Steve's act of pure, pointlessevil caught everyone by gut-wrenching shock. For a long moment we just stared at him and the lifeless body by his feet. Even Steve looked stunned, as though he'd acted without thinking it through.
Then Evra went wild. "Bastard!" he screamed, hurling himself at the pit of stakes. If Harkat hadn't reacted and knocked him aside, Evra would have impaled himself on the stakes and died like his son.
"I can't believe?" Alice muttered, face whiter than usual. Then her features hardened and she ran for the pistol she'd discarded.
Debbie sank to her knees, weeping, unable to deal with such wickedness. As hardened as she'd become, nothing in her life had prepared her for this.
Harkat was struggling with Evra, pinning him down, protecting him from his rage. Evra was screaming hysterically and pounding Harkat's broad grey face with his scaly fists, but Harkat held firm.
Vancha was at the pit of stakes, lurching through them, clambering over the sharpened tips, driving towards the stage like a man possessed.
R.V. and Gannen Harst were staring at Steve, jaws slack.
Evanna was looking on silently. If the murder had shocked her, she was masking it incredibly well.
Darius was stiff with terror, holding his breath, eyes wide.
I was still behind Darius, my knife at his throat. I was the calmest of everyone there (except Evanna). Not because I was in any way unaffected by what had happened, but because I knew what I must do in retaliation. The fierce, hard, hating part within me had flared to life and taken over completely. I saw the world through differenteyes . It was a dreadful, wicked place, where only the dreadful and wicked could prosper. To defeat an evil monster like Steve, I had to sink to his depths myself. Mr Crepsley had warned me not to, but he was wrong. What did it matter if I followed Steve down the road of total evil? Stopping him - getting revenge for all the people he'd killed - was the only thing I cared about now.
While I was thinking all this through, Gannen snapped to his senses and saw that Vancha was closing on them. He hurried to his Lord, grabbed Steve by the right arm and spun him towards the exit, cursing foully. R.V. rose shakily and stumbled after them. He stopped, vomited, then reeled ahead.
Alice found her pistol, brought it up and fired. But there were too many logs between her and the vampaneze. She didn't even get close to them.
Steve stopped by the tunnel entrance at the rear of the stage. Gannen tried to push him downit , but he shook his protector's hands away and turned to glare triumphantly - daringly - at me.
"Go on!" Steve screamed. "Show me you can do it! I dare you! I double dare you!"
In that moment, as if our minds were somehow joined, I understood Steve entirely. Part of him was appalled by his brutality. He was hanging dangerously on the edge of outright madness. As the monster within me had grown this night, so had the human within Steve. He needed me to match his evil deeds. If I killed Darius, Steve could justify his cruelty and continue. But if I didn't respond to his evil with an equally evil act of my own, it would drive home the truth about how far he'd fallen. He might even snap beneath the weight of full realization and go mad. I had the power to destroy him - with mercy.
But I couldn't find mercy within myself. The fires of fury in my heart and head demanded I kill Darius. Right or wrong, I had to avenge Shancus's death. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life. Out of the corner of one eye I caught sight of Evanna. Her gaze was locked on me. There was no pity in her expression, merely the weariness of one who has seen all the evils of the world and must watch them repeat themselves over and over again.
"Dare accepted," I said, abandoning myself to my dark destiny, knowing in that moment that I was betraying all my moral beliefs. This was the start of the path to damnation. If I defeated Steve, Iwould become the Lord of the Shadows, and in the long, blood-red decades and centuries ahead, I'd be able to point back to this night and say, "That was where the monster was born."
I began to draw my knife across Darius's throat. This time Debbie didn't try to stop me - she sensed my damnation, and was powerless to save me. But then I paused. The throat was too impersonal a target. I wanted Steve to reallyfeel this.
Lowering the knife, I cut away Darius's shirt, revealing his bare, pale chest. I positioned the tip of the knife over his heart and gazed at Steve, no longer blinking against the searing lights, my eyes dark, my lips tight over my teeth.
Steve's expression steadied. The beast within him had seen its mirror image in me, and was satisfied. He drew back from the madness, becoming his cold, crafty, calculating self again. He smiled.
I drew my arm back to its full extent, so I could strike swiftly with the knife. I meant to stab Darius with all my strength and kill him quickly. I might be a monster, but I wasn't an entirely heartless one. At least, not yet.
But Steve called out before I pierced his son's heart. "Be careful, Darren! You don't know who you're killing.'"
I shouldn't have hesitated. I knew, if I did; that he'd derail me with some other twisted trick. Listening to demons was dangerous. Better to act in haste and shut your ears to them.
But I couldn't help myself. There was something darkly inviting about his tone. It was like when someone was about to tell a gruesome but hilarious joke. I could feel the awfulness of it, but also the humour. I had to hear him out.
"Darius," Steve chuckled, "tell Darren your mother's name." Darius gawped at his father, unable to respond. "Darius!" Steve roared. "He's about to drive a knife through your heart! Tell him your mother's name - now!"
"Ah-ah-ah-Annie," Darius wheezed, and I froze.
"And her surname?" Steve asked softly, relishing the moment.
"Shan," Darius whispered uncomprehendingly. "Annie Shan. What about it?"
"You see, Darren," Steve purred, winking at me before vanishing down the tunnel to freedom, "if you kill Darius, you won't just be slaughtering my son - you'll be murderingyour nephew !"