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Zom-B Gladiator

Darren Shan

  Also by Darren Shan

  The Demonata

  Lord Loss

  Demon Thief



  Blood Beast

  Demon Apocalypse

  Death’s Shadow

  Wolf Island

  Dark Calling

  Hell’s Heroes

  The Saga of Darren Shan

  Cirque du Freak

  The Vampire’s Assistant

  Tunnels of Blood

  Vampire Mountain

  Trials of Death

  The Vampire Prince

  Hunters of the Dusk

  Allies of the Night

  Killers of the Dawn

  The Lake of Souls

  Lord of the Shadows

  Sons of Destiny

  The Saga of Larten Crepsley

  Birth of a Killer

  Ocean of Blood

  Palace of the Damned

  Brothers to the Damned

  The City Trilogy

  Procession of the Dead

  Hell’s Horizon

  City of the Snakes

  The Thin Executioner



  For adult readers

  Lady of the Shades

  First published in Great Britain in 2014 by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd


  Copyright © 2014 by Darren Shan

  Illustrations © Warren Pleece

  This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.

  No reproduction without permission.

  All rights reserved.

  The right of Darren Shan to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

  Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

  1st Floor

  222 Gray’s Inn Road

  London WC1X 8HB

  Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney

  Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

  A CIP catalogue copy for this book is available from the British Library.

  HB ISBN: 978-0-85707-772-1

  EBOOK ISBN: 978-0-85707-775-2

  TPB ISBN: 978-0-85707-773-8

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.

  Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY


  my best men and ushers – thanks for accompanying me into the deadliest arena in the world!

  OBE (Order of the Bloody Entrails) to: “Lady” Jade Westwood

  Gladatorial mentors:

  Venetia Gosling

  Kate Sullivan

  Arena impressarios: the Christopher Little Agency


  THEN . . .

  NOW . . .























  Zombies ripped Becky Smith’s heart from her chest and turned her into an undead, brain-munching beast. But several months later she recovered her senses and became a revitalised, a rare member of the undead who could think and control her cannibalistic urges.

  Death was far harder for B than life had ever been. First she was held prisoner in an underground complex with a pack of teenaged revitaliseds. With the exception of B and one other, Rage, they were all fried by soldiers with flame-throwers when a killer clown invaded the complex and started a riot.

  B broke free of the underground lair and found a London she barely recognised. Zombies had taken over. The few humans she crossed paths with all seemed as vicious as their undead foes—a hunter called Barnes and his posse slaughtered zombies for fun, a rifle-packing group on HMS Belfast opened fire on anything that came within range, while the deranged clown and his mutant army spread terror and carnage wherever they set foot.

  She finally found refuge in County Hall, a massive building behind the London Eye. A century-old zombie, Dr Oystein, had set up base there and was offering sanctuary to any revitalised who asked it of him. He had also recruited a few humans, such as Billy Burke, B’s former teacher, and Reilly, a soldier and one of her captors in the underground complex.

  Dr Oystein believed he was on a mission from God. He said that the clown B had encountered, the chilling and crazy Mr Dowling, worked for the Devil. If Dr Oystein and his zombie Angels didn’t defeat Mr Dowling and his mutants, the last remaining survivors in the world would fall and Satan would claim their souls.

  B thought the doctor was insane. Although she feared being alone, and was worried about what would happen next, she turned her back on County Hall and left to find somewhere else in the city to call home.

  She ended up in the studio of Timothy Jackson, an artist who spent his days painting what he saw on the streets of zombie-infected London. Timothy took her to meet a strange baby which he had found. It was sexless and monstrous. A spike was sticking out of its head and it hadn’t eaten in weeks, yet it was still somehow alive.

  When B removed the spike, the baby screamed for help and dozens of zombies responded to its call. They flocked to the studio, broke in, killed Timothy and made off with the baby, but not before it had asked B to accompany them. It called her its mummy and said she was one of them.

  B refused to go with the inhuman baby and its undead coterie. But her world was changed, as was her opinion of Dr Oystein and his claim to be in contact with God. Because B had dreamt of babies like this one when she was alive. In her dreams they had looked exactly like this child, behaved the same way, said the same things. And, despite her scepticism, B had to conclude that a higher power must have sent her the dreams as a warning, to prepare her for this day and provide her with the evidence she’d need in order to accept Dr Oystein’s far-fetched claims.

  B returned to County Hall, pledged herself to Dr Oystein then hopped into one of his body-reviving Groove Tubes to restore her sharpness and strength, so that she would be fresh and ready for the war with Mr Dowling which was to come.

  There’s a tunnel beneath Waterloo Station that used to be a haven for graffiti artists. Anyone was allowed to paint whatever they wanted on the walls, floor or ceiling.

  The zombies put a stop to the artists with their stencils and spray paint, but the art remains, bright, bold and colourful. It covers every inch of the tunnel. If humans ever eliminate the undead and take control of the world again, I bet a lot of people will come to this place to admire the paintings.

  But I’m not here today for the graffiti.

  I’m here for the zombies.

  We usually keep this tunnel clear of the living dead. It’s easily done. Zombies have sensitive ears. High-pitched noises cut through our skulls and make our teeth shake. When Dr Oystein moved into County Hall, he placed speakers in hidden places around the area and played a loop of sharp noises through them, guaranteed to send any zombie within range running for cover. It keeps the drooling, brain-hungry riff-raff from our door.

  But we haven’t been playing the loop in the tunnel for the last few nights. We wanted company and figured the dark, quiet space would draw a crowd once we cut the power to the speakers.

  We figured right. There are twenty-five or th
irty zombies in residence, a mix of men, women and kids, some in suits or nice dresses, others in more casual wear, a few naked or as good as. Blank expressions, long, sharp teeth, bones sticking out of their fingers and toes, wisps of green moss wherever they were bitten or cut when they were alive.

  I study the zombies with a touch of nerves, but no disgust, revulsion or pity. They’re my own kind. Except for the fact that my brain works, I’m no different to them.

  I’m part of a group of six. The others are the same as me, revitalised Angels, soldiers in Dr Oystein’s undead army. Carl Clay stands to my left, looking impeccable in his top-of-the-range, designer gear. Ashtat Kiarostami is to my right, dressed in a blue, loose-fitting suit, with a white headscarf. The bulky Rage is on the other side of Carl, wearing the leathers that he’s favoured since his time as a zom head. Shane Fitz and Jakob Pegg are next to Ashtat, Shane looking as yobbish as ever in a tracksuit and with a gold chain dangling from his neck, Jakob pale and sickly in a pair of jeans and a shirt that sags on his bony frame.

  We’re all unarmed.

  ‘Do you think there are enough of them?’ Carl asks, frowning as he counts the zombies.

  ‘Five to one,’ Shane sniffs. ‘Those are long enough odds for me. How many more do you want to face?’

  ‘There aren’t many men among them,’ Carl notes.

  ‘Are you suggesting that women are inferior?’ Ashtat asks coldly.

  Carl winces. ‘No. But generally speaking they’re not as strong as men. It’s the way of the world. You can’t argue with that.’

  ‘In life, no,’ Ashtat says. ‘But death levels the playing field. I have noticed no real difference between the sexes in our battles so far. Muscles are not the factor they once were, not in reviveds. Or revi-taliseds,’ she adds pointedly.

  Carl makes a sighing sound, which isn’t easy when you don’t have functioning lungs. ‘All right. I don’t want an argument. Are we all happy to press ahead? We don’t want to wait another day in case more of them come to seek shelter here?’ He looks around and everyone shrugs or nods. ‘Fair enough. We’ll crack on. How about you, Reilly? Are you ready?’

  The soldier is standing behind us. He’s not a happy bunny.

  ‘I can’t believe I let Zhang talk me into this,’ he mutters. He’s sweating. That’s something no revitalised could ever mimic. The walking dead don’t sweat.

  ‘Don’t be a baby,’ Rage grins. ‘We’ve all got to be prepared to make sacrifices for the cause.’

  ‘Yeah?’ Reilly snarls. ‘What have you sacrificed lately?’

  ‘My sense of compassion,’ Rage snaps. ‘Now quit moaning or we’ll leave you here by yourself. Are you ready or not?’

  ‘I suppose,’ Reilly mutters miserably. He’s really not enjoying this. I don’t blame him. It can’t be easy, placing your life in the hands of a surly shower of teenage zombies.

  Ashtat and I nudge apart and Reilly steps through the gap. He’s covered himself from the neck down in thick leathers and he’s wearing a helmet with a tough glass visor. The gear won’t protect him for long if a zombie gets hold of him and rips in, but it should guard him against casual swipes, spit and flying blood.

  Reilly moves a couple of metres ahead of us, gulps, then calls out loudly, ‘I don’t suppose any of you creeps have seen Banksy?’

  The zombies didn’t pay much attention to us when we filed in. They could tell from our moss-covered wounds and the bones jutting out of our fingertips that we were in the same boat as them.

  Reilly is a whole different kettle of fish. When he shouts, they jerk to attention and lock their sights on him. They note his covered form, his shaky grin behind the visor. They clock his heartbeat. They smell his blood, fresh and pure, his sweat, the scent of the food he ate that morning on his lips and tongue, his juicy brain.

  The zombies howl with glee and hunger, a penetrating, fearsome sound. Then they move as one and surge towards us, fingers flexing, teeth gnashing, primed, deadly assassins whose only purpose in this world is to attack and tear asunder.

  It’s killing time!

  We dart ahead of Reilly and tackle the onrushing zombies. I run into a woman who is wearing a bra and knickers and nothing else. There are curlers in her hair. Looks like the living dead caught her at home when she was getting ready to go out.

  I strike swiftly at the woman, a flurry of blows to her face and neck. She snarls and tries to hit back. I turn quickly, raising my leg high, and kick the back of her head as I spin. She’s slammed sideways. I’m on her instantly. Making the fingers of my right hand straight and hard, I drive the bones sticking out of them down sharply into her skull, piercing the covering of bone, digging into the vulnerable brain beneath.

  The woman shudders, makes a low moaning noise, then falls still. I withdraw my hand and leave her to lie in the dust of the tunnel, truly dead now.

  A man is rushing past me, hands outstretched, reaching for Reilly. I elbow him in the ribs. I can’t knock the wind out of his sails – there’s no wind in them to begin with – but the force of the blow sends him off course. As he staggers, I follow after him, fingers ready to crack open another head and rid the city of one more zombie.

  I don’t like doing this. I refused to kill reviveds when I was a prisoner in the military complex. But Dr Oystein has convinced me that it’s necessary. If we are to triumph in the war to come, we need to sharpen ourselves in combat. So, as much as I hate it, I kill as ordered, but I do it quickly and cleanly, not wanting to torment these poor lost souls.

  The other Angels are busy around me. Each of us has a different ability and we’ve all been trained by Master Zhang to focus on our strengths. We’ve been told to test specific skills today, to only deviate from them if absolutely necessary. Mine is the speed with which I can strike—I have quick hands and feet, very nimble.

  Ashtat is our pack’s version of the Karate Kid. She whirls gracefully around the tunnel, chopping and kicking, leaping high into the air to casually swing a foot at a man’s head—a second later it’s been knocked clear of his neck. She lands smoothly, pounces after the head, comes down on it with a well-placed heel to squish the brain and put the zombie out of action.

  Rage is a one-man wrecking machine. He’s the strongest of us all. He lets his opponents get close, then clubs them over the head or grabs them in a bear hug and squeezes until their brains seep out through their eye sockets and ear canals. He laughs and cracks jokes as he kills. He doesn’t have any of the reservations that I do.

  Posh Carl can jump like a grasshopper. He leaps around, landing among the reviveds, disrupting and scattering them, pushing them over or tripping them up, then springing across the tunnel to strike again. He could kill easily but he’s been told not to. Today he’s just here to confuse and disrupt.

  Jakob isn’t killing either. He’s under orders to protect Reilly from any revived that gets past the rest of us. Jakob can run very fast. He’s skinny and unhealthy-looking, even for a zombie, the result of the cancer he was dying from when he was turned. He’s always in pain, but he can shrug it off when he has to. In the tunnel he stays focused, pulling Reilly away from stray zombies, ready to pick him up and run with him if something goes seriously wrong and the rest of us get into difficulties.

  Ginger Shane’s fingerbones and toe bones are tougher than anyone else’s. We can all dig our bones into planks or crumbling bricks, but Shane can gouge a hole in a slab of concrete. He keeps climbing the walls and dropping on our opponents. He’s laughing like Rage – the pair have become thick as thieves – until one of the zombies snags the gold chain around his neck and rips it loose.

  ‘Not my chain!’ Shane roars as it flies across the tunnel. He loses interest in the zombie and hurries after the keepsake.

  ‘Shane!’ Ashtat snaps. ‘Don’t abandon your position.’

  ‘Get stuffed,’ he grunts, shoving a zombie out of his way, scooping to reclaim his cherished possession.

  A female zombie attacks him from the side as he’
s brushing dirt from the chain. He goes down with a cry of surprise. The woman tears at him, digs her fingers into his stomach, bites down hard on his left shoulder.

  Shane roars and slaps the revived. He shouts for help. Ashtat curses and starts towards him, but Jakob is faster. Forgetting his orders, he abandons Reilly and races to the aid of his friend, tugging the zombie away, buying Shane time to get back on his feet.

  ‘Where’s my bloody guard gone?’ Reilly bellows. Then, a second later, he moans, ‘Oh crap.’

  A couple of zombies have broken through and are bearing down on him. Reilly turns to run but the living dead are faster. One, a guy, grabs his waist. The other, a woman, tries to chew through his helmet.

  For a second I freeze, imagining having to break Reilly’s loss to Ciara, the always stylishly dressed dinner lady who fixes our meals at County Hall. The pair of living humans have recently started dating, after the shy Reilly finally worked up the courage to ask her out. He didn’t tell her he was coming with us today. Didn’t want her to worry.

  Snapping back into action, I throw myself in Reilly’s direction, praying I’m not too late. But Carl beats me to the punch. He leaps in out of nowhere, kicks the head of the woman chewing on Reilly’s helmet, grabs the ears of her partner and tugs sharply. Zombies don’t feel pain as much as the living, but we can be hurt. The man screeches and loses interest in Reilly. He bats Carl away, then dives after him.

  The woman is back at Reilly’s helmet again, but before she can bare her fangs and chow down, Ashtat is on her, kicking furiously, short, sharp jabs, forcing her to retreat.

  I attack the undead man from behind. I thrust a hand into his back and out through his chest. His heart bursts and chunks drip from my fingers. That won’t stop him – zombies can survive without any organ except their brain – but it sure as hell distracts him. He writhes like a speared fish, trying to tear free.

  I hold firm, wrapping my other arm round him, jamming my face in close to his back to present less of a target for his flailing arms. As he struggles, Carl makes a blade of his fingers, takes aim, then sends his left hand shooting through the revived’s right eye. He goes in up to his wrist, then sneers at the zombie as he stiffens and dies.