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CIRQUE DU FREAK 7 - Hunters of the Dusk

Darren Shan




  Darren Shan

  * * *


  1 Cirque Du Freak

  2 The Vampire's Assistant

  3 Tunnels of Blood

  4 Vampire Mountain

  5 Trials of Death

  6 The Vampire Prince

  7 Hunters of the Dusk

  * * *





  An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers

  * * *

  Hunt for Darren Shan on the web at

  First published in Great Britain by Collins 2002

  Collins is an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd

  77-85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith

  London W6 8JB

  The HarperCollins website address is:

  Text copyright © 2002 Darren Shan

  ISBN 0 00 713779 6

  The author asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of the work.

  Printed and bound in England by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

  * * *


  Shirley & Derek — "Beauty and the Beast"

  Sparring partners:

  Gillie Russell & Zoe Clarke

  Ringside crew:

  The Christopher Little clan

  OBEs (Order of the Bloody Entrails) to:

  Kerri "carve yer guts up" Goddard-Kinch

  "la femme fatale" Christine Colinet

  * * *


  IT WAS an age of tragic mistakes. For me, the tragedy began fourteen years earlier when, mesmerized by a vampire's amazing performing tarantula, I stole it from him. After an initially successful theft, everything went to hell, and I paid for my crime with my humanity. Faking my own death, I left my family and home, and travelled the world with the Cirque Du Freak, as the assistant to a blood-drinking creature of the night.

  My name's Darren Shan. I'm a half-vampire.

  I'm also — through a series of events so astounding I still have trouble believing they really happened — a Vampire Prince. The Princes are the leaders of the vampire clan, respected and obeyed by all. There are only five of them — the others are Paris Skyle, Mika Ver Leth, Arrow and Vancha March.

  I'd been a Prince for six years, living within the Halls of Vampire Mountain (the stronghold of the clan), learning the customs and traditions of my people, and how to be a vampire of good standing. I'd also been learning the ways of warfare, and how to use weapons. The rules of battle were essential components of any vampire's education, but now more so than ever — because we were at war.

  Our opponents were the vampaneze, our purple-skinned blood-cousins. They're a lot like vampires in many ways, but alien to us in one key area — they kill whenever they drink blood. Vampires don't harm those they feed from — we simply take a small amount of blood from each human we target — but vampaneze believe it's shameful to feed without draining their victims dry.

  Though there was no love lost between the vampires and vampaneze, for hundreds of years an uneasy truce had existed between the two clans. That changed six years ago when a group of vampaneze — aided by a vampire traitor called Kurda Smahlt — stormed Vampire Mountain in an attempt to seize control of the Hall of Princes. We defeated them (thanks largely to my discovery of the plot prior to their assault), then interrogated the survivors, baffled by why they should choose to attack.

  Unlike vampires, vampaneze had no leaders — they were entirely democratic — but when they split from the vampires six hundred years ago, a mysterious, powerful magician known as Mr Tiny paid them a visit and placed the Coffin of Fire in their possession. This coffin burnt alive anyone who lay within it — but Mr Tiny said that one night a man would lie down in it and step out unharmed, and that man would lead them into a victorious war with the vampires, establishing the vampaneze as the unopposed rulers of the night.

  During the interrogation, we learnt to our horror that the Lord of the Vampaneze had finally arisen, and vampaneze across the world were preparing for the violent, bloody war to come.

  Once our assailants had been put to a painful death, word spread from Vampire Mountain like wildfire: "We're at war with the vampaneze!" And we'd been locked in combat with them ever since, fighting grimly, desperate to disprove Mr Tiny's dark prophecy — that we were destined to lose the war and be wiped from the face of the earth…


  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 pitting themselves 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 spoken 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 thwarting Mr Tiny's predictions, we had to find and kill their Lord before he assumed full control of the clan.

  A cluster of Generals was waiting to speak with Paris. They moved forward as Staffen Irve departed, but I signalled 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 wielded the unofficial powers of a Prince (since I followed his advice practically all the time). The reality was that Mr Crepsley was second in charge only 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 have need of you later."

  "Rot!" 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 neve
r 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."

  "I should hope not," Paris sniffed, 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 queries. 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 afforded the same degree of respect as Paris or any of the others.

  When the last vampire had departed, I snatched about three hours of sleep, in a hammock which 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, on to the hard, cold floor of my rocky cell. My hand automatically darted for the short sword which 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 on to my hammock and sat gazing at Harkat. There was no denying he was an ugly build of a 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'd 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 which 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 learnt to control his breathing technique and now only stalled during long sentences.

  "Were the shadow men there?" I asked. Sometimes he dreamt 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 colour — and his shoulders shook slightly. He suffered greatly in his sleep, and stayed awake as long as he could, only sleeping 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 only wearing 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 death."

  We were silent a while, thinking about the War of the Scars and the vampires — including some very good friends of ours — who'd perished 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 quartermaster — 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 learnt 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 afterwards 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 me 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 only aged one year for every five that passed. I was a bit 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 vastly 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 which 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 down side, I'd be vulnerable to sunlight and couldn't move about 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 loads 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, trousers 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 popped up 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 only be opened by a Prince, by laying a hand on the doors or touching a panel on the thrones inside the Hall. Nothing could breach the walls of the Hall, which had been built by Mr Tiny and his Little People centuries before.