiative. I've been generous to my supporters, wrathful to those who oppose me, fair with all. I should be respected and obeyed as Ferdinand Dorak was. But I'm not.

The villacs shoulder much of the blame. The blind priests helped create me, with the intention of using me, but I'm The Cardinal's son, not theirs, and they resent that. They'd have me concentrate on making the city great, ignore the outside world completely. But I can't. I must have the world in all its glory. Nothing less will suffice.

The priests have become dangerous adversaries. Their power rivals my own, maybe even eclipses it. They're undermining my authority, setting people and gangs against me. It was an uneasy relationship from the start, but recently it's deteriorated entirely. They used to send emissaries to consult with and advise me, but I haven't had word from them for eighteen months. There was no defining argument. They simply lost patience and have been doing all in their power to rock the boat ever since.

"What would you have done?" I murmur to the ghost of Ferdinand Dorak. "Should I cut a deal? Make contact, grovel, surrender to their whims?"

Inside my head I hear him chuckle, and the clouds on the horizon seem to lift into an elongated sneer. I grimace. "Dumb suggestion. You'd hunt them down and exterminate them like rats, and if you lost everything, so be it." That's how he was. Failure didn't worry him, and the threat of it never held him back. It doesn't worry me either, but I'm faced with different dilemmas. The Cardinal had only one life span to consider, but I'll go on forever. I'll stand triumphant in the end, if only by outliving everybody else, and that makes me cautious. I can afford to cede ground to my enemies, knowing I've got all the time in the world to regain it.

Were I human, I'd come down hard on the villacs and force a conclusive confrontation. All or nothing. But I'm superhuman. I can wait. If I forced the issue, there'd be bloodshed. The city would burn. I'll avoid such dramatics if possible. Take my time. Endure the defections and betrayals. Reassert control gradually, imperiously, completely.

Gico Carl steps up beside me. Cathal lurks close behind, his features twisted with regret. This wasn't his idea. Gico talked him into it. Gico can be very persuasive. It's one of the reasons I elevated him so high, placing him in charge of the Troops. Too bad he lacks faith in me. He'll rue his betrayal soon enough, but that's little comfort. I'll have to ferret out a replacement for him. It's a headache I could have done without.

"Capac," Gico sighs, draping an arm across my shoulders. "You're a good lad, but it wasn't meant to be. 'Too much, too soon,' as they say."

"You're a fool, Gico," I smile as the other men step onto the balcony in a show of force. "You think handing control over to the villacs is the answer?"

"They've nothing to do with it," he grunts.

"You're acting alone?" I sneer. "Then you're dumber than I thought. With the support of the priests, you could have held on for six months, maybe a year. Alone, you wouldn't last a month."

"We'll see," Gico snarls, then nods sharply at Cathal. Ducking low, Cathal propels himself into the small of my back, knocking me over the ledge. Gico grabs my feet as I spin over the rails and shoves hard, to hasten my descent. The faces of both men are contorted with gleeful terror.

It's a fifteen-floor drop. Plenty of time to admire the scenery. I sail to earth relaxed, knowing it can't hold me. I smile against the rush of air. "They'll have to do better than this," I chuckle, then hit the ground and die in a shattering explosion of bones and shredded flesh.

On a train, approaching a gray, sprawling, menacing city. For a few minutes I don't know who or where I am. Then my memories return. I'm Capac Raimi, The Cardinal, recently deceased, freshly resurrected, on my way home. Coming back from the dead threw me for a loop the first few times, but like most things in life, a man can get used to it.

A conductor passes up the aisle, asking for tickets. I fish mine out and hand it to him with a polite smile. I've never worked out how I re-form and wind up on this train, fully dressed, with a ticket from Sonas to the city in my pocket. It bothered me to begin with, but I've given up worrying about it. One of those mysteries of the universe I've learned to accept without query.

It's been close to four years since my last execution. I'd aged slightly, gained a few pounds, developed a spray of gray hairs, picked up wrinkles around the eyes. But now I'm the way I was when I came to this city eleven years ago, bright, fresh, youthful. "Hi, handsome," I mutter to my reflection in the window as we enter a tunnel.

We pass Vidalus—a shantytown for immigrant Eastern Europeans—on the outskirts of the city. I check my watch—two p.m. It will be another forty minutes before we hit Central Station. Might as well lie back and make the most of the break. It'll be all systems go once I'm back in the thick of things.

Closing my eyes, I drown out the sounds, smells and sights of the city and think about immortality. Ferdinand Dorak had the power to bring dead people back to life, instilling them with talents and drives of his making. The villacs were the source of his power. Over the centuries, since coming to this city, they'd placed their fate in the hands of men they called Watanas, who could summon shades of the dead and create leaders to cement their control of the city. The Cardinal was the last of the Watanas, charged with the task of creating a leader who could meet the demands of the twenty-first century and all the millennia beyond. Me.

When The Cardinal created an Ayuamarcan, he was given a doll, a replica of the creation, with a heartbeat of its own. When the Ayuamarcan had served its purpose, The Cardinal wiped that person out of existence by piercing the doll's heart. A green fog then enveloped the city, eradicating memories of the Ayuamarcan from the minds of all.

I was created differently. To guard his empire indefinitely, he required an heir who could withstand the march of time. So he made me immortal. I'll live forever, aging slightly (he said I'd stop when I hit my early forties, though I revert every time I'm killed). I'm more resilient than most—minor wounds heal quickly—and though death knocks me back, it can't keep me down for more than a handful of days at a time.

It's a strange existence, but The Cardinal designed me to cope with the staggering implications. I don't like the hand fate has dealt me, and I dread the loneliness the centuries will bring, as old acquaintances die and new generations come to regard me as an unapproachable god, but I'll get by. I'll have to. You can't mope around angst ridden if you're doomed to last as long as the sands of time itself.

Jerry's waiting for me at the station, decked out in his uniform. I've told him he doesn't need to wear it, but Jerry Falstaff's a stubborn man, slow to change. "Good to have you back, boss," he says, helping me off the train, taking my bag (it changes with the reincarnations, keeping up with the latest fashions—a nice touch).

"How long have I been gone?" I ask, stretching, waiting for the crowd to disperse.

"You were killed at 23:14, Tuesday," Jerry says matter-of-factly. "It's now 15:03, Friday."

"How's Gico bearing up?"

"Great." Jerry grins. "A natural leader."

We follow the last few stragglers out of the station, to the waiting limo. Thomas holds the door open for me. Dry, faithful Thomas. He's been my driver almost as long as I can remember. Nothing shakes Thomas (though the bomb that took the two smallest fingers of his left hand seven years ago came close).

"Party Central, Mr. Raimi?" he asks as I get in.

"Party Central," I concur, and discuss affairs of state with Jerry during the ride.

Jerry's one of the few who know the secret of my immortality. The city's awash with rumors, but to most people that's all they are, fairy tales circulated by a power-hungry despot to psych out his opponents. Only those closest to me know about The Cardinal's legacy. I was on the point of letting Gico Carl in on the big secret, but I sensed something weak in him. It didn't surprise me when he turned.

Jerry's a soldier, a long-serving Troop who came to my attention when he took a bullet intended for me eight years ago. Once he'd recuperated, I had Frank Weld—still head of the Troops in those days—assign him to the fifteenth floor of Party Central, where our relationship developed. He was shaken when I first displayed my Lazarus trick, but now he takes my comebacks in his stride.

"What about Mr. Sampedro?" Jerry asks as we draw close to Party Central, the fortress I inherited from the previous Cardinal. "He's been led astray by Gico, but we could still use him."

I consider Cathal Sampedro's fate, then shake my head. "He's blown it."

Jerry nods obediently and draws a pistol from his holster.

"It was Alice's birthday yesterday, wasn't it?" I ask.

Jerry looks surprised. "I didn't think you'd remember."

"Death's a small matter," I quip. "Birthdays are important. Do anything nice with her?"

He shrugs. "We meant to go away for a couple of days, but your getting iced put paid to that. I took her out for a meal. She wasn't overly impressed, but she knows how it goes."

We stop at the rear of Party Central and Thomas gets out to open my door. Frank Weld materializes out of the shadows, flanked by ten of the toughest-looking sons of bitches I've ever seen.

"Capac," he greets me, grinning edgily. He's never come to terms with my indestructibility. My returning freaks the shit out of him, but he puts up with me because he senses—in a way Gico Carl and Cathal Sampedro can't—that I'm the future. Frank, like Ford Tasso before him, is a man propelled by instinct to identify and follow the strongest master.

Frank quit as head of the Troops three years ago. He moved up in the organization, becoming overseer of my international interests. Although eternity is mine to play with, I'm limited physically to the boundaries of this city. If I spend more than three or four days away, my body unravels and I find myself back on the train. I can handle most of my global business from Party Central, and by arranging short trips abroad for face-to-face meetings, but it helps to have a strong lieutenant active in the field.

"Sorry to pull you away from your regular duties."

Frank sniffs. "Diplomacy's boring. I'm looking forward to running with the Troops again."

"As long as you realize it's a temporary measure. As soon as I find a fit replacement, you're out of here."

"If I didn't know better, I'd swear you wanted to get rid of me," Frank laughs, then draws his gun, checks with his men—all armed with rifles—and leads us through the backyard, past a posse of Troops who look away and wait for this latest power game to reach its inevitable conclusion.

Gico's guards don't intervene when they spot us. The men we draft into the Troops are smart enough to know which way the wind blows. Besides, most were blooded by Frank, so even if they were prepared to take a shot at me, they wouldn't dare raise a hand against their old taskmaster.

In the past you had to check in your shoes at reception. The floors of Party Central are lined with some of the finest carpets you'll find this side of Arabia. Dorak was obsessive about them. I don't share his love, so we march to the room marked BASE in our shoes and boots, sparing not a thought for the priceless floor covering.

Mags is on duty. She's another of Dorak's finds. Best secretary bar none. I'd be lost without her. She looks up and smiles as we enter. I've never explained the truth about myself to Mags, but she's seen enough to guess. "Glad to have you back, sir," she greets me. "I've got lots of forms that need signing when you're through with Mr. Carl and his associates."

"Why didn't you get Gico to sign them while he was acting CEO?"

"I had a feeling he wouldn't be acting for long," she replies. Then she asks cheekily, "Shall I check to see if he's receiving visitors?"

"I'm sure he'll make time for us."

Breezing in without knocking, I find Gico, Cathal and two of their allies examining a map on the table that dominates the room. Four burly Troops are positioned by the windows. They raise their weapons when they see me, then lower them when Frank snaps his fingers.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen." I smile lazily as their jaws drop. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything important."

"You… you…," Cathal gasps, taking a few involuntary steps away from me as if I'm some supernatural monster. Which I suppose I am.

"You four—beat it!" Frank barks at the Troops by the window. They stare at him uncertainly, then at the ten men behind him, then nod obediently and make themselves scarce.

"You just can't find good help these days," I tut, locating my chair and slumping into it.

"We killed you," Gico moans, face ashen. One of the men to his left is crying. The other's shaking his head numbly. Cathal has backed up to the window. If it were open he'd probably back all the way off the balcony and save us the price of a bullet.

"Some men are harder to keep down than others," I murmur.

"We killed you," Gico says again, stubborn to the last. "You're dead. I pushed you over." He looks to Frank and Jerry appealingly. "We killed him!"

"Time to return the favor," Frank grunts and gives the signal. His Troops circle the traitors.

"No!" Gico howls, trying to break through to me. "You're dead! We killed you! We—"

A Troop clubs him over the back of the head and he falls limp to the floor. The others are swiftly subdued, even the normally fierce Cathal Sampedro. I tend to have that effect on people when I return from the dead.

"Take them to the yard," Frank says, and his Troops bundle the prisoners out of the office, down the hall to the elevator. The executions will be short and unceremonial. No need for me to be present.

"Nice to be back?" Jerry asks.

"There's no place like home," I agree, testing the chair, making sure Gico hasn't tampered with it.

"I'd love to stay and chat," Frank says, "but I've got work to do. Three years is a long time. It'll take awhile to get back into the swing of things."

"You'll manage," I reply confidently, then call him back as he heads for the door. "One last thing. There's a photo I'd like you to look at."

"This the guy you were asking about before?"


The weekend before I was killed I called Frank, having guessed what Gico Carl and his companions were planning, to check that he was willing to return as head of the Troops. While on the phone, I tested his memories of Paucar Wami—Dorak's most sinister and singular Ayuamarcan apart from me. I asked if he recollected a famous serial killer who'd terrorized this city and worked for The Cardinal. He didn't, but maybe the photo will jog something inside him.

"This was taken last Saturday," I explain, digging through my drawers for the photo and tossing it across the desk. "He stood close to a security camera out back and stared straight at it for a full minute."

The photo's of a tall, lithe, extremely dark-skinned man.

Bald. Strange green eyes. Tattoos of colored snakes adorn both his cheeks. He's dressed in dark pants and a black leather jacket.

Frank breathes out heavily through his nostrils, then looks at me warily. "That's a photo of Al."

"Al Jeery?"


I shake my head. "No. It isn't."

I know Al Jeery as intimately as you can know someone you've never actually met. I became interested in him when he chose the name of Paucar Wami and adopted his guise. I've had him shadowed, researched and photographed in any number of compromising positions. This isn't him.

Frank studies the photo again. "Sure looks like Al. Jerry?" Jerry and Frank were both colleagues of Al Jeery's long ago.

"I've seen it already," Jerry says. "I thought it was him too, but Capac's right—it's someone else."

Frank squints. "Yeah, I see it now. His ears are smaller, his face is slightly sharper, his contact lenses are a darker shade of green."

"I don't think they're contacts," I say softly, retrieving the photo.

"Who is he?" Frank asks.

I'm reluctant to voice the crazy words, but I force them out. "I think he's Paucar Wami."

"That's the name Al uses," Frank notes.

"I mean the original Paucar Wami. The Ayuamarcan who popped out of existence ten years ago when Dorak died."

Frank and Jerry share an uneasy look. They never quite believed my tales of the Ayuamarcans. They've seen me return from the dead, so they know there's more to this world than meets the eye, but there are some things they find hard to get their heads around.

"Never mind," I mutter. "It's not your problem. Focus on running the Troops. Leave me to worry about the ghosts of the past."

Frank opens his mouth to say something, can't think of anything, salutes and exits. Jerry shuffles after the departing Frank Weld, leaving me alone in my aerie to brood.

Paucar Wami isn't the only ghost who's come back to haunt me. There have been others. People who never truly existed, who died, who've lived these last ten years only in my memories. Until this one was captured on film, I thought I was imagining them. Now I'm not sure.

Sighing, I slide the photo back into its drawer and leave the puzzle for another day. There's much to be done. I've been gone less than three days, but a lot can happen even in that short a period. Time to catch up on the state of play, reassert my authority and let people know that The Cardinal's back from the dead… again.


the relic

The city's most exclusive nursing home, Solvert's, is situated in a quiet corner of Conchita Gardens, a park built during Ferdinand Dorak's time. Dorak's wife, Conchita, pleaded with him to do something beautiful and unexpected for her birthday one year. He responded with the park. He could be a sentimental old goat where Conchita was concerned.

The Cardinal left behind a trust fund to pay toward the upkeep of the park, and I chip in with my own annual contribution, making up the shortfall, in tribute to the memory of Conchita Kubekik, who was a dear friend of mine.

Thomas drops me at the front of Solvert's. I'm recognized as soon as I enter and the staff scurry to look busy—nobody wants to get mixed up with a notorious gangster like me. Finally I flag a nurse and ask to see Ford Tasso. She gulps nervously and scampers ahead, leading the way. I could find it myself, but they don't like visitors walking around unattended. Ford isn't the only ex-gangster on their books. They worry about assassinations.

He's sitting outside in a wheelchair, under a leafy tree, enjoying the spring morning. He's an impressive sight, even from the back and seated, as broad and rocklike as ever.

I relied on Ford heavily when I took over. I'd still be depending on him if a stroke hadn't rendered him inactive.

I thank the nurse and cough to announce my presence. "No need to throw a fit," Ford wheezes. "My ears are good as ever. I heard you coming."

"Hello, old friend." I bend to shake his left hand. His granite features haven't softened with time. If anything he looks rougher than ever, his face impassive and deathly gray on one side. The stroke hit him hardest down the right, paralyzing his face and arm, almost destroying his leg. He can get around on his feet when he has to, but walking's slow and painful, his right leg dragging leadenly with every labored step.

"You must be in deep shit to come here," he grunts.

I smile wryly. We both know I wouldn't waste time on a social visit. Sitting on the grass, I grimace. "Deep as it gets."

He pivots to face me and waits. It's been four years since the stroke. For six months he wasn't able to speak. Gradually he learned to produce sounds, although at first his slur was so bad that even his full-time nurse couldn't understand what he was saying. With untold hours of practice and treatment, he's trained himself to speak again. He talks slower than he used to, and occasionally he'll stumble on a word, but he's more coherent than he has any right to be. The doctors didn't think he'd survive the first year. I guessed differently. Death will have to go a full twelve rounds with Ford Tasso before it forces him out of the ring.

"How's life?" I ask.

"Not bad. Still in sex therapy. I sustained an erection for three minutes a couple of days ago. My best yet."

"Still refusing Viagra?" I grin.

"I don't mess with voodoo shit like that. Don't need it."

"Why are you worried about your staying power anyway?" I ask. "Not like you're going to get any action here."

"I like to be prepared for anything," he sniffs, then fixes me with his left eye (he lost sight in his right but refuses to wear a patch). "Enough of the crap. What's wrong?"

"You heard about Gico?"

"Him and Cathal killed you and seized control. Didn't last long."

"They never do, but that's not the point. Gico and Cathal were two of my best. I thought I could rely on them."

"Maybe they got greedy," Ford suggests, rubbing the flesh of his gray right wrist. His circulation is poor down the right. He has to work on his muscles continuously when he's by himself.

"No," I mutter. "Fear motivated them. They thought I wasn't in control. They saw me as a weak link. If my closest aides don't have faith in me…"

Ford nods slowly. "I'd heard things weren't so hot. Tell me more."

I fill him in on all that's transpired since my last visit two years ago. The city's heading for riots. Old gangs have splintered, new gangs have formed, fighting is rife. I've tried holding things together, but they refuse to pay heed. I'm the most powerful force in the city but I'm not obeyed as Dorak was. People fear me, but they don't respect me.

Ford listens silently. When I run out of words, he mulls the situation over, then asks, "And the villacs?"

"Keeping low. I'm sure they're behind a lot of the unrest but they're doing it subtly, without showing their hand."

Ford grunts. "I told The Cardinal to take them out years ago, but he was always in awe of them."

"It's not just the priests. Others oppose me, men who'd never have dared face up to Dorak. Eugene Davern's one."

"The guy who runs the KKK?" Ford asks, surprised. The Kool Kats Klub has always been a hive of racists, but we never had to worry about them in Ford's time. Rich white kids talking big. Harmless.


  • "With City of the Snakes, Darren Shan seems to have filled a very particular niche. This is a dark series but well done, equal parts mystery and horror...Should captivate readers."—Book Reporter
  • "The third City thriller is an enjoyable but extremely dark and bloody fantasy as people use horrific power to create, destroy, and resurrect lives."—Genre Go Round

On Sale
Jun 12, 2012
Page Count
320 pages

Darren Shan

About the Author

Darren Shan is the bestselling author of the young adult series Cirque Du Freak, The Demonata, and the Saga of Larten Crepsley series, as well as the stand-alone book The Thin Executioner. His books have sold over 25 million copies worldwide. Shan divides his time between his homes in Ireland and London.

Learn more about this author