IT WAS an age of war. After six hundred years of peace, the vampires and vampaneze had taken up arms against each other in a brutal, bloody battle to the death. The War of the Scars began with the coming of the Lord of the Vampaneze. He was destined to lead his people to total, all-conquering victory - unless killed before he was fully blooded.
According to the mysterious and powerful Mr. Tiny, only three vampires stood a chance of stopping the Vampaneze Lord. They were the Prince, Vancha March; the one-time General, Larten Crepsley; and a half-vampire, me - Darren Shan.
It was predicted by Mr. Tiny that our path would cross four times with that of the Vampaneze Lord, and each time the destiny of the vampires would be ours for the making. If we killed him, we'd win the War of the Scars. If not, the vampaneze would cruise to savage victory and wipe our entire clan from the face of the earth.
Mr. Tiny said we couldn't call upon other vampires for help during the quest, but we could accept the aid of non-vampires. Thus, when Mr. Crepsley and me left Vampire Mountain (Vancha joined us later), the only one to come with us was Harkat Mulds, a stunted, grey-skinned Little Person.
Leaving the Mountain - our home for six years - we headed for the cave of Lady Evanna, a witch of great power. She could see into the future but would only reveal this much to us - if we failed to kill the Lord of the Vampaneze, by the end of our quest, two of us would be dead.
Later on, we linked up with the Cirque Du Freak, where I'd lived with Mr. Crepsley when I originally became his assistant. Evanna travelled with us. At the Cirque, we ran into a group of vampaneze. A short fight ensued, during which most of the vampaneze were killed. Two escaped - a full-vampaneze by the name of Gannen Harst, and his servant, who we later learnt was the Lord of the Vampaneze, in disguise.
We were sickened when Evanna revealed the true identity of Gannen Harst's servant, but Vancha was especially miserable, because he had let them escape - Gannen Harst was Vancha's brother, and Vancha had let him go without challenging him, unaware that his brother was prime protector of the Vampaneze Lord.
But there was no time to sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. We still had three chances to find and kill our deadly foe, so our quest continued. Putting the lost chance behind us, we sharpened our blades, parted company with Evanna and our friends in the Cirque Du Freak, and took to the road again, more determined than ever to succeed...
OUR DAILY POST, SEPTEMBER 15
BLOODY NIGHTS OF DEATH!!!
This once-sleepy city is under siege. In the space of six short months eleven people have been brutally murdered, their bodies drained of blood and dumped in various public places. Many more have vanished into the shadows of the night and might be lying beneath the streets, their lifeless bodies decomposing in the lonely dark.
Officials cannot account for the gruesome killing spree. They do not believe the murders to be the work of one man, but nor have they been able to link the crimes to any known criminals. In the largest single police operation in the city's history, most local gangs have been broken up, religious cult leaders arrested and the doors of secret orders and brotherhoods smashed down... to no effect at all!
Chief Inspector of police, Alice Burgess, when queried about the lack of results, responded with her own brand of customary bluntness. "We've been working like dogs," she snapped. "Everyone's on unpaid overtime. Nobody's shirking responsibility. We're patrolling the streets in force, arresting anyone who even looks suspicious. We've initiated a 7 pm curfew for children, and have advised adults to remain indoors too. If you find someone who can do a better job, give me a call and I'll gladly step aside."
Comforting words - but nobody here is taking comfort from them. The people of this city are tired of promises and pledges. Nobody doubts the honest, hard-working efforts of the local police - or the army who have been called in to assist in the operation - but faith in their ability to bring an end to the crisis has hit an all-time low. Many are moving out of the city, staying with relatives or in hotels, until the killings cease.
"I have kids," Michael Corbett, the forty-six-year-old owner of a second-hand bookshop told us. "Running away doesn't make me feel proud, and it'll ruin my business, but the lives of my wife and children come first. The police can do no more now than they did thirteen years ago. We've just got to wait for this to blow over, like it did before. When it does, I'll return. In the mean time, I think anyone who stays is crazy."
HISTORY OF DEATH
When Mr. Corbett spoke of the past, he was referring to a time, nearly thirteen years ago, when horror similarly visited this city. On that occasion, nine bodies were discovered by a pair of teenagers, butchered and drained as the recent eleven victims have been.
But those bodies were carefully hidden, and only unearthed long after death had occurred. Today's murderers - rather, tonight's, since each victim has been taken after sunset - are not bothering to hide the evidence of their foul deeds. It's as though they are proud of their cruelty, leaving the bodies where they know they will be found.
Many locals believe the city is cursed and has a history of death. "I've been expecting these killings for fifty years," said Dr. Kevin Beisty, a local historian and expert on the occult. "Vampires visited here more than one hundred and fifty years ago, and the thing about vampires is, once they find a place they like - they always come back!"
DEMONS OF THE NIGHT
Vampires. If Dr. Beisty's was the only voice crying out against demons of the night, he could be dismissed as a crank. But many other people believe that we are suffering at the hands of vampires. They point to the fact that the attacks always occur at night, that the bodies have been drained of blood - seemingly without the aid of medical equipment - and, most tellingly, that although three of the victims were photographed by hidden security cameras when they were abducted, their attackers' faces did not show up on film!!
Chief Inspector Alice Burgess is dismissive of the vampire theory. "You think Count Dracula's on the rampage?" she laughed contemptuously. "Don't be ridiculous! This is the twenty-first century. Warped, sick humans are behind all this. Don't waste my time blaming bogeymen!"
When pushed, the Chief inspector had this to add: "I don't believe in vampires, and I don't want idiots like you filling people's heads with such nonsense. But I'll tell you this: I'll do whatever it takes to stop these savages. If that means driving a stake through some madman's chest because he believes he's a vampire, I'll do it, even if it costs me my job and freedom. Nobody's walking away from this on an insanity plea. There's only one way to pay back the deaths of eleven good men and women - extermination!
"And I'll do it," Chief Inspector Burgess vowed, a fiery gleam in her pale eyes which would have done Professor Van Helsing proud. "Even if I have to track them to Transylvania and back. There'll be no escaping the sword of justice, be they humans or vampires.
"Tell your readers that I'll get their tormentors. They can bet on that. They can bet their lives ..."
MR. CREPSLEY pushed the manhole cover up and out of the way, while Harkat and me waited in the darkness below. After checking the street for signs of life, he whispered, "All clear," and we followed him up the ladder and out into fresh air.
"I hate those bloody tunnels," I groaned, slipping off my shoes, which were soaked through with water, mud and other things I didn't want to think about. I'd have to wash them out in the sink when we got back to the hotel and leave them on top of a radiator to dry, as I'd been doing at the end of every night for the past three months.
"I despise them too," Mr. Crepsley agreed, gently prying the remains of a dead rat from the folds of his long red cloak.
"They're not so bad," Harkat chuckled. It was OK for him - he had no nose or sense of smell!
"At least the rain has held off," Mr. Crepsley said.
"Give it another month," I replied sourly. "We'll be wading up to our hips down there by mid-October."
"We will have located and dealt with the vampaneze by then," Mr. Crepsley said, without conviction.
"That's what you said two months ago," I reminded him.
"And last month," Harkat added.
"You wish to call off the search and leave these people to the vampaneze?" Mr. Crepsley asked quietly.
Harkat and me looked at each other, then shook our heads. "Of course not," I sighed. "We're just tired and cranky. Let's get back to the hotel, dry ourselves off and get something warm to eat. We'll be fine after a good day's sleep."
Finding a nearby fire escape, we climbed to the roof of the building and set off across the skylight of the city, where there were no police or soldiers.
Six months had passed since the Lord of the Vampaneze escaped. Vancha had gone to Vampire Mountain to tell the Princes and Generals the news, and had not yet returned. For the first three months Mr. Crepsley, Harkat and me had roamed without purpose, letting our feet take us where they wished. Then word reached us of the terror in Mr. Crepsley's home city - people were being killed, their bodies drained of blood. Reports claimed vampires were to blame, but we knew better. Rumours had previously reached us of a vampaneze presence in the city, and this was all the confirmation we needed.
Mr. Crepsley cared for these people. Those he'd known when he lived here as a human were long since dead and buried, but he looked upon their grandchildren and great-grandchildren as his spiritual kin. Thirteen years earlier, when a mad vampaneze by the name of Murlough was savaging the city, Mr. Crepsley returned - with me and Evra Von, a snake-boy from the Cirque Du Freak - to stop him. Now that history was repeating itself, he felt compelled to intervene again.
"But maybe I should ignore my feelings," he'd mused three months earlier, as we discussed the situation. "We must focus on the hunt for the Vampaneze Lord. It would be wrong of me to drag us away from our quest."
"Not so," I'd disagreed. "Mr. Tiny told us we'd have to follow our hearts if we were to find the Vampaneze Lord. Your hearts drawing you home, and my heart says I should stick by you. I think we should go."
Harkat Mulds, a grey-skinned Little Person who'd learned to talk, agreed, so we set off for the city where Mr. Crepsley had been born, to evaluate the situation and help if we could. When we arrived, we soon found ourselves in the middle of a perplexing mystery. Vampaneze were definitely living here - at least three or four, if our estimate was correct - but were they part of the war force or rogue madmen? If they were warriors, they should be more careful about how they killed - sane vampaneze don't leave the bodies of their victims where humans can find them. But if they were mad, they shouldn't be capable of hiding so skilfully - after three months of searching, we hadn't found a trace of a single vampaneze in the tunnels beneath the city.
Back at the hotel, we entered via the window. We'd rented two rooms on the upper floor, and used the windows to get in and out at night, since we were too dirty and damp to use the lobby. Besides, the less we moved about on the ground, the better - the city was in uproar, with police and soldiers patrolling the streets, arresting anyone who looked out of place.
While Mr. Crepsley and Harkat used the bathrooms, I undressed and waited for a free bath. We could have rented three rooms, so we'd each have a bath, but it was safer for Harkat not to show himself - Mr. Crepsley and me could pass for human, but the monstrous-looking, stitched-together Harkat couldn't.
I nearly fell asleep sitting on the end of the bed. The last three months had been long and arduous. Every night we roamed the roofs and tunnels of the city, searching for vampaneze, avoiding the police, soldiers and frightened humans, many of whom had taken to carrying guns and other weapons. It was taking its toll on all of us, but eleven people had died - that we knew of - and more would follow if we didn't stick to our task.
Standing, I walked around the room, trying to stay awake long enough to get into the bath. Sometimes I didn't, and would wake the following night stinking, sweaty and filthy, feeling like something a cat had coughed up.
I thought about my previous visit to this city. I'd been much younger, still learning what it meant to be a half-vampire. I'd met my first and only girlfriend here - Debbie Hemlock. She'd been dark-skinned, full-lipped and bright-eyed. I would have loved to get to know her better. But duty called, the mad vampaneze was killed, and the currents of life swept us apart.
I'd walked by the house where she'd lived with her parents several times since returning, half-hoping she still lived there. But new tenants had moved in and there was no sign of the Hemlocks. Just as well, really - as a half-vampire I aged at a fifth the human rate, so although nearly thirteen years had passed since I last kissed Debbie, I only looked a few years older. Debbie would be a grown woman now. It would have been confusing if we'd run into one another.
The door connecting the bedrooms opened and Harkat entered, drying himself with a huge hotel towel. "The bath's free," he said, wiping around the top of his bald, grey, scarred head with the towel, careful not to irritate his round green eyes, which had no eyelids to protect them.
"Cheers, ears," I grinned, slipping by him. That was an in-joke - Harkat, like all the Little People, had ears, but they were stitched under the skin at the sides of his head, so it looked as if he hadn't any.
Harkat had drained the bath, put the plug back in and turned on the hot tap, so it was almost full with fresh water when I arrived. I tested the temperature, added a dash of cold, turned off the taps and slid in - heavenly! I raised a hand to brush a lock of hair out of my eyes but my arm wouldn't lift all the way - I was too tired. Relaxing, I decided to just lie there a few minutes. I could wash my hair later. To simply lie in the bath and relax... for a few minutes... would be...
Without finishing the thought, I fell soundly asleep, and when I awoke it was night again, and I was blue all over from having spent the day in a bath of cold, grimy water.