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Ocean of Blood

Darren Shan






  New York Boston

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  Table of Contents

  Copyright Page


  Shaun, Ciarán, Áine and Cian—monsters from the deep!

  OBE (Order of the Bloody Entrails) to:

  Jessica Bromberg, the East Coast Kraken!!

  Editorial Skipper:

  Sam Quint, aka Nick Lake!!!

  Admirals of the Dark Waters:

  Captain Christopher Little and his scurvy crew!!!!

  Part One

  “A howling, hungry creature

  of dark delights.”

  Chapter One

  The vampire known as Quicksilver threw a knife high into the smoke-clogged air of the tavern. Those around him watched with beady-eyed, bloodthirsty fascination as he held his head back, opened his mouth wide and waited for the knife to drop. A few people shrieked but Quicksilver didn’t flinch, expertly tracking the flight of the dagger. At precisely the right moment he clenched his teeth together and caught the blade two inches past the tip. As the handle quivered, he turned slowly, so that everyone in the room could see. Pulling out the knife, he threw it into the wood of the table – it drove in all the way to the hilt – and took a bow.

  As the crowd went wild with applause, Quicksilver grinned and slumped into a chair close to another vampire and a gaggle of admiring young ladies. “There,” he beamed. “I told you I could do it.”

  “One of these nights,” the other bloodsucker said, “you’ll time that wrong and end up with a knife through the back of your throat.”

  “Don’t be such an old woman, Wester,” Quicksilver laughed. “You’ll scare these lovely creatures and I would hate to send them to bed with nightmares.”

  “It will take more than your dull tales to scare us,” one of the ladies snorted, but they were undeniably impressed.

  “What’s your real name?” another lady asked, cuddling up to the man with the odd orange hair, immaculate gray suit and dazzling smile.

  “I only reveal that to my very special friends,” Quicksilver murmured. Then, as she blushed, he whispered in her ear, “Larten Crepsley.” After that he called for more wine and the rest of the night passed most pleasantly.

  A groggy Wester rose before Larten and stumbled to the window of the inn where they had bedded for the day. He peered through the curtains at the sunlight, hissed and let them swish shut. It would be another couple of hours before they could go out. The sun wouldn’t kill the vampires instantly, but they’d start to redden within minutes and would be in agony in less than an hour. If they were exposed to its rays for two or three hours, there would be nothing left of them except for charred bones.

  Wester washed in a basin of water and studied his beard in the mirror above it. Shaving was a complicated business for vampires. Normal razors were useless on their tough hair. He and Larten had picked up specially hardened blades a couple of years ago, but Wester had lost his in the course of their travels. He’d asked to borrow Larten’s, but the slightly older vampire had said it was time Wester learned to take better care of his possessions. Larten had just been teasing him, but Wester didn’t want to give his friend the satisfaction of seeing him plead, so he’d grown a beard since then.

  “My head,” Larten groaned, sitting up, then flopping back again. “What time is it?”

  “Too early to be getting up,” Wester grunted.

  “How much did we drink last night?”

  “I don’t want to think about it.”

  Vampires could consume a lot more alcohol than humans and it was difficult for them to get drunk. But Wester and Larten had been managing to defy the physical odds most nights.

  “They were nice ladies,” Larten chuckled. “They loved my knife trick.”

  “You should try it at the Cirque Du Freak,” Wester said drily. “It would go over well there.”

  The pair had bumped into their old ally, Mr. Tall, a while ago. They’d spent a fun few nights with the circus crew and Larten had performed some of his old magic routines in the show. He had been rusty to begin with, but adjusted swiftly. He had an incredibly fast hand, even for a vampire. It was how he’d earned his nickname—one of their friends had once said his fingers moved as if made of quicksilver.

  Larten and Wester had been traveling the world for almost twenty years since their first time at Council. Both had learned a lot, not just about the ways of vampires, but about ladies too. Larten had been a slow starter but was making up for lost time, dazzling maidens with his smile, confidence and agility wherever he went.

  The pair occasionally met with their master, Seba Nile, but spent most of the time by themselves or with others their age, vampires in their thirties, forties, fifties or sixties. They were youths by vampire standards and had been cut loose by their masters to explore the world of humans one final time before pledging themselves to the demands of the clan.

  The door to their room crashed open. Wester whirled defensively, then relaxed as a large vampire with long blond hair staggered in. It was Yebba. He had been traveling with them for the past month, though it had been a few nights since they’d last seen him.

  “I’m thirsty,” Yebba roared, kicking Larten’s bed. “Up, cur, and come keep me company.”

  “Wester says the sun hasn’t set yet,” Larten yawned.

  “I don’t give a damn,” the massive vampire said, then collapsed like a bear and sat on the floor, blinking dumbly.

  “A heavy night’s drinking?” Wester smiled.

  “Aye,” Yebba said morosely. “A woman broke my heart. What else could I do but drown my sorrows in ale?”

  “Another broken heart?” Wester tsked. “That must be the fourth this year.”

  “Aye.” Tears welled in Yebba’s eyes. “Vampires weren’t made for love.”

  “What happened this time?” Wester asked slyly. “Did you bite her?”

  “That only happened once,” Yebba scowled. “And it was an accident.”

  “It has happened to us all,” Larten said, propping himself on an elbow.

  “I don’t remember you biting any of your lady friends,” Wester frowned.

  “No, but there was one time…” He coughed and blushed. “Never mind.”

  “Tell us,” Wester hooted. “Come on, Quicksilver, you can’t leave Yebba to bare his soul alone.”

  “Well, do you recall a night a couple of years ago when I didn’t return to our inn?”

  “That happens at least once a month,” Wester said.

  “This was different,” Larten snapped. “I’d been out with a lady and drank more than was good for me. I felt hungry on the way home, so I popped into a room to feed. But I made too much noise and woke the woman up. She screamed bloody murder and I tumbled out of her room without silencing her.”

  “Why didn’t you breathe on her and knock her out?” Wester asked.

  Larten shrugged. “I was drunk. I forgot about my vampiric breath. Before I knew it, a mob had formed and I was chased out of town. I was almost trapped in the open and burned alive.”

  When Wester and Yebba had stopped laughing, Yebba said, “Why didn’t you flit? They couldn’t have troubled you once you hit top speed and vanished from sight.”

  Larten’s blush deepened and Wester had to answer for him. “He can’t flit when he’s drunk—he loses his sense of coordination and can’t run that fast.”

  The pair fell apart with laughter. Larten sniffed angrily, but his lips were twitching at the corners. Eventually he burst out laughing too. When their fit had passed, Wester trudged down to order food and ale, then the three of them waited for th
e sun to set, so that they could again seek excitement in the inns, taverns and gaming halls of the humans they had once been.

  Chapter Two

  After a few drinks downstairs, the three young vampires went in search of whatever pleasures they could find. They were adept at sniffing out all of the hidden delights of a town.

  The trio gained admittance to a boxing match that they enjoyed greatly, wagering heavily on the outcome. Vampires usually didn’t bother with money, but Cubs often stole from sleeping humans when they fed. Superstitious people thought that vampires were fanged beasts who ripped open the throats of their targets. In reality they normally slipped into a bedroom, made a small cut on the arm or leg of a sleeping human, drank just enough blood to sate their hunger, then used their spit to close the wound.

  Larten studied the scars on his fingertips during a rest between rounds. He had been blooded the traditional way. Seba sliced the tips of Larten’s fingers with his hard, sharp nails, then cut his own and pumped blood into his assistant. Larten was proud of the scars, though sometimes when he studied them he felt a stab of guilt. They reminded him of Seba and he wondered what his master would think of his student’s recent behavior.

  Larten and Seba had parted on bad terms, but had made their peace since then. Larten worried that by gambling, drinking and stealing, he and Wester were soiling their master’s good name. Wester often had to remind him (especially when Larten had too much to drink and was in a maudlin mood) that Seba had told them to work their human interests out of their system. There were lots of other vampires going through the same thing. They were called Cubs by the older members of the clan.

  The fight recommenced and the burly men closed in on one another. Larten looked up from his fingers and focused on the boxers. This was the thirty-second round, and it had been a long time since he’d seen so engaging a battle. He cheered on the stout-hearted warriors as they clashed, weary and unsteady on their feet, but determined to keep going.

  The flesh of their bare fists had been torn to pieces and blood splattered every time one of them landed a blow. The ruby-red drops made Larten’s mouth water – Wester and Yebba were staring hungrily too – and he had to warn himself to stay by the side, not dart forward and latch on to the delicious wounds.

  All around, men were betting and roaring encouragement or abuse. They all had the same greedy, heated look in their eyes.

  “My one’s winning,” Yebba whooped as one of the brutes landed a blow.

  “You didn’t bet on him,” Wester retorted. “You bet on the other one.”

  “Did not!” Yebba shouted.

  “Yes you did. He has that mark on his left arm, remember?”

  Yebba squinted at the boxers, then cursed. “These humans all look the same to me,” he growled. Larten and Wester laughed and passed the disgruntled vampire another mug of ale—that was guaranteed to settle him down.

  After the fight, Larten and Wester collected their winnings and took Yebba to a tavern where they found ladies to dance with. Small towns lacked the dance halls of big cities, but you could always sort out something if you splashed enough money around.

  They joined a card game later. All three were drunk and they lost heavily, even Larten, who rarely tasted defeat at the gambling tables. But they didn’t mind. Money was easy to come by if you were a creature of the night.

  Larten wanted to do his knife-catching trick again, but Wester wouldn’t let him. He took his friend’s knife away and held it out of reach as Larten tried to snatch it back. If they had been sober, Wester couldn’t have kept it from the faster, stronger vampire. But Larten was woozy and helpless. Wester had a knack for knowing when Larten was going to drink more than he could handle, and he stayed relatively clearheaded on those nights so that he could keep an eye on his reckless friend.

  “Ish not fair,” Larten complained to a man with a monocle. “I’m Qui-hic! I’m Quick-hic!” He gulped ale until the hiccups went away. “I’m Quicksilver,” he growled majestically.

  “Aye?” the man said, passing Larten a pinch of snuff. “I’m in the leather trade myself.”

  “Not my bizzzness,” Larten slurred. “Ish my… ish my…” He pulled a face and forgot what he was trying to say, then fell facedown on the table and knew no more until morning.

  Larten awoke to savage pain. He was outside in the sun and his skin was a nasty shade of red. As he blinked sleep from his eyes and tried to raise a hand to protect his face from the rays, he found that his arms were tied behind his back and he was hanging upside down. His shirt has been ripped away, exposing his torso, which had been burned as deeply as his face.

  Fear flared in his heart, but he thrust it from his thoughts. He didn’t know what was going on – perhaps he had been caught feeding drunkenly – but that didn’t matter. He had to escape quickly or he would burn like a pig on a spit.

  Larten set to work on the knots around his wrists. He was hanging from a thick length of rope, swinging and turning in a soft breeze, but he ignored that and kept as still as possible, except for his fingers, which danced over the knots. The long, hardened nails of the vampires were invaluable when it came to picking knots and locks, but Larten would have been able to make short work of these regardless. He had learned well from Merletta all those years ago.

  Once his hands were free, he wriggled loose of the ropes binding his arms and chest. Bending upwards, he grabbed the supporting rope with one hand, tore apart the ropes around his legs with the other, hung in the air a moment, then dropped to his feet and landed in a crouch. His first instinct was to dart for the safety of the shadows, but he forced himself to scan the doorways of the sheds around him – he was in a courtyard – looking for the enemies who had strung him up.

  For long, anxious seconds, Larten searched for his foes and readied himself for battle. Then he caught a scent and his nose crinkled with disgust. He rose and brushed dirt from his trousers. He dug out his watch and checked the time – it was for show, as Seba had taught him to read the time based on the position of the sun and stars – then coolly glanced at the sky and sniffed.

  “My watch has stopped, Tanish,” he called. “If it’s broken, I’ll have the price of a new one out of you.”

  Laughter greeted this statement and four vampires lurched out of a shed. One was a sheepish-looking Wester Flack. The others were Yebba, Zula Pone and Tanish Eul, the vampire who had originally given Larten his nickname.

  “The same old Quicksilver,” Tanish snorted admiringly, then hurried forward to throw a cloak over the head and shoulders of his friend and bundle him into the shadows of the shed, where a barrel of ale was waiting.

  Chapter Three

  Tanish Eul was tall and thin, with a stunning smile and carefully groomed hair and nails. He was always stylishly dressed, and spoke in the smooth tones of a silver-tongued rogue. If Larten was a Romeo, Tanish was a full-blown Casanova—his success with the ladies was legendary.

  Zula Pone, on the other hand, was one of the shortest people Larten had ever met. He was stout and ugly. Many vampires were rough by human standards, their faces laced with scars and patches from old wounds, but they were considered fair among their own. Poor Zula was ugly by any reckoning. Fortunately he didn’t care, and even wore shabby clothes and cut his hair crookedly to prove he was immune to what others thought of his looks. Despite this, Zula was a surprise hit with those of the fairer sex. He generally repulsed them to begin with, but after ten minutes in his company virtually any woman found herself won over by his charm.

  Tanish had run into Zula a few years ago and instantly recognized a kindred spirit. They’d become fast friends and it wasn’t long before Larten and Wester were introduced to the newest member of their rowdy pack.

  “You’ve got fairer skin than a baby,” Tanish hooted as Larten rested in the shed and tried not to move—his burned flesh sent needles shooting through him every time he shifted. “You were only up there half an hour. I’d be a mild pink color if it had been me.”
r />   “You’ll be red with your own blood if you ever try that again,” Larten said angrily. “What if I hadn’t been able to undo the knots?”

  “We were keeping a close watch on you,” Wester said. “We would have seen if you were in trouble.”

  “And left you there to burn!” Zula exploded.

  Larten found himself laughing along with the others. It had been a good joke, even though he was the butt of it. Wester was the only one who couldn’t see the funny side. He smiled along with the rest of them, but his smile was strained. Larten would be tender for the coming week, his flesh would peel and some of the sores might fester. Wester saw nothing humorous in that.

  The vampires drank and chatted for a few hours, telling tall and bawdy tales. Tanish and Zula had been involved in a number of near scrapes as usual and had been run out of the last three towns they’d visited.

  “The problem with humans is that they take life too seriously,” Tanish sneered. “Admittedly, we burned down a storehouse with a winter’s supply of grain in it, so a few children will go hungry this year. So what? It will sort out the strong from the weak. Humans are too attached to their young. The vampaneze have the right idea—humans are only fit for killing.”

  Tanish winked at Larten as he said that, then looked as innocent as he could when Wester flared up. “That’s a horrible thing to say! We were the same as them before we were blooded. They have shorter lives than us and are much weaker. If we kill humans, we disgrace ourselves. The vampaneze are soulless scum who will never find Paradise, and you’re a fool if you can’t see that.”

  Wester ranted for another fifteen minutes. His hatred of the vampaneze had set in him like a disease, and though he spoke little of the matter most of the time, those close to him knew of his true feelings. Seba had tried reasoning with him – just because a vampaneze had killed his family, it didn’t mean he should hate all of them – but Wester refused to listen.