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By Darren Shan
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One boy’s life ripped to shreds before his eyes…
One wrathful demon master hell-bent on revenge…
An army of grisly Demonata on the rampage…
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
Lord Loss (Book 1)
Demon Thief (Book 2)
Slawter (Book 3)
Bec (Book 4)
Blood Beast (Book 5)
A DEMON shaped like a giant scorpion digs its stinger into a woman's eyes. As they pop, it spits eggs into the bloody sockets, then watches with its almost human face as the eggs hatch and wriggling maggots feast on her flesh.
Another demonic beast—it looks like a cute rabbit, though it has an ugly bulge on its back—vomits over a man and his two children. The acidic liquid sizzles and dissolves them down to the bone.
A third footman of the Demonata runs after a flight attendant. He has the body of a young boy but his head is larger than an adult's, he has a wig of living lice instead of hair, and fire burns in the holes where his eyes should be. He also has two extra mouths in the palms of his hands. The teeth of both are eagerly snapping open and shut as he chases the screaming flight attendant.
All the people on the plane are screaming—except those who've already been killed—and it's music to the ears of the demon master, Lord Loss. He hovers in the aisle, mouth twisted into a sad smile, red eyes distant. A few of his eight arms twitch in rhythm with the screams, like the conductor's of an orchestra. Then his eyes snap back into focus and he turns his gaze on me.
"You should not have humiliated me, Grubitsch," Lord Loss says, still furious about the time I beat him at chess. "You should have fought fairly, faithful to the spirit of the contest, and won or lost on merit alone. You ruined chess for me. For many centuries it was my only other source of joy. Now I have just the agony and torture of humans to keep me amused."
He slowly drifts down the aisle toward me, the strands of flesh that pass for his legs floating a few inches above the floor. The tiny snakes in the hole where his heart should be are writhing, hissing hatefully, spitting venom in my direction. Blood is flowing from the many cracks in his pale red skin. The holes above his upper lip—he has no nose—quiver wildly as he gleefully inhales the stench of terror from the doomed passengers. His dark red eyes are dilated with morbid pleasure. All eight of his arms are extended. Some of his mangled hands brush the heads and cheeks of humans as he passes, as if he is obscenely blessing them. The white-haired, pink-eyed, albino traitor, Juni Swan, is behind him, smiling serenely.
A woman clasping a baby falls to her knees in front of Lord Loss, sobbing painfully. "Please!" she cries. "Not my child. Have mercy on my baby. Don't kill him. I beg you!"
"Suffer to come unto me the little children," Lord Loss murmurs blasphemously, taking the baby with three of his hands. He strokes the boy's face and the baby laughs. Lord Loss passes him to Juni. "For you, my darling swan."
"You are generous to a fault, my lord." She smiles, then kisses the infant.
"No!" I scream. But it's too late. A moment later she tosses the grey remains of the baby aside, having sucked his fragile life from him. The child's mother chokes, eyes wide with disbelief and horror. Lord Loss bends and breathes in her sorrow, sighs contentedly, then moves on, leaving her to the lesser demons.
Sick with fear, I back away from the approaching demon master. There are several empty rows behind me—the other passengers have fled to the tail of the plane. Lord Loss makes a small humming noise. "At last you move. I thought I might wring no sport from you today."
"Leave them alone," I snarl, hands knotted into trembling fists. "It's me you want, so let the others go."
"I cannot do that, Grubitsch," Lord Loss sighs. "My familiars are hungry. I promised them food. You would not ask me to break my word, would you?"
"My master always keeps his promises," Juni chuckles.
I focus on her. The fair-faced but black-hearted cuckoo in the nest. She acted like my mother. I loved her. I let her steal me away from Dervish. And all the time she was plotting against me. "Harpy!" I sob. "What the hell are you—a demon in disguise?"
"I don't have that honor," she replies smoothly. "I'm merely a human like you. In fact, I'm from the same family tree, believe it or not. But unlike you and your fool of an uncle, I chose to serve those greater than ourselves, rather than vainly battle with them."
"You sold us out!" I shout. Then confusion kicks in. "But . . . I don't understand. In Slawter, when we were trying to escape from the demons, you helped us."
"No," she smiles. "That was all a pretense. When I first visited your house with Davida Haym, I used magic to convince Dervish to come to Slawter and bring you and Billy with him. On the set it was my job to win your confidence. I found out your secrets, so we could use them against you.
"I played you like pawns," she boasts. "I had you thinking I was one of your pathetic group, a trusted ally. I let you make escape plans and even allowed you to act on them—it would have been more delicious if you failed with freedom in sight. At the end, just before you breached the barrier, I meant to reveal my true self and turn you over to my master. And I would have, except . . ."
"You were knocked unconscious." I gasp, remembering the dying demon who clubbed her in its death throes.
Juni nods bitterly. "By the time I recovered, it was too late. I paused to silence Chuda Sool—he knew the truth about me—then departed to join my master and plot our next approach."
"We had not planned to strike so soon," Lord Loss says. He's come to a stop ten feet away, enjoying my growing understanding of how we were betrayed. "I could sense the magic within you, even though you hid it masterfully. I didn't want to move on you until I knew precisely what I'd have to deal with. But then Juni had a vision."
"I catch glimpses of the future," Juni says smugly. "I saw you change into a werewolf a few months before it happened."
"I could not wait any longer," Lord Loss sighs. "I wished to punish you while you were human—there would be no satisfaction in killing a senseless animal. So I set a watch on you. I'm a fine judge of werewolves. I was confident of timing it so that I struck just prior to the final turning—I liked the idea of letting you suffer the agonies of the impending change for as long as possible."
"It all fell neatly into place in the end," Juni smirks. "I was planning to come to Carcery Vale, looking for an excuse to explain my return. When your friend died, I donned my psychologist's disguise, disposed of William Mauch, and replaced him. You and Billy couldn't have been more welcoming. And Dervish . . . Well, he was positively overjoyed to see me."
"You betrayed us," I snarl, blinking away angry tears.
"You were easy to betray," she murmurs. I can see the wickedness in her eyes. How did I ever miss it? "Dervish fell for my pretty pink eyes and cool white skin. He never looked into my heart. I didn't even have to use magic on him—he fell in love with me of his own accord. The sap."
I feel magic flare within me when she says that. Howling, I bring my fists up. Energy shoots from my knuckles, a ball of pure, invisible power. I direct it at Juni, meaning to blast her into a million fleshy pieces.
Alarm ripples across her eyes. She starts to cast a protective spell but it's too late. I'm going to destroy her, rip her atoms apart, and . . .
Lord Loss sticks out four of his arms. He blocks Juni from the force of my blow and absorbs the energy. Flinches, staggers back a few yards, then rights himself and smiles.
"You are powerful, Grubitsch, but untrained. Perhaps if you had spent more time learning the ways of magic you would be able to control that great force and defend yourself and these other unfortunate victims. But you ran from your responsibility. Therefore you—and all around you—will die."
I scream at him, then unleash a second blast of magic energy, more powerful than the first. It strikes him in the middle of his chest, drives him back several more yards. He knocks Juni to the floor and almost loses his balance. But then he straightens and laughs. Brushes away drops of blood as if cleaning fluff from a jacket.
"Have you finished, or do you want to try again?" he asks. "Maybe you will be luckier the third time. What do you think, Miss Swan?"
Juni's getting back to her feet, irate at having been knocked down. "I think we should take him now and drop the games," she snaps.
"'Take me'?" I repeat. "Take me where?"
"My realm," Lord Loss says. "You surely didn't think I'd kill you here, along with these meaningless others, quickly and cleanly? Dear me, no. You robbed me of my great joy in life—chess. You must pay properly for that, in the universe of the Demonata, where time passes oh, so slowly, where I can torture your soul for a thousand years . . . maybe more."
"A bit harsher than detention after school, wouldn't you say?" Juni sneers.
"Artery," Lord Loss calls. The child-shaped demon with fire instead of eyes pulls his head out of the flight attendant's stomach cavity and looks up, guts dribbling down his chin.
"Spine," Lord Loss says. The giant scorpion sheathes its stinger and regards its master from the ceiling, where it's hanging upside down.
"Femur," Lord Loss finishes, and the rabbitlike demon hops onto the head of a corpse, acid frothing from its lips.
Lord Loss points beyond me to where the majority of the survivors are huddled, terrified and weeping. "Make quick work of them. We must leave soon, before our window home closes."
The familiars laugh horrifically, then race toward me. I flinch as the monstrous creatures draw close to me, but they veer around and leave me untouched. Screams behind—then awful ripping, munching, stabbing, sizzling sounds.
I don't look back. Part of me wants to. Maybe my magic would work against the familiars. Perhaps I could kill them. But I dare not turn my back on Lord Loss. The demon master is the greatest threat. If I let him attack me from behind, I'm definitely doomed.
Hell, who am I trying to kid? I'm doomed anyway. He's shown that he can take my worst and shrug it off. I might as well surrender and get it over and done with. And if he promised me a quick death, maybe I'd take that way out. But I don't like the sound of a millennium of torture in his webbed, wicked world. I'm not going to willingly sacrifice myself to such a miserable fate. If he wants to turn me into one of his long-term playthings, he'll have to fight for me.
"Come on then, you lumpy, ugly amateur!" I yell, backing away from him. "You think you can take me? You're wrong. You'll fail, just like you failed to beat me at chess and kill me in Slawter. You're pathetic!"
Lord Loss's face twists. His arms extend toward me. Power crackles in the air as fierce magic gathers in his misshapen fingertips. I bid farewell to life and steel myself to die.
Then his expression mellows and his arms drop. "No, Grubitsch." He chuckles. "I won't be provoked. You hope to goad me into killing you swiftly. A clever ploy, but I shall not fall for your trick. I came to take you, and take you I will. I'll kill you later, when we are . . ."
A burst of heat to my left makes him pause. It's coming from the wall of the cabin. I glance at it, expecting another of Lord Loss's familiars to appear. The wall's glowing with a white-hot magical light.
"Master?" Juni says uncertainly as Lord Loss draws to a halt.
"Quiet," he snaps.
They don't know what it is!
I move closer to the light, ignoring the heat, figuring if this is something Lord Loss isn't controlling, it can only be good news. Maybe the plane is coming apart and this is the start of a giant explosion. If so, I want to be caught square in the blast. That would wipe the smirk from the demon master's wretched mug.
An oval hole appears in the side of the plane. About six feet from bottom to top and three feet wide. I see a man through the hole, outside, clinging to the wing of the plane. It's the bum! He's been following me for the past few weeks, waiting to see if I turn into a werewolf. He was lurking near my house last night when I burst free of the cellar where Dervish had me caged. I thought he was one of the Lambs—werewolf executioners par excellence—but now I'm starting to have doubts.
The bum half leans into the cabin and stretches out a hand to me, holding on to the wing of the plane with his other hand as a fierce, unearthly wind whips at his hair and clothes. "Boy!" he shouts. "Come with me. Now!"
"No!" Lord Loss and Juni scream at the same moment.
Lord Loss's arms snap up and he unleashes a magical shot of energy at the bum. But the white light around the edges of the hole absorbs the power and disperses it in a shower of crackling sparks.
I'm staring stupidly at the tramp, jaw slack, mind in a spin.
"Boy!" the bum shouts again. "I can't take another blast like that. Come now or die."
I look from him to Lord Loss and Juni. Their faces are filled with hate. Juni's muttering a spell, lips moving incredibly fast. Lord Loss is readying himself for a second shot at the bum.
A quick look in the other direction. Artery, Spine, and Femur are rushing up the aisle, desperate to pin me down.
I face Lord Loss again, grin, and flip him the finger. Then I dive toward the bum, sticking out my right hand. The man grabs it and hurls me through the hole. He shouts a word of magic and the hull of the plane starts to close. I hear Lord Loss bellow with fury. Then the hole seals itself and there's only the roaring howl of the wind.
I realize I'm clinging to a bum on the wing of an airplane, thousands of feet above the face of the earth. I have a split second to marvel at the craziness of that. Then the wind grabs us. We're ripped loose. The plane soars onward.
DROPPING at a stomach-punching speed toward the earth. Freefall. Surrounded by blue sky, clouds far below but getting closer every second. I glance desperately at the bum, praying to spot the hump of a parachute pack. But there's nothing. He's falling the same way I am, with only one way of stopping—the hard way.
I scream and flap frantically with my arms. Crazily, I wish I was back in the plane. At least I stood a glimmer of a chance with the demons. This is death for certain.
"Boy!" the bum shouts cheerfully. "Are you having fun?"
"We're going to die!" I roar, clothes rippling madly on my limbs, the scream of the wind ice-cold in my ears.
"Not today," the bum chortles, then angles his body and glides closer toward me. "We can fly."
"You're a lunatic!" I shriek.
"Perhaps," he grins, then arcs his body up, pulls away from me, swoops over and beneath me, and draws up on the other side. "Or maybe not."
"Let me hold on to you!" I yell, grabbing for him.
He pulls away. "No. It's time you learned to fend for yourself. You're a creature of magic. Use your power."
"I can't," I howl.
"Of course you can." He tuts as if he's a teacher and we're debating an argument in class, safe on the ground, instead of hurtling toward it at a speed I don't even want to think about.
"We're going to die," I shout again.
"I'm not," he says. "You won't either if you focus. But you'd better be quick," he adds as we enter a thick bank of clouds, then burst through it a second or two later. "You don't have much time." He points at the earth, which I can see clearly now that we've broken through the clouds.
I start to scream senselessly, thoughts wild, gravity pulling me to my high-impact doom. Then the bum asks casually, "Are you cold?"
The craziness of the question draws a furious response. "What sort of a nut are you? I'm falling to my death and you're discussing the temperature!"
"Answer me," he says calmly. "Are you cold?"
"No. But what the —"
"At this height, don't you think you should be? It was in the region of minus forty Fahrenheit on the wing of the airplane. Any normal person would have felt the icy bite immediately. You didn't because magic kept you warm. It can also keep you aloft—if you direct it."
"What do I have to do?" I moan, the landscape filling my vision, surely no more than half a minute away from a bone-crunching collision.
"Visualize a bird," the bum says. "Think of the way it flies, how it soars out of a dive with the slightest tilt of its wings. Don't picture your arms as wings or anything like that. Just imagine a bird and fix it in your thoughts."
I do as he says. Close my eyes and think of a swallow swooping and soaring. I've seen them fly many times, when walking home from school or looking out of my bedroom window, glimpsed through the uppermost branches of the forest. They make it look simple—nudge out a wing, duck or pull up their head, catch the wind currents, sail them as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
My head rises. The roar of the wind lessens. A new sensation. Not one of falling, but of . . .
I open my eyes. I'm moving away from the earth, arms by my side, legs straight, head facing the clouds, the bum by my side. Flying.
"There," the bum says with a wicked little grin. "Simple, aye?"
Flying high. A creature of the sky. Laughing and hollering with delight. Flying on my front, back, sides—however I please. Somersaulting midair, a far greater rush than any roller-coaster.
"This is amazing!" I yell at the bum, who flies nearby. "How am I doing it?"
"Magic," he says.
"But I'm not trying. I'm not casting spells."
"True magicians don't need spells most of the time."
I stare at him, stunned. "But I'm not a magician."
"No?" He nods at the earth far below. "Then how do you explain this?"
"But Dervish said . . . I've never . . . Bartholomew Garadex!" I throw the name out desperately.
"You're different from Bartholomew," the bum says. "Different from every magician I've ever known or heard about. But you're a magician nonetheless. You draw your power directly from the universe, like the Demonata."
Mention of the demons reminds me of the plane and its doomed passengers. "We have to go back!" I shout, cursing myself for flying around happy and carefree while Lord Loss and his familiars wreak havoc. "We have to save the people on the plane."
The bum sighs. "Dead, all of them."
"No! They can't be! We have to —"
"They're dead," the bum says stiffly. "And even if they aren't, what could we do?"
"Fight!" I roar.
"Against Lord Loss?" He shakes his head. "I'm powerful, boy, and so are you, but Lord Loss is a demon master. We wouldn't last long in a battle with him."
"We have to try," I whisper, thinking of all those men, women, and children. Picturing the Demonata and Juni Swan at savage work. "If we abandon them . . ."
"We've already abandoned them," the bum grunts. "The choice was made when I pulled you out. Everyone on that airplane is dead, and it has crashed—or will shortly—destroying the evidence."
"You let them die." I gasp.
The bum shrugs. "I would have saved them if I could. I've devoted my life to protecting humanity from the Demonata. But some battles you can't win. Some you can't even fight."
Flying in silence. Thinking about what happened and what the bum said. Cold inside, and scared. Unable to get the faces of the people—the dead—out of my mind. Yet a big part of me is secretly glad we didn't go back, that the bum spared me another run-in with the demons.
"This is insane," I mutter, looking at the world beneath. "Who are you? What were you doing on the plane? Why have you been following me? I thought you were one of the Lambs. I know nothing about you. I need —"
"Soon," the bum hushes me. "I'll answer all your questions once we're safe on the ground. For now, just fly."
And since there's no point arguing, I tuck my arms in tighter, pick up speed, trail the bum through the air and try—unsuccessfully—to push the faces of the dead from my thoughts.
We fly for hours, mostly above the clouds where people on the ground can't see us. I spot the occasional plane but the bum always steers us clear. A shame—I love the thought of gliding up to one and tapping on the windows, scaring the living daylights out of the passengers and crew.
I've no idea where we are. I didn't ask Juni where we were going when we set off, and I don't know how long I was asleep, so I can't judge how far from home we might have been when the demons attacked.
Juni . . .
Rage seethes inside me every time I think about her. I trusted her. I thought she was on my side, that she loved me like a mother. And all the time she was playing me for a fool, setting me up for Lord Loss, cutting me off from Dervish.
I want to quiz the bum about her. Find out where she comes from, how she operates, where I can find her—so I can track her down and burn her for the evil witch she is. But this isn't the right time. I have loads of questions for the tramp. So much I want to know, that I need to find out. Hell, I haven't even asked his name yet!
Finally, five or six hours after I bailed out of the plane, the bum guides me down. The land is barren desert, more rocky than sandy. No signs of human life—it's been the better part of an hour since I saw any kind of house.
"This is the complicated part," the bum says as we come in to land. "The easiest way is to hover a bit above the ground, then stop thinking about birds. After a few seconds you'll fall."
"Can't we touch down?" I ask.
"I can, but I've had a lot of practice. If you try it, you'll probably hit hard and break a leg or arm."
He spreads his arms and drifts down, landing lightly on his feet. I'm tempted to copy him, to prove I'm nimbler than he gives me credit for. But it's been a long day and the last thing I want is to break any bones. So I float to within a few feet of the rocky soil, then empty my head of images of birds. For a couple of seconds nothing happens. Then I drop suddenly, stomach lurching.
I hit the ground awkwardly, landing face-first in the dust. Sitting up, I splutter and wipe dirt and grit from my cheeks, then get to my feet and look around. We're in the middle of nowhere. Some rocky outcrops and hills, a few rustling cacti, nothing else. "Where are we?"
"Home," the bum says, and starts walking toward one of the hills.
"Whose home?" I ask, hurrying after him.
"And you are . . . ?"
He stops and looks back, surprised. "You don't know?"
"Surely Dervish told . . ." He trails off into silence, then laughs. "All that time in the air, you didn't know whom you were with?"
- On Sale
- May 1, 2009
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers