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Killers of the Dawn

Darren Shan

  Cirque Du Freak Book 9


  Darren Shan



  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  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)

  Hunters of the Dusk (Book 7)

  Allies of the Night (Book 8)


  Bas — my dawn bird


  (Order of the Bloody Entrails) to:

  Maiko "minder" Enomoto


  Megumi "fault-finder" Hashimoto

  Gillie Russell & Zoë Clarke — the Sisters Grimm

  the Christopher Little Clan — troll-masters


  IT WAS an age of deceit. Everyone was suspicious of everyone else — and with good reason! You never knew when a trusted ally would turn, bare his fangs and rip you to pieces.

  The vampires and vampaneze were at war — the War of the Scars — and the result hinged upon finding and killing the Lord of the Vampaneze. If the vampires did that, victory would be theirs. Otherwise, the night would belong to their purple-skinned blood-cousins, who would drive the vampires to extinction.

  Three vampires were sent by Mr Desmond Tiny to hunt the Vampaneze Lord — Vancha March, Larten Crepsley and me, Darren Shan. I'm a half-vampire.

  Mr Tiny told us that other vampires couldn't assist us in our hunt, but non-vampires could. Thus, the only one to accompany us was a Little Person called Harkat Mulds, though a witch known as Lady Evanna also travelled with us for a short time during our quest.

  After unwittingly letting the Vampaneze Lord slip through our fingers in the first of four predicted encounters, we travelled to the city of Mr Crepsley's birth. We didn't expect to find the Lord of the Vampaneze there — we came to track down and stop a gang of vampaneze who were murdering humans.

  We attracted two more companions in the city — my ex-girlfriend, Debbie Hemlock, and Steve Leopard. Steve used to be my best friend. He said he'd become a vampaneze-hunter, and swore he'd help us put an end to the killer vampaneze. Mr Crepsley was suspicious of Steve — he believed Steve had evil blood — but I persuaded him to grant my old friend the benefit of the doubt.

  Our target was an insane, hook-handed vampaneze. It turned out he was another of my ex-associates — R.V. , which originally stood for Reggie Veggie, though he now claimed it was short for Righteous Vampaneze. He was once an eco-warrior, until his hands had been bitten off by the Wolf Man at the Cirque Du Freak. He blamed me for the accident, and had teamed up with the vampaneze in order to exact revenge.

  We could have killed R.V. , but we knew he was in league with other vampaneze, and we chose instead to trick him into leading us to them. What we didn't know was that we were actually the flies in the trap, not the spiders. Deep beneath the streets of the city, dozens of vampaneze were waiting for us. Among them stood the Lord of the Vampaneze and his protector, Gannen Harst — Vancha March's estranged brother.

  In an underground cavern, Steve Leopard revealed his true colours. He was a half-vampaneze and had plotted with R.V. and the Vampaneze Lord to lure us to our doom. But Steve underestimated us, and I overcame him and would have killed him — except R.V. captured Debbie and threatened to murder her in retaliation.

  While this was happening, my allies pursued the Vampaneze Lord, but the odds were stacked against them and he escaped. The vampaneze could have slaughtered us all, but we would have killed many of them in the process. To avoid the bloodshed, Gannen Harst let us go and gave us a fifteen-minute head start — it would be easier for the vampaneze to kill us in the tunnels.

  With me holding Steve Leopard hostage, and Vancha clutching a vampet — a human who'd been trained in the ways of the vampaneze — we retreated, leaving R.V. free to do all the terrible things he wanted to Debbie. Through the tunnels we hurried, exhausted and distraught, knowing the vampaneze would soon swarm after us and cut us down dead if they caught up …


  WE SCURRIED through the tunnels, Mr Crepsley leading the way, Vancha and I in the middle with our prisoners, Harkat bringing up the rear. We said as little as possible, and I cuffed Steve into silence whenever he started to speak — I wasn't in the mood to listen to his threats or insults.

  I didn't have a watch, but I'd been ticking off the seconds inside my head. About ten minutes or so had passed by my reckoning. We'd moved out of the modern tunnels and were back in the warren of old, damp tunnels. There was still a long way to go — plenty of time for the vampaneze to run us down.

  We came to a junction and Mr Crepsley took the left turn. Vancha started to follow him, then stopped. "Larten," he called him back. When Mr Crepsley returned, Vancha crouched low. He was almost invisible in the darkness of the tunnels. "We have to try and shake them off," he said. "If we make straight for the surface, they'll be upon us before we're halfway there."

  "But we could lose ourselves if we detour," Mr Crepsley said. "We do not know this area. We might run into a dead end."

  "Aye," Vancha sighed, "but it's a chance we'll have to take. I'll act as a decoy and go back the way we came. The rest of you try and find an alternative route out. I'll work my way back to you later, if the luck of the vampires is with me."

  Mr Crepsley thought about that a moment, then nodded quickly. "Luck, Sire," he said, but Vancha was already gone, disappearing into the gloom in an instant, moving with the almost perfect silence of the vampires.

  We rested a moment, then took the right tunnel and pressed on, Harkat now in charge of the vampet Vancha had kidnapped. We moved quickly but carefully, trying not to leave any signs that we'd passed this way. At the end of the tunnel, we branched off, again to the right. As we entered a fresh stretch of tunnel, Steve coughed loudly. Mr Crepsley was on him in a flash. "Do that again and you die!" he snapped, and I sensed the blade of his knife pressing against Steve's throat.

  "It was a real cough — not a signal," Steve snarled in reply.

  "It matters not!" Mr Crepsley hissed. "The next time, I will kill you."

  Steve was silent after that, as was the vampet. We marched steadily upwards, instinctively navigating the tunnels, wading through water and waste. I felt terrible, tired and drawn, but I didn't slow down. It must be daylight above ground, or very close to it. Our only hope was to get clear of the tunnels before the vampaneze found us — the sunlight should prevent them from pursuing us any further.

  A short while later, we heard the vampaneze and vampets. They were coming up the tunnels at great speed, not having to worry about stealth. Mr Crepsley dropped back a bit, to check if they were following us, but they didn't seem to have found our trail — all of them appeared to have gone after Vancha.

  We continued to climb, working our way closer to the surface. Our pursuers kept passing in and out of earshot. By the sounds they made, they'd realized we weren't following the shortest route back, and had stopped and fanne
d out in search of us. I guessed that we were at least half an hour from ground level. If they located us any time soon, we were certainly doomed. The tunnels were as tight as they were dark — a lone, well-placed vampet would have no difficulty mowing us down with a rifle or arrow-gun.

  We were picking our way over a heap of rubble in a crumbling tunnel when we were eventually spotted. A vampet with a torch entered the tunnel at the far end, picked us out with a strong beam of light, and roared triumphantly. "I've found them! They're here! They—"

  He got no further. A figure stepped out of the shadows behind him, grabbed his head and twisted sharply, left then right. The vampet dropped to the ground. His assailant paused just long enough to turn off the torch, then hurried over. I knew without having to see him that it was Vancha.

  "Good timing," Harkat muttered as the scraggly Prince joined us.

  "I've been shadowing you for a while," Vancha said. "He's not the first one I've picked off. He just got a bit closer to you than the others."

  "Any idea how far we are from the surface?" I asked.

  "No," Vancha said. "I was ahead of you earlier, but I've been bringing up the rear for the last quarter of an hour, covering you and laying a few false trails."

  "What about the vampaneze?" Mr Crepsley said. "Are they close?"

  "Aye," came Vancha's reply, and then he slipped away again, to provide more cover.

  Slightly further ahead, we found ourselves in familiar tunnels. We'd explored a vast slice of the city's infrastructure when hunting for the vampaneze, and had been in this section three or four times. We were no more than six or seven minutes from safety. Mr Crepsley whistled loudly, signalling to Vancha. The Prince swiftly joined us and we pushed on vigorously, finding a new lease of life.

  "There they go!"

  The shout came from a tunnel to our left. We didn't stop to check how many were nearby — putting our heads down, we pushed Steve and the vampet in front and ran.

  The vampaneze weren't long surging after us. Vancha dropped back and kept them at bay with his shurikens — sharp, multi-edged throwing stars which were lethal when thrown by one as experienced as Vancha March. By the hysterical voices, I knew most — if not all — of the vampaneze and vampets had now converged behind us, but the tunnel we were in ran straight ahead, with hardly any side-tunnels opening out of it. Our enemies weren't able to sneak around and attack us from the sides or in front — they were forced to follow behind.

  As we got closer to street level, the tunnels grew brighter, and my half-vampire eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light. I was now able to see the vampaneze and vampets trailing behind — and they were able to see us! The vampaneze, like vampires, had sworn not to use any missile-firing weapons such as guns or bows, but the vampets weren't limited by that oath. They began firing as soon as they had a clear line of sight, and we had to run doubled-over. If we'd had to cover a long distance in that uncomfortable crouch, they'd have surely picked us off one by one, but within a minute of them opening fire, we arrived at a steel ladder leading up to a manhole.

  "Go!" Vancha barked, unleashing a hail of shurikens at the vampets.

  Mr Crepsley grabbed me and shoved me up the ladder. I didn't protest at being first. It made the most sense — if the vampaneze pressed forward, Mr Crepsley was better equipped to fight them off.

  At the top of the ladder I braced myself, then heaved against the manhole cover with my shoulders. It flew off, clearing the way up. I hauled myself out and quickly checked my surroundings. I was in the middle of a small street; it was early in the morning and nobody was about. Leaning back over the manhole, I yelled, "It's clear!"

  Seconds later, Steve Leopard crawled out of the manhole, grimacing in the sunlight (almost blinding after being down the tunnels so long). Then Harkat came, followed by the vampet. There was a short delay after that. The tunnel underneath echoed with angry gun retorts. Fearing the worst, I was about to climb back down the ladder to check on Mr Crepsley and Vancha, when the orange-haired vampire burst out of the manhole, gasping wildly. Almost immediately, Vancha shot out after him. The pair must have jumped, one directly after the other.

  As soon as Vancha was clear of the manhole, I stumbled across the street, picked up the cover, shuffled back with it and set it in place. Then all four of us gathered around it, Vancha grasping several shurikens, Mr Crepsley his knives, Harkat his axe, and me my sword. We waited ten seconds. Twenty. Half a minute. A minute passed. Mr Crepsley and Vancha were sweating stingingly beneath the wan glare of the morning sun.

  Nobody came.

  Vancha cocked an eyebrow at Mr Crepsley. "Think they've given up?"

  "For the moment," Mr Crepsley nodded, backing off warily, switching his attention to Steve and the vampet, making sure they didn't make a break for freedom.

  "We should get out of … this city," Harkat said, wiping a layer of dried blood from around his stitched-together grey face. Like Mr Crepsley and Vancha, he was nicked in many places after his battle with the vampaneze, but the cuts weren't serious. "It would be suicide to remain."

  "Run, rabbits, run," Steve murmured, and I cuffed him around the ears again, shutting him up.

  "I'm not leaving Debbie," I said. "R.V.'s a crazed killer. I'm not going to abandon her to him."

  "What did you do to that maniac to madden him so much?" Vancha asked, peeking down one of the small holes in the manhole cover, still not entirely convinced that we were in the clear. The purple animal hides he dressed in were hanging from his frame in shreds, and his dyed green hair was flecked with blood.

  "Nothing," I sighed. "There was an accident at the Cirque Du Freak. He—"

  "We have no time for recollections," Mr Crepsley interrupted, tearing off the left sleeve of his red shirt, which had been slashed in as many places as Vancha's hides. He squinted up at the sun. "In our state, we cannot bear to stay in the sun very long. Whatever our choice, we must choose soon."

  "Darren's right," Vancha said. "We can't leave. Not because of Debbie — much as I like her, I wouldn't sacrifice myself for her — but the Lord of the Vampaneze. We know he's down there. We have to go after him."

  "But he's too well protected," Harkat protested. "Those tunnels are full of vampaneze … and vampets. We'd perish for certain if we went … down again. I say we flee and come back … later, with help."

  "You've forgotten Mr Tiny's warning," Vancha said. "We can't ask other vampires for help. I don't care how poor the odds are — we must try to breach their defences and kill their Lord."

  "I agree," Mr Crepsley said. "But now is not the time. We are wounded and exhausted. We should rest and form a plan of action. The question is, where do we retire to — the apartments we have been using, or elsewhere?"

  "Elsewhere," Harkat said instantly. "The vampaneze know where … we've been living. If we stay, we'd be crazy to go where … they can attack any time they like."

  "I don't know," I muttered. "It was weird, the way they let us leave. I know Gannen said it was to spare the lives of his companions, but if they'd killed us, they were guaranteed victory in the War of the Scars. I think there's more to it than he was letting on. Having spared us when they had us trapped on their own turf, I doubt they'll come all the way up here to fight on our territory."

  My companions mused on that in silence.

  "I think we should return to our base and try to make sense of this," I said. "Even if we can't, we can get some rest and tend to our wounds. Then, come night, we'll attack."

  "Sounds good to me," Vancha said.

  "As good a plan as any," Mr Crepsley sighed.

  "Harkat?" I asked the Little Person.

  His round green eyes were full of doubt, but he grimaced and nodded. "I think we're fools to stay, but if … we're going to, I guess at least we have weapons and … provisions there."

  "Besides," Vancha added grimly, "most of the apartments are empty. It's quiet." He ran a menacing finger along the neck of his captured vampet, a shaven-headed man with the dark
'V' of the vampets tattooed above either ear. "There are some questions I want answered, but the asking won't be pleasant. It'll be for the best if there's nobody around to hear."

  The vampet sneered at Vancha as though unimpressed, but I could see fear in his blood-rimmed eyes. Vampaneze had the strength to withstand horrible torture, but vampets were human. A vampire could do terrible things to a human.

  Mr Crepsley and Vancha wrapped their robes and hides around their heads and shoulders, to protect them from the worst of the sun. Then, pushing Steve and the vampet ahead of us, we climbed to roof level, got our bearings, and wearily headed for base.


  "BASE" WAS the fifth floor of an ancient, largely abandoned block of apartments. It was where Steve had set up camp. We'd moved in when we teamed up with him. We occupied three apartments on the floor. While Mr Crepsley, Harkat and I bundled Steve into the middle apartment, Vancha grabbed the vampet by his ears and hauled him off to the apartment on the right.

  "Will he torture him?" I asked Mr Crepsley, pausing at the door.

  "Yes," the vampire answered bluntly.

  I didn't like the thought of that, but the circumstances called for swift, true answers. Vancha was only doing what had to be done. In war there's sometimes no room for compassion or humanity.

  Entering our apartment, I hurried to the fridge. It didn't work — the apartment had no electricity — but we stored our drinks and food there.

  "Anyone hungry or thirsty?" I asked.

  "I'll have a steak — extra bloody — fries and a Coke to go," Steve quipped. He'd made himself comfortable on the couch, and was smiling around at us as though we were one big happy family.

  I ignored him. "Mr Crepsley? Harkat?"

  "Water, please," Mr Crepsley said, shrugging off his tattered red cloak, so he could examine his wounds. "And bandages," he added.

  "Are you hurt?" Harkat asked.

  "Not really. But the tunnels we crawled through were unhygienic. We should all clean out our wounds to prevent infection."