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Darren Shan


  This book has been specially written and published for World Book Day 2006.

  World Book Day is a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and was marked in over go countries around the globe last year.

  For further information please see

  World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is made possible by generous sponsorship from National Book Tokens, participating publishers, authors and booksellers.

  Booksellers who accept the World Book Day Token themselves fund the full cost of redeeming it.

  Other titles by Darren Shan


  1. Lord Loss

  2. Demon Thief

  3. Slawter


  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

  8. Allies of the Night

  9. Killers of the Dawn

  10. The Lake of Souls

  11. Lord of the Shadows

  12. Sons of Destiny



  HarperCollins Children’s Books

  Seek out the spirit of DARREN SHAN


  First published in paperback in Great Britain by HarperCollins Children's Books 2006

  Harper Collins Childrens Books is a division of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd 77-By Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London, W6 8JB

  Copyright © Darren Shan 2006

  ISBN-13: 97800071x1387 ISBN-10: 000 7x1138 X

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

  Printed and bound in Great Britain by Bookmarque Ltd, Croydon, Surrey

  Conditions of Sale This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior written consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.




  OBEs [Order of the Bloody Entrails] to:



  January 2005

  Ethereally edited by:


  Graveyard caretakers: Christopher Little & Associates


  KOYASAN STOOD NERVOUSLY by the narrow stone bridge, chewing a clove of garlic. She was all alone and as miserable as a two-legged crab.

  That morning, when she awoke, she had happily said to herself, “This is the day. I will go to the graveyard with the others and cross the bridge.” It seemed so easy when she thought about it. Just walk out there, set foot on the bridge and take one small step at a time. Not think about the evil spirits on the other side, lurking beneath the mud-stained tombs or behind the crumbling headstones. Just set her sights on the opposite bank of the stream and cross.

  The happiness stayed with her while she munched a couple of dry cakes and fetched water from the well. She smiled as she dressed her younger sister, Maiko, and helped her mother cook breakfast. She laughed as she skipped with Maiko towards the graveyard, imagining how surprised the other children would be when they arrived to find her perched on top of a tomb.

  The laughter faded as she passed the two trees which formed the rear gate of the village. Snarling, demonic faces had been carved into the bark of each, and the grooves had been filled with bright red and yellow paint. They had been put there to frighten off any evil spirits who might approach the village during the night. Not the spirits from the graveyard — they couldn’t cross the stream. But there were lots of other spirits at large in the world.

  Koyasan knew she shouldn’t look at the faces. They always scared her. But her eyes wouldn’t let her pass without a quick glance left and right. When she saw the fierce, ugly, threatening faces, her stomach tightened and she moved a bit quicker. It was surely her imagination, but she thought the faces had shimmered, that the jaws had widened slightly, that the eyes had narrowed. And the trees themselves had seemed to breathe out.

  She walked less confidently after that. Beside her, Maiko had taken no notice of the trees. But Maiko wasn’t scared of much. She was young and didn’t know enough about the world to be afraid of it.

  But Koyasan still planned to cross the bridge. This was going to be the day. The sun was sizzling, no clouds in the sky. All the spirits would be at rest in the shadows or beneath the earth. As long as she stayed in the open, no harm could befall her.

  When she got to the bridge, she found that she wasn’t the first to arrive. Some of her friends were already running around the headstones in the graveyard, tumbling over the tombs, chasing each other like playful cats. They shouted hello when they saw Koyasan, but didn’t call for her to join them. Every child in the village knew she was terrified of the graveyard’s evil spirits. None expected her to ever cross the bridge, and most had given up trying to convince her.

  But today she’d prove them wrong! Koyasan believed in her heart that she wasn’t a coward. Last year, when a goat had fallen down a steep cliffy and the boys herding it had stood at the top, crying and afraid, Koyasan had climbed down and dragged the goat up. When she fell and cut her arm open once, and the blood flowed like wine, she hadn’t cried, not even when Itako stitched the cut closed, pushing a long curved needle in and out of Koyasan’s flesh.

  There was almost nothing physical that Koyasan was afraid of. But spirits... detached, wretched souls... ghostly creatures of the other world... they were a different matter.

  When Maiko saw the trio playing, she gave a gurgle of delight and tottered directly over the bridge to chase after them, even though she was too small, and her legs too stumpy, to catch any of the older, swifter children.

  Koyasan dug a clove of garlic out of her skirt pocket and bit into it. She loved garlic and always carried a clove or two around. As she chewed, she stared at the bridge. It was an ordinary stone bridge. It had been built a long time ago and repaired in several places over the decades. A gentle stream gurgled along beneath it. Even in the worst winter, the stream never threatened to overflow. But it never went dry in summer either, although Koyasan often worried that it would, leaving the village unprotected from the spirits who massed and cavorted at night on the other side of the thin trickle of water.

  The graveyard beyond the bridge was ancient and sprawling, and no longer in use. People’s ashes had been buried there for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. Nobody in the village knew where all the dead had come from. There must have been large towns or a city nearby at one time, but no ruins of such places existed any more. Or else this had been a place of pilgrimage in the past and the ashes of the dead had been brought from far away to rest in this secluded spot.

  The land just beyond the bridge was flat and bare except for the monuments to the dead — but started to rise sharply after seventy or eighty paces. Twenty paces beyond that, the first trees sprouted, and they covered the rest of the hill where the bulk of the dead were buried.

  It was impossible to say how many urns of human ash had been set here by their unknown ancestors. There’d been many attempts to find out. One count put the number at ten thousand, another at twenty thousand. One problem was that many of the tombs and headstones had been covered by moss, bushes or trees, and now lay hidden beneath the forest f
loor, lost forever. Another was that although a headstone might bear only one name, there might be fifty or a hundred urns beneath it, maybe more.

  Some said a hundred thousand souls had been placed here, that the hill was not a natural growth, but had been built out of the remains of the dead. Koyasan didn’t think that was true, but she often had nightmares about it, pursued through her dreams by an army of wailing spirits.

  Koyasan had never explored the forested, tombstone-encrusted hill. She’d never even crossed the stone bridge which linked the world of the living to the realm of the dead. Fear always stopped her here, on the safe, human side of the stream.

  It was silly, she knew. The spirits were wicked, everyone agreed about that. Nobody ever crossed the bridge once the sun had set and most made sure they got out of the graveyard at least an hour before darkness fell, just to be safe. But no spirit could roam freely by day. Some of the stronger ones could maybe exist above ground in the daytime, but they couldn’t leave the safety of the shadows. They were forced to cringe behind larger monuments, in the shade of great rocks, or in the hollow stomachs of the thicker trees. As long as you didn’t venture too deep into the forest, and stayed out of caves and other dark places, you were perfectly safe. All the children said so. And the fact that they always came back, alive and uninjured at the end of each day, was proof that it was true.

  But Koyasan was scared despite all that. She could sense the spirits slithering through the earth like impossibly long, vicious worms, scratching at the surface from beneath, always yearning to escape... capture... torture... kill...

  Two claws scraped the back of her neck.

  Koyasan screamed, dropped her clove of garlic and whirled round.

  Yamadasan was standing there, holding a forked stick, laughing. Mitsuo and Chie were with him. They were laughing too.

  “You thought it was a spirit!” Yamadasan chortled.

  “Shut up!” Koyasan shouted angrily, automatically bowing — she was always polite, even when scared. “I thought it was a bird.”

  “No, you didn’t. You wouldn’t have screamed if it was just a bird.”

  Yamadasan did a short, mocking dance, then threw the stick away and grinned at Koyasan. “Are you coming across today or staying here as usual?” Koyasan opened her mouth to tell him she was coming, that today she was going to prove how brave she was... then closed it slowly, not so certain now that she could follow through on her earlier decision.

  “Leave her alone,” Mitsuo said, smiling softly at Koyasan. “It’s not her fault she’s scared.”

  “I’m not scared!” Koyasan snapped, then stubbed the ground with her toes. “I just don’t think we should disturb the dead. It’s not right to play in a graveyard.”

  “Nonsense,” Yamadasan said. “Nobody cares as long as we don’t do any damage. You’re just afraid a spirit will jump out of the ground and eat you.” Koyasan glared hatefully at Yamadasan, but there was nothing she could say in her defence.

  “Come on,” Chie said, patting Yamadasan’s back. “We have to go back soon — goats won’t herd themselves. Let’s not waste time here.”

  Yamadasan shrugged, laughed one last time at Koyasan, then darted over the bridge, yelling at those on the other side, declaring himself to be a wolf and promising to rip out the guts of the first child he caught. Chie and Mitsuo raced after him, howling gleefully, shredding the silent shroud of the graveyard.

  Koyasan stared miserably after the three children, then at the bridge, then down at her feet. She told them to move. A toe twitched, but otherwise her feet ignored her. She looked up at the bridge again, remembering what she’d said that morning.

  “I have to do it,” she muttered. “They’ll make fun of me all my life if I don’t.”

  Summoning all of her courage, Koyasan forced her right foot to rise, then move forward. It hovered in the air a moment, then came down... on the bridge.

  A shock of cold air swept through her. The boys and girls in the graveyard were still shouting, howling and cheering, but Koyasan no longer heard them. She couldn’t see them either. The world had become a wide grey void. She could hear deep, rasping, breathing sounds, the breath of creatures which had been human once, but weren’t any more.

  Slowly, painfully, fearfully, she dragged her left leg forward. She had both feet on the bridge now, the first time ever. She stood, suspended above the stream, caught between worlds, petrified at the thought of going forward, desperate not to lose her nerve and go back. She felt sick and her head pounded, the way it had when she’d been struck by fever some years ago.

  She realised she wasn’t breathing and could feel her face turning red, then blue. The sounds of the dead changed. They were excited now. If she died here, she’d become one of them, and they would have something new to play with and torment. She sensed them reaching out to her, long, misty tendrils which were only vaguely like fingers.

  With a scream that shocked the other children and stopped them in their games, Koyasan broke the spell holding her in place. She paused only long enough to suck in a quick, shallow breath. Then she turned and fled, back to the village, leaving Maiko in the care of her friends, sobbing as fear sped her further and further away from the plain, stony, unremarkable bridge.


  KOYASAN SPENT THE rest of the day working hard. She helped her mother wash clothes, then fixed a hole in the roof of their house with her father. That wasn’t a girl’s job, but since he had no son, Koyasan’s father often treated his eldest daughter like a boy, letting her work with him, teaching her how to wrestle and whistle.

  After that, she went through her clothes, searching for loose buttons or little rips which needed stitching. Koyasan liked to look her best at all times. If she was playing and tore her skirt or stained her shirt, she’d rush home instantly to mend the hole or wash out the stain.

  That took her up to lunch. Most of the children ate a quick lunch, then gathered at the old graveyard while the adults sheltered from the harsh noon sun and slept. Koyasan would usually eat quickly too, and go and watch her friends play. She didn’t enjoy being cut off from the games by the stream, but by watching, at least she felt like she was part of the fun. And occasionally, some of her friends would play with her on the safer, more boring side of the bridge.

  But today Koyasan ate slowly and stayed in the village. She was still shaking from her experience on the bridge that morning and had no wish to go anywhere near it for at least a couple of days.

  It was the quietest time of the day, the air heavy with snores. Koyasan tried to sleep but couldn’t. So she went walking instead, pretending that the houses were giant tombs and that she was in a graveyard of her own, a secret place, far more exciting than the dull old graveyard across the stream. She fought imaginary spirits, jabbing at them with a stick which passed for a sword, chopping off heads, running them through, laughing as they—

  “What are you doing?”

  Koyasan gasped and dropped the stick. She hadn’t expected anyone to see her at play. Glancing around, she saw Itako sitting on the doorstep of her cottage, regarding Koyasan with a curious but not unfriendly expression. Itako was one of the oldest people in the village. She was a woman of many talents — a teacher, doctor, storyteller, law-maker. There were also rumours that she could see into the future and speak with the dead, but Koyasan wasn’t sure if they were true or not.

  “I was playing,” Koyasan said, bowing and smiling sheepishly.

  “You should play more quietly,” Itako said. “If I’d been sleeping, you would have disturbed me.”


  Itako waved the apology away. “Who were you fighting?” she asked.

  “Spirits,” said Koyasan.

  “With a sword?” Itako tutted. “You won’t kill spirits like that. In fact, you can’t kill them at all — they’re dead already.”

  “I know.” Koyasan lowered her head to hide her shame. “I was only playing.”

  “You should always deal with
spirits correctly, even when playing,” Itako said. She patted the space on the step beside her. Koyasan didn’t want to sit down, but it would be impolite not to.

  “Why aren’t you playing with the others?” Itako asked.

  Koyasan didn’t answer.

  “Do they tease you? Bully you? Are you a loner?”



  “I don’t like the graveyard,” Koyasan muttered. “Hurm.” Itako studied the girl for a few seconds. “Or maybe it’s spirits that bother you more?” Koyasan nodded quickly.

  “They can’t come out in the day,” Itako said.

  “I know. But they scare me anyway. I can still feel them, even if I can’t see them.”

  “Oh?” Itako leant forward for a closer look — her eyes were no longer as sharp as they’d once been. “You’re Koyasan, aren’t you? I remember when you cut your arm. Let me see the scar.”

  Koyasan held her arm out. Itako rubbed a finger over the thin line and grunted. “Not bad, even if I do compliment myself.” She ran her fingers down to the end of Koyasan’s arm and gripped the girl’s hand. She tickled Koyasan’s palm with her thumb and Koyasan smiled.

  “You will need help soon,” Itako said softly. Koyasan squinted at her uncertainly. “Don’t be afraid to come to me, even if you feel like you can speak to no one. If I have the power, I will do what I can to make your task easier.”

  “I... I don’t understand,” Koyasan stuttered. “Am I in trouble?”

  “Not yet,” Itako said. “But you soon will be.”

  “What sort of trouble?” Koyasan’s heart was fluttering like a bird’s and she found it hard to speak.

  “I don’t know,” Itako said and released Koyasan’s hand. She waved to show that Koyasan could go.

  As Koyasan stood shakily and stepped away, Itako called after her. “Most people feel fear at some time in their life. That doesn’t make them cowardly. Cowards are those who do nothing when their fear threatens to destroy them. You must face your fear when you have to. If you do, you might not survive, but if you die, you won’t die a coward.”