"MEDDLING, SMUG, stupid little..." Mr. Crepsley snarled. He was pacing the hotel room, cursing the name of Mr. Blaws. The school inspector had left and Harkat had rejoined us. He'd heard everything through the thin connecting door, but could make no more sense of it than us. "I will track him down tonight and bleed him dry," Mr. Crepsley vowed. "That will teach him not to come poking his nose in!"

"Talk like that won't fix this," I sighed. "We have to use our heads."

Advertisement

"Who says it is talk?" Mr. Crepsley retorted. "He gave us his telephone number in case we need to contact him. I will find his address and-"

"It's a mobile phone," I sighed. "You can't trace addresses through them. Besides, what good would killing him do? Somebody else would replace him. Our records are on file. He's only the messenger."

"We could move," Harkat suggested. "Find a new hotel."

"No," Mr. Crepsley said. "He has seen our faces and would broadcast our descriptions. It would make matters more complicated than they already are."

-- Advertisement --

"What I want to know is how our records were submitted," I said. "The signatures on the files weren't ours, but they were pretty damn close."

"I know," he grunted. "Not a great forgery, but adequate."

"Is it possible there's been... a mix-up?" Harkat asked. "Perhaps a real Vur Horston and his son... sent in the forms, and you've been confused with them."

"No," I said. "The address of this hotel was included and so were our room numbers. And..." I told them about the abattoir.

Mr. Crepsley stopped pacing. "Murlough!" he hissed. "That was a period of history I thought I would never have to revisit."

"I don't understand," Harkat said. "How could this be connected to Murlough? Are you saying he's alive and has... set you up?"

"No," Mr. Crepsley said. "Murlough is definitely dead. But someone must know we killed him. And that someone is almost certainly responsible for the humans who have been killed recently." He sat down and rubbed the long scar that marked the left side of his face. "This is a trap."

There was a long, tense silence.

"It can't be," I said in the end. "How could the vampaneze have found out about Murlough?"

"Desmond Tiny," Mr. Crepsley said bleakly. "He knew about our run in with Murlough, and must have told the vampaneze. But I cannot understand why they faked the birth certificate and school records. If they knew so much about us, and where we are, they should have killed us cleanly and honourably, as is the vampaneze way."

"That's true," I noted. "You don't punish a murderer by sending him to school. Although," I added, remembering my long-ago schooldays, "death can sometimes seem preferable to double science on a Thursday afternoon..."

Again a lengthy silence descended. Harkat broke it by clearing his throat. "This sounds crazy," the Little Person said, "but what if Mr. Crepsley did ... submit the forms?"

"Come again?" I said.

"He might have done it in... his sleep."

"You think he sleep wrote a birth cert and school records, then submitted them to a local school?" I didn't even bother to laugh.

"Things like this have happened before," Harkat mumbled. "Remember Pasta O'Malley at the... Cirque Du Freak? He read books at night when he was asleep. He could never recall reading them, but if you asked... him about them, he could answer all your questions."

"I'd forgotten about Pasta," I muttered, giving Harkat's proposal some thought.

"I could not have filled in those forms," Mr. Crepsley said stiffly.

"It's unlikely," Harkat agreed, "but we do strange things... when we sleep. Perhaps you-"

"No," Mr. Crepsley interrupted. "You do not understand. I could not have done it because..." He looked away sheepishly. "I cannot read or write."

The vampire might have had two heads, the way Harkat and me gawped at him.

"Of course you can read and write!" I bellowed. "You signed your name when we checked in."

"Signing one's name is an easy feat," he replied quietly, with wounded dignity. "I can read numbers and recognize certain words - I am able to read maps quite accurately - but as for genuine reading and writing..." He shook his head.

"How can you not be able to read or write?" I asked ignorantly.

"Things were different when I was young. The world was simpler. It was not necessary to be a master of the written word. I was the fifth child of a poor family and went to work at the age of eight."

"But... but..." I pointed a finger at him. "You told me you love Shakespeare's plays and poems!"

"I do," he said. "Evanna read all his works to me over the decades. Wordsworth, Keats, Joyce - many others. I often meant to learn to read for myself, but I never got around to it."

"This is... I don't... Why didn't you tell me?" I snapped. "We've been together fifteen years, and this is the first time you've mentioned it!"

He shrugged. "I assumed you knew. Many vampires are illiterate. That is why so little of our history or laws is written down - most of us are incapable of reading."

Shaking my head, exasperated, I put aside the vampire's revelation and concentrated on the more immediate problem. "You didn't fill out the forms - that's settled. So who did and what are we going to do about it?"

Mr. Crepsley had no answer to that, but Harkat had a suggestion. "It could have been Mr. Tiny," he said. "He loves to stir things up. Perhaps this is his idea... of a joke."

We mulled that one over.

"It has a whiff of him about it," I agreed. "I can't see why he'd want to send me back to school, but it's the sort of trick I can imagine him pulling."

"Mr. Tiny would appear to be the most logical culprit," Mr. Crepsley said. "Vampaneze are not known for their sense of humour. Nor do they go in for intricate plots - like vampires, they are simple and direct."

"Let's say he is behind it," I mused. "That still leaves us with the problem of what to do. Should I report for class Monday morning? Or do we ignore Mr. Blaws' warning and carry on as before?"

"I would rather not send you," Mr. Crepsley said. "There is strength in unity. At present, we are well prepared to defend ourselves should we come under attack. With you at school, we would not be there to help you if you ran into trouble, and you would not be able to help us if our foes struck here."

"But if I don't go," I noted, "we'll have school inspectors - and worse - dogging our heels."

"The other option is to leave," Harkat said. "Just pack our bags and go."

"That is worth considering," Mr. Crepsley agreed. "I do not like the idea of leaving these people to suffer, but if this is a trap designed to divide us, perhaps the killings will stop if we leave."

"Or they might increase," I said, "to tempt us back."

We thought about it some more, weighing up the various options.

"I want to stay," Harkat said eventually. "Life is getting more dangerous, but perhaps... that means we're meant to be here. Maybe this city is where we're destined... to lock horns with the Vampaneze Lord again."

"I agree with Harkat," Mr. Crepsley said, "but this is a matter for Darren to decide. As a Prince, he must make the decision."

"Thanks a lot," I said sarcastically.

Mr. Crepsley smiled. "It is your decision, not only because you are a Prince, but because this concerns you the most - you will have to mix with human children and teachers, and you will be the most vulnerable to attack. Whether this is a vampaneze trap or a whim of Mr. Tiny's, life will be hard for you if we stay."

He was right. Going back to school would be a nightmare. I'd no idea what fifteen year olds studied. Classes would be hard. Homework would drive me loopy. And having to answer to teachers, after six years of lording it over the vampires as a Prince... It could get very uncomfortable.

Yet part of me was drawn to the notion. To sit in a classroom again, to learn, make friends, show off my advanced physical skills in PE, maybe go out with a few girls...

"The hell with it," I grinned. "If it's a trap, let's call their bluff. If it's a joke, we'll show we know how to take it."

"That is the spirit," Mr. Crepsley boomed.

"Besides," I chuckled weakly, "I've endured the Trials of Initiation twice, a terrifying journey through an underground stream, encounters with killers, a bear and wild boars. How bad can school be?"

-- Advertisement --