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Dark Calling

Darren Shan


  BAS—you love it when I call!

  OBEs (Order of the Bloody Entrails) to:

  Sam “the snapper” White

  Rachel Wasdyke—demon mistress of New Orleans

  Tom Woodhead—in a word—Sligstatic!!!

  Hallowed hollerer:

  Stella Paskins

  Greek chorus:

  the Christopher Little choir


  A SMALL, wiry, scorpion-shaped demon with a semi-human face drives its stinger into my right eye. My eyeball pops and gooey streaks flood down my cheek. In complete agony, I scream helplessly, but worse is to come. The demon spits into the empty socket. At first I think it’s just phlegm, but then dozens of tiny things start to wriggle in the space where my eye once swam. As I fill with confused horror, teeth or claws dig into the bone around my ruined eye. Whatever the mini-monsters are, they’re trying to tunnel through to my brain.

  Beranabus roars, “Kernel!” and tries to grab me, but I wheel away from him as insanity and pain claim me. I whip around, flailing, shrieking, wild. The demon strikes again and punctures my left eye. Darkness consumes me. I’m in hell.

  A lifetime later, someone picks me up from where I’ve fallen and drags me forward. It might be Beranabus or Grubbs, or maybe it’s Lord Loss. I don’t know or care. All I can focus on is the blind, hellish pain.

  I pull away from the person or demon and run from the madness, but crash into something hard. I fall, moaning and screaming, but not crying—I no longer have eyes to weep with. The creatures that were spat into my eyes are munching on my brain now. I try to scrape them out with my fingers, but that just adds to the torment.

  Then magic sears through my ruined sockets. The things in my head burn and drop away. The pain lessens. I sigh blissfully and slump unconscious.

  I dream of the end of the world. Everything comes apart and everyone perishes. The universe warps and twists upon itself. In my dream, I float as a spirit through panels of light. I don’t know how I see the lights without eyes, but I do. There are others—Grubbs, Beranabus, a girl. I slot the patches of light together and we sail from one window to another. Peaceful. No pain. I’m at ease. In my element. Master of the lights.

  Maybe this is heaven. Constructing and passing through an endless series of windows. An eternal, beautiful, cosmic light show. I’ll settle for that. Anything’s better than torture, blindness, and micro-demons feasting on my brain.

  Heaven doesn’t last. I wasn’t dreaming. The destruction was real. The lights fade and I find myself back on Earth. Blind as ever. Pain muted by magic, but hovering, waiting for its chance to kick back in. Turns out the creatures in my eyes were maggots.

  No time for panic or self-pity. Beranabus drops a bombshell—we’ve traveled through time. I’m part of a magical weapon, the Kah-Gash. Grubbs is another part. By linking with the third component, the ghost of a dead girl, we took our doomed world into the past to avert demonic conquest. Now we have to fight again or it will all have been for nothing.

  In a cave. Blindly battling Spine, the scorpion demon. I have the horrible beast pinned to a stalagmite. I’m pounding him with my fists, over and over. Without warning he melts away and I’m left standing in a puddle of sticky blood, frowning sightlessly.

  I later learn that I’ve been cheated out of my revenge by a girl called Bec who’s returned to life after sixteen hundred years. She drives Lord Loss back to his own foul realm. Job done.

  We return to the universe of the Demonata. Grubbs comes with us but Bec stays behind. I’m surprised Beranabus leaves her She’s part of the Kah-Gash. By uniting us, he could wield the power of the ancient weapon and destroy the Demonata. But he’s afraid. The Kah-Gash made an independent decision to reverse time. Beranabus isn’t sure whether that was a conscious act of mercy or a random reaction. He doesn’t want to press ahead, worried the weapon might side with the demons next time and wipe out mankind.

  I’m stronger in the universe of magic. I numb the pain and set to work on building a new set of eyes. I’m not sure that I can. Magic varies from person to person. We all have different capabilities. Some can restore a missing limb or organ. Others can’t. You never know until you try.

  Thankfully I’m one of those who can. With only the slightest guidance from Beranabus I construct a pair of sparkling blue eyes. I build them from the rear of my sockets outwards, repairing severed nerve endings, linking them with the growing globes, letting the orbs expand to fill the gaps.

  I keep my eyelids shut for a minute when the eyes are complete, afraid I won’t be able to see anything when I open them. I hardly breathe, heart beating fast, contemplating a life of darkness, the worst punishment I can imagine.

  Then Beranabus stamps on my foot. I yell and my eyes snap open. I turn on the magician angrily, raising a fist, but stop when I see his cunning smile. I see it.

  “You looked like an idiot with your eyes shut,” Beranabus grunts.

  “You’re a bully.” I pout, then laugh with relief and hug him. He’s laughing too, but Grubbs isn’t. The teenager glares at us. He’s lost his brother and abandoned his uncle and home. He’s in no mood to care about my well-being. But that’s fine. Right now I can’t sympathize with him either. All I care about is that I can see. I relish my new eyes, drinking in the sights of the demon world.

  I’m so happy, it’s several hours before I realize I can see more than before, that my new eyes have opened up a wonder of the universe previously hidden from me.

  I’ve always been able to see patches of light that are invisible to everybody else. For years I thought they were products of my imagination, that I was slightly (lightly) crazy. Then I learned they were part of the realm of magic. I have a unique talent. I can manually slot the patches together and create windows between universes, far faster than anyone else.

  I use my talent to help Beranabus save the world from demons. The magician has been around for thousands of years, and has spent much of that time patrolling the demon universe, protecting humanity from its savage, nightmarish hordes. Although demons have limitless galaxies of their own, they long to cross over—they love killing humans.

  Beranabus stops them. He ensures no tunnels are built between universes, holds the demon armies in check, prevents mass crossings. I assist him. My gift allows us to zip from one part of the demon universe to another and track down just about any demon we want.

  I thought I might not be able to see the lights with my new eyes, but they work the same way as my original pair. I can still see the multicolored patches, and when I think of a specific place, person, or thing, some of the lights flash and I can slot them together to create a window. In fact, I can do it quicker than before and my powers on Earth are greater than they were. Where I used to struggle to open windows on my own world, now I can do it swiftly and easily.

  But now there are other lights. At first I thought they were illusionary specks, that my new eyes weren’t working properly. But I soon realized the lights were real and fundamentally different than those I was familiar with. They’re smaller, they change shape, and their colors mutate. The regular lights never alter in size or shade, but these new patches grow and subside, bleed from one color to another. A square pink panel can lengthen into a triangular blue patch, then gradually twist into an orange octagon, and so on.

  They shimmer too. Their edges flicker like faulty fluorescent tubes. Sometimes creases run through them, like ripples spreading across the face of a pond.

  I can’t control the new lights. They ignore me when I try to manipulate them. In fact, if I start to get close, they glide away from me.

  There aren’t many of them, no more than twenty or thirty anywhere I go. But they worry me. There’s something deeply unsettlin
g about them. I initially thought that I was nervous of them just because they were new. But several weeks later, as I was trying to coax them nearer and link them up, they whispered to me.

  I know it’s ridiculous. Lights can’t whisper. But I swear I heard a voice calling to me. It sounded like static to begin with, but then it came into focus, a single word repeated over and over. It’s the same word the lights have been whispering to me ever since, softly, slyly, seductively.



  BERANABUS unleashes a burst of magic, and the gazelle-shaped demon we’ve been chasing stops in its tracks. The beast turns and snarls at us. It has the head of a human baby. Opening its mouth, it wails. The noise increases sharply and blood trickles from my ears and nose. I use magic to mute the demon’s cry. Beranabus and Grubbs do the same, and the three of us close in on the mewling monster.

  When the demon realizes it can’t harm us with its harpy-like wailing, it falls silent and its look of hatred changes to one of fear. It knows who we are and what we want.

  I hang back while Beranabus tortures the creature. I have a problem with demons that model themselves after babies or young children. I can’t bring myself to hurt them, even though I know they’ve only stolen their human attributes.

  I was a lonely child. Driven by unhappiness, I unintentionally tapped into my powers, kidnapped a demon, and used magic to make it look like a baby. I convinced myself the changeling was my brother and I maintained the lie for ages. I was shattered when I learned the truth. Demons like this one make me think of my “brother” Art, and I go cold at the thought of harming them. Beranabus understands. He doesn’t try to push me.

  Grubbs rips off the demon’s head. The baby-faced monster squeals with pain and terror but doesn’t die. In this universe of magic, almost anything is possible. Physical dismemberment won’t necessarily kill a demon. You need to use magic to finish it off.

  Grubbs hates this life even more than I do. When I agreed to join Beranabus and devote myself to battling demons, I didn’t have a better choice. My parents knew I wasn’t normal, and though they loved me, they feared what I might do. I didn’t have any friends. It was Beranabus or a life of isolation and loneliness.

  Grubbs has an uncle who he loves like a father. He has lots of friends. He could have rejected his destiny. I’m not really sure why he didn’t. Maybe it was the call of the Kah-Gash. Perhaps the weapon persuaded him to leave the human world and ride the demonic waves of this universe with Beranabus and me.

  “The Shadow,” Beranabus snarls, grabbing the baby’s head from Grubbs and gouging out one of its snake-shaped eyes. “Tell us all you know and we’ll let you go. Otherwise…” He moves his thumb over the creature’s other eye.

  The Shadow is our latest foe in a long line of monstrous opponents. Beranabus thinks it’s our most dangerous enemy yet but I’m not worried. I’ve seen all manner of unimaginable demons. In the early days I thought each was invincible. Every time we went up against one, I was sure we were doomed. But we always got the better of the beasts, pinpointed their weak spots, defeated them with cunning if brute force failed.

  I know it’s dangerous to assume we’ll overcome every demon we go up against, but I can’t help thinking that way. I’m sure the Shadow will fall to us when we face it, just like all the others. It’s simply a matter of time, patience, and violence.

  Beranabus and Grubbs believe the Shadow is the herald of universal doom. They saw it in the cave when I was blind, a huge beast that seemed to be made from strips of shadow. They say it was deadlier than anything else we’ve fought. Maybe they’re right. If I’d seen it, I might be trembling with fear too. But I don’t think so. It’s just another demon. We’ve fought and killed thousands of them since I joined Beranabus. How can this one be any different?

  We’re hunting a flock of sheep-like demons. Each boasts dozens of woolly heads dotted around its body, no eyes or ears, just large mouths full of sharp teeth. Beranabus hopes they know something about the Shadow, but I think he’s scraping the bottom of the barrel.

  The Shadow is as elusive as the name we’ve given it suggests. We’ve learned almost nothing of the creature in all the time we’ve been trying to track it. We know it’s gathering an army of demons, that it’s promised to wipe out mankind and restore the universe to its original condition (whatever that means), but everything else about it is a mystery.

  These minor demons—easy pickings for stronger members of the Demonata—won’t provide us with any clues. We’re wasting our time, as we’ve wasted it on so many worlds. We’ll torture them, kill a few, then move on, no wiser than when we stepped through the window and set off in chase of the howling beasts.

  As we close in on the flock, I sense a throbbing in the air nearby and draw to a halt.

  “Come on!” Beranabus shouts. “Don’t stop now. We—”

  “A window’s opening,” I tell him, and excitement instantly gives way to panic.

  “Start opening one of your own,” Beranabus commands and steps in front of me, to protect me. The tall, muscular Grubbs joins him. They think a demon is after us. But I know better. I’ve come to understand the lights more intimately than ever since I built my new pair of eyes. This is a window of human origin.

  “Wait,” I tell Beranabus. “It’s not a demon. We have company.”

  Seconds later a window of orange light opens and two of Beranabus’s Disciples step through. One’s a beautiful, fiery woman called Meera Flame. I know the other one better, and shout his name with unconcealed joy. “Shark!”

  “Been a long time, kid,” the ex-soldier grins, shaking my hand as Grubbs and Meera hug close by. Beranabus is squinting at the newcomers suspiciously. He doesn’t like surprises.

  “What are you doing here?” I gasp.

  “Came to catch the sun,” Shark laughs, then casts his gaze over my bald, caramel-colored head. “There’s something different about your eyes.”

  “It’s a long story.” I smile broadly, still clutching him. We’ve spent long months in this foul universe, and Beranabus and Grubbs are poor company. The unwelcome flames of loneliness have been burning hot inside me recently. I’m overjoyed to see my old friend, to escape the dark feelings for a few minutes. I know Shark must be the bearer of bad news, that he and Meera wouldn’t have come unless things were serious, but for a few moments I block that out and pretend this is a social visit.

  “Hi, Shark,” Grubbs says.

  Shark frowns. “Do I know you?”

  “Grubbs Grady. We…” He pauses. “Dervish told me about you. I’m Grubbs, his nephew.”

  Shark nods. “I can see a bit of him in you. But you’ve got more hair. You’re a lot taller too—what’s Beranabus been feeding you?”

  “Enough of the prattle,” Beranabus snaps. “What’s wrong?”

  “We were attacked,” Meera says. “I was at Dervish’s. We—”

  “Was it Lord Loss?” Beranabus barks. “Is Bec all right?”

  “She’s fine,” Shark says.

  “But Dervish…” Meera pauses, glancing nervously at Grubbs.

  “He was alive when we left,” Shark says as Grubbs freezes with fear.

  “But in bad shape,” Meera adds. “He had a heart attack.”

  “We have to go back,” Grubbs says, darting for the window.

  Shark stops him. “Hold on. We didn’t come here directly. That leads to another demon world.”

  “Besides,” I chip in, “if the demons are still at the house…”

  “We weren’t attacked by demons,” Meera says. “They were… werewolves.”

  That throws me. Does she mean werewolf-shaped demons? Then I recall the curse of the Gradys. Lots of teenagers in Grubbs’s family turn into mindless, savage, wolf-like beasts.

  Grubbs starts to tremble. Without waiting to be told, I turn, flex my fingers, and focus, thinking of Dervish. Lights pulse around me—that means the ex-punk is still alive. I begin to open a window that
will take us to him. Then, on second thought, I focus on Bec instead. As much as I like Dervish, the girl is more important. She’s probably with him, but if not, she must take priority. Dervish is only human. Bec, like me and Grubbs, is so much more.

  When a window of amber light opens, Beranabus rushes through, swiftly followed by Grubbs. “There are demons,” I tell Shark and Meera, sensing their presence in the vibrations of the lights. “Are you guys ready to fight?”

  “Always,” Shark grins, cracking his knuckles.

  Meera gulps, then grinds her teeth together and nods fiercely.

  We cross.

  I find myself in a hospital ward. Bec is lying on the floor. She looks like any normal girl, a bit smaller than most, but otherwise unremarkable. You could never guess from looking at her that she’d been dead for sixteen hundred years, or that this body wasn’t originally hers.

  Two demons are backing away from Bec. One is some sort of lizard hybrid. The other looks like an anteater with several snouts. One of its eyes is missing, blood and goo surrounding the empty socket. I suppress a shudder as Beranabus growls at the demons, “What do the pickings look like now?”