Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Death's Shadow td-7

Darren Shan

  Death's Shadow

  ( The Demonata - 7 )

  Darren Shan

  I'm a human sponge — I soak up memories. I feel like a thief, stealing secrets with an innocent touch. I don't like this gift. It's intrusive and sneaky. I think it's harmless, but I can't be sure. If knowledge is power, why do I feel so alone…?

  The apocalypse came and the world burned. But it wasn't the end, and out of the destruction, new life has emerged. Bec is back to face the Demonata. After centuries of imprisonment, she's more powerful than ever, but the demons no longer stand alone.

  Something else has crawled out of the darkness with her. Lord Loss is no longer humanity's greatest threat…

  Darren Shan

  Death’s Shadow


  Snapshots of Beranabus I

  Brigitta was sixteen years old and about to get married. She had been promised to a prince since birth. He was handsome and kind, and she was looking forward to the wedding. She had dreams of bearing many fine warrior sons, becoming queen of a mighty empire and living a long and happy life.

  But the prince angered a powerful priestess. For revenge, she summoned a demon on the day of the wedding. The beast killed many of the guests and kidnapped Brigitta. She suffered terribly, but the demon didn’t kill her. Instead, several months later he sent her back to the prince—pregnant.

  Brigitta was in shock, but the prince cared only about the shame this would bring upon his family. He called in a favour of King Minos and sent Brigitta to Crete on his fleet’s fastest ship. Her mouth was bound and her face covered, so nobody could identify her.

  At the island she was led into the infamous Labyrinth, where her face and mouth were freed under cover of darkness. She was left to roam the twisting pathways of the maze until the Minotaur found and killed her.

  Like hundreds of other doomed victims, Brigitta tried to find a way out of the Labyrinth, but her quest was hopeless. She could hear the harsh breathing of the Minotaur echoing through the tunnels, and the scraping of his hooves along the dusty floor. She knew he was following her, watching, waiting, savouring her anguish and fear.

  Brigitta was in the final stage of her pregnancy. She hoped the Minotaur would kill her before the baby was born, to spare the child a ghastly death. But she could not delay the birth forever. Eventually she had to lie down and, in the blood-stained dirt of the maze, delivered a squealing boy. There was no light, so she could not check if he was deformed. He felt like a normal baby, but she would never know for sure.

  As she cradled her son to her breast, the Minotaur moved in for the kill. He did not mask his footsteps. The beast hoped she would run. He liked it when his prey ran. But Brigitta only sat there, hugging her baby and crying. Just before the monster reached her, she leant over the infant and whispered, “Your name is Beranabus.”

  Then the Minotaur was upon her, and the corridors echoed with human screams and bullish howls of vicious delight.

  When he had sated his inhuman appetite, the Minotaur turned his attention to the baby. The child had been silent since the beast had separated him from his mother. The monster sat on Brigitta’s severed head and picked up the baby, studying him with a vicious smile.

  The Minotaur shook Beranabus wildly, to make him cry. But instead the baby did something entirely unexpected—he giggled. Although he looked like a human child, he was a creature of two universes. He had the mind and curiosity of one much older.

  The Minotaur growled and held the boy up by his foot. He clamped his jaws around Beranabus’s head and squeezed softly.

  Again the baby laughed, then reached out with a trembling hand. The Minotaur thought the baby meant to slap him away. But Beranabus was only fascinated. He explored the beast’s fangs and nose, patting and stroking them as if playing with a doll.

  The Minotaur released the child’s head and hoisted him up for a better look. The baby scratched the beast’s scalp and horns. The Minotaur chuckled throatily, then winced as Beranabus tugged his hair. He reached sharply for the baby’s hands. But although he wrapped his large, hairy fingers around the boy’s pudgy wrist, the Minotaur didn’t rip the fingers off or even bite them. There was something unusual about this baby which the Minotaur had never experienced before.

  Beranabus wasn’t afraid.

  Everybody else had been terrified of the beast. His mother, the midwife, the people of his village. Even the godly Heracles shook with fright when he came to capture the Minotaur. Nobody saw the great hero’s fear, but the Minotaur smelt it and as always it drove him mad with hunger and lust. During his long years of captivity in the Labyrinth, King Minos had sent many prisoners his way. Some were resigned and went to their deaths with a smile on their lips, praying for redemption. But they’d all trembled when the Minotaur breathed on the back of their neck and ran his claws along the soft skin of their stomach.

  But this baby was calm and confident. The Minotaur was a bloodthirsty, savage beast, but even at that young age Beranabus had a special way with animals.

  Beranabus gurgled hungrily and tugged the Minotaur’s mane again. Slowly the beast rose and smiled—it was the first tender, unhating smile of his life. He considered the problem of feeding the baby, he clawed through Brigitta’s remains, but she was no use for milk as he had ripped her body apart. There was plenty of water in the Labyrinth, but the baby needed something more nourishing.

  With another warm smile, the Minotaur stooped, held the boy in one hand, cupped the other and collected a fistful of blood from one of the pools around his feet. With a gurgle of his own, he held his hand to the baby’s mouth. Beranabus resisted for a moment, but despite his human form, he was of demonic stock. And so, with only the slightest reluctance, he opened his lips and let the Minotaur feed him, growing strong on the cooling blood of his butchered mother.

  The next few years were the happiest of the Minotaur’s miserable, slaughter-filled life. The baby was his sole companion, the only person he ever loved or who loved him back. He carried Beranabus high on his shoulders as he stalked the young men and women sent to him by King Minos. Some heard Beranabus laugh or coo as they fled and wondered where the sound came from. But they never wondered for long.

  Beranabus didn’t see anything wrong in what they did. He knew nothing but this world of darkness and butchery. The people they killed meant nothing to him. They were creatures to chase, animals to feed on.

  When Theseus finally came to the Labyrinth and, through trickery, felled the mighty Minotaur, Beranabus wept. Vain, proud Theseus was severing the Minotaur’s head, to take as a trophy, when he heard the child’s sobs. Startled, he followed the sounds to their source and examined Beranabus by the light of a torch he had smuggled into the maze.

  Beranabus didn’t look unnatural. Theseus thought the boy was six or seven years old and assumed he was one of Minos’s unfortunate victims. He tried to lead the child out of the Labyrinth. “Don’t cry,” he muttered awkwardly. “The beast is dead. You’re free now.”

  Beranabus glared at Theseus and his eyes blazed with a yellow, fiery light. Theseus quickly backed away. He hadn’t been afraid of the Minotaur, arrogantly sure of his success. But this child unnerved him. The boy was an unexpected find and Theseus wasn’t sure what to make of him.

  “Come with me now or I’ll leave you,” he snapped.

  Beranabus only snarled in reply and crawled across to the dead Minotaur. Theseus watched with disbelief as the boy spread himself over the monster’s lifeless body and wept into the thick hairs of his bloodied, ruptured chest. He stood uncertainly by the pair for a while and thought about hacking at the Minotaur’s neck again, to claim his prize. But then he caught another glimpse of the boy’s yellow eyes. It was ridiculous, but
he had a notion the child might prove more of a threat than the Minotaur.

  “Stay here then,” Theseus pouted, turning his back on the boy, deciding to leave the Minotaur’s head intact. If people questioned him afterwards, he would say the beast fought valiantly, so he’d decided to have him whole as a mark of respect.

  Following a trail of thread to safety, Theseus wound his way out of the Labyrinth to take his place among the legendary heroes of that time, alongside the likes of Heracles, Jason and Achilles.

  He left the orphaned boy alone in the darkness, weeping over the corpse of the slain, demonic beast. He assumed the child would die in the shadows of the maze, unnoticed by the world. Life was cheap and Theseus didn’t think the boy would be any great loss. The slayer of the Minotaur was a shallow, shortsighted man who cared only about his own reputation. He could never have guessed that Beranabus would outlive and outfight every legendary warrior of that golden age, and eventually prove himself to be the greatest hero of them all.


  It’s strange being alive again. This world is huge, complicated, terrifying. So many people and machines. You can travel anywhere and communicate in ways I never even dreamt of when I first lived. How are you supposed to find a place for yourself in a world this convoluted and uncaring?

  Life was much simpler sixteen hundred years ago. Most people never travelled more than a few kilometres from the spot where they were born. Men sometimes went off to fight in distant countries, and came back with tales of strangely dressed folk who spoke different languages and believed in frightful gods. But girls and women rarely saw such sights, unless they were kidnapped by rival warriors and carted off.

  It was a peaceful time when I was born. No great wars. Food was plentiful. Laws were respected by most clans. We built huts, made our own clothes, farmed the land, herded tame animals, hunted the wild. We married young, bore lots of children, worshipped our gods and died happily if we lived to be forty.

  Then demons invaded. They attacked without mercy and dug up the remains of our dead, creating new beasts out of the rotting flesh and bones, turning our own ancestors against us. We fought as best we could, but for each one we killed, five more appeared. They terrorised villages across the land. It was only a matter of time before we would all suffer horrible, painful deaths.

  In our darkest hour, an unlikely saviour appeared. A gruff druid led a small band of our warriors on a mission to send the demons back to their foul universe. I went with them, and so did a simple boy known only as Bran.

  We drove back the demons, but one of them—Lord Loss, a red-skinned demon master with eight arms and no heart—imprisoned me in a cave beneath the earth. I was shut off from the world of light. In the darkness, he sent his familiars to torture and kill me. The pain was unbearable and death, when it came, was a relief.

  At least it should have been. But for some unknown reason, when my body perished, my soul remained trapped in the cave. There was to be no escape for me, even in death.

  I was held captive for many long, depressing centuries. Mine was a world of darkness and absolute desolation. Lacking a body, I couldn’t even sleep. I was conscious for every minute of every long day and night.

  I couldn’t see or learn anything of the human world, but I was at the focal point of what had once been a tunnel between the Demonata’s universe and ours. By focusing hard, I could trace the shattered strands of the tunnel back to their source, and from there magically peer into the demons’ den.

  Not a lot happened in that part of the universe, but demons occasionally drifted by or stopped to test the tunnel in the hope that they might be able to rekindle it. I worried that one of them might succeed, so I kept a close watch.

  After sixteen hundred years my worries proved well-founded. For the first time I sensed movement in the human world. A boy of great power had come to live in the area close to the cave. I could feel him being manipulated. He was led to the cave and tricked into trying to reopen the tunnel. I tried to warn the boy, to stop him. But he couldn’t understand me. The tunnel was reactivated and demons flooded through in their thousands.

  That should have been the end, but the boy returned when all seemed lost. He came with another teenager and an elderly magician—Bran! My old friend had survived and grown more powerful than any of us could have imagined.

  As strong as Bran and the boys were, it wasn’t enough. Hundreds of demons stood between them and the cave. They tried to break through, but failed. It looked like everything was finished.

  Then something remarkable happened. A magical force connected me with the boys. It united the three of us and we became the Kah-Gash, an ancient weapon of incredible power. Without knowing what we were doing, we took the universes back through time, to the night when the tunnel was opened. Bran and the boys seized this fresh opportunity and put a stop to the onslaught, denying the demon hordes access to our world.

  During the battle an innocent bystander—a boy called Bill-E Spleen—was killed. I felt myself drawn to the dead boy As my spirit seeped into his corpse, I found myself capable of restoring the body’s functions. I set the heart beating and it pumped blood through the veins and arteries. The brain sparked at my urging. Lungs rose and fell. Bill-E drew breath… and so did I. My first free breath after sixteen hundred years of imprisonment. No words can describe the deliciousness of that.

  As Bran and the others stared at me, amazed and afraid, I set about altering the body I’d taken over, reshaping it, giving it my face, my build, my sex. Within hours it was a boy’s body no longer, but a girl’s, with breath, a heartbeat, bones, guts, flesh, blood, a face. I was alive!

  That’s when my problems really began.


  What amazes me most about this modern world is that people aren’t more amazed. I first lived in a time of magic, with priestesses and druids who could perform wondrous feats. But we had nothing like aeroplanes, computers, televisions, cars. We were servants of the natural world, ignorant of the ways of the universe and the origins of our planet. We didn’t even know the Earth was round!

  Today’s people have mastered the land and seas, and even made inroads into the heavens—they can fly! There are things they can’t control, like earthquakes and floods, but for the most part they’ve torn down trees, carved the planet up with roads and made it theirs. They’ve hurt the Earth, and they don’t seem as happy as people in my time were, but they’ve achieved the incredible.

  I’ve been here more than six months, yet I still find a dozen things each day that make my jaw drop. Like a pencil. How do they put lead inside wood? And paper—nobody thinks twice about it, but in my previous life, if you wanted to record a message, you had to hammer notches out of a chunk of rock.

  It’s a terrifying world and I shouldn’t be able to cope with it. I came back to life as a small, scared, lonely girl. If I’d stepped out of the cave knowing nothing of what lay beyond, I’d have fainted with shock and gone on fainting every time I recovered and looked around.

  But when I took over Bill-E Spleen’s body, his memories became mine. It took me a few weeks to process everything, but I soon knew all that he did. That helped me make sense of this new world and deal with it. Without access to Bill-E’s memories I wouldn’t have known how to use a knife and fork, knot a pair of laces, open a door or do any of the simple, everyday tasks that everyone else takes for granted.

  But as helpful as that’s been, it’s also proved to be one of my biggest problems. Because I live with Bill-E’s uncle, Dervish Grady, and I made the mistake of telling him about Bill-E’s memories. As a result, he sees me as some kind of a medium, offering him unlimited access to his dead nephew’s feelings and thoughts.

  “Tell me about Billy’s first day at school.”

  We’re in Dervish’s study on the top floor of the house. The mansion is a three-storey monster, full of round, stained-glass windows, wooden floorboards and bare stone walls. (Except in this study, which is lined w
ith leather panels.) All of the people from my village could have lived in comfort here. When I first saw it, I thought it was a communal building.

  “His first day at school?” I chew my lower lip, as though I have to think hard to retrieve the memories. Dervish watches me intently, hands crossed on the desk in front of him, eyes hard. I don’t enjoy these sessions. He brings me up here three or four times a day and asks me about Bill-E, the things he experienced, the thoughts he had, the way he saw the world.

  “He wasn’t nervous,” I begin. “He thought it was a big adventure. He loved putting on his uniform and packing his books and lunch. He kept checking the kitchen clock, even though he couldn’t tell the time.”

  Dervish smiles. He always grins when I tell him an amusing little detail about his dead nephew. But he’s not smiling at me—he’s smiling to himself, as if sharing a joke with the absent Bill-E Spleen.

  I tell Dervish more, talking him through the young boy’s impressions of his teacher and classmates. I find this boring as well as uncomfortable. It’s like having to read chapters from the same story, over and over. My attention wanders and my eyes dart round Dervish’s study, the books of magic on the shelves, the weapons on the walls. I want to flick through the pages of those books and test some of the axes and swords. But there’s never time for that.

  Maybe Dervish doesn’t see me. Perhaps to him I’m not a real person, just a mouthpiece for Bill-E. I doubt that he can imagine me doing anything other than talk about the boy I replaced. There’s nothing malicious in it. I just don’t think it’s crossed his mind to regard me as an independent human being.

  Eventually, two hours later, Dervish dismisses me. He’s had enough for now. He waves me away, not bothering to even say goodnight. I leave him staring at his crossed hands, thoughts distant, a sad wreck of a man, more lost in the past than I ever was when captive in the cave.