Steve's eyes and mouth popped wide with shock. His expression was comical, but I was in no mood to laugh. There was no recovery from a strike like that. Steve was finished. But he could take me with him if I wasn't careful. So instead of celebrating, I grabbed his left hand, holding it down tight by his side so he couldn't use his knife on me.
Steve's gaze slid to the handle of the knife sticking out of his chest. "Oh," he said tonelessly. Then blood trickled from the sides of his mouth. His chest heaved up and down, the handle rising and falling with it. I wanted to pull the knife out, to end matters ¨C he could maybe go on like this for a minute or two, the knife stopping the gush of blood from his heart ¨C but my left hand was useless and I didn't dare free my right.
Then ¨C applause. My head lifted, and Steve's eyes rolled back in their sockets so that he could look behind him. Mr Tiny was clapping, bright red tears of joy dripping down his cheeks. "What passion!" he exclaimed. "What valour! What a never-say-die spirit! My money was always on you, Darren. It could have gone either way, but if I was a betting man, I'd have bet big on you. I said as much beforehand, didn't I, Evanna?"
"Yes, father," Evanna answered quietly. She was studying me sadly. Her lips moved silently, but even though she uttered no sounds, I was able to make out what she said. "To the victor, the spoils."
"Come, Darren," Mr Tiny said. "Pull out the knife and tend to your wounds. They're not immediately life-threatening, but you should have a doctor see to them. Your friends in the stadium are almost done with their foes. They'll be coming soon. They can take you to a hospital."
I shook my head. I only meant that I couldn't pull the knife out, but Mr Tiny must have thought I didn't want to kill Steve. "Don't be foolish," he snapped. "Steve is the enemy. He deserves no mercy. Finish him, then take your place as the rightful ruler of the night."
"You are the Lord of the Shadows now," Evanna said. "There is no room in your life for mercy. Do as my father bids. The sooner you accept your destiny, the easier it will be for you."
"And do you... want me to... kill Vancha now too?" I panted angrily.
"Not yet," Mr Tiny laughed. "That will come in its own time." His laughter faded and his expression hardened.
"Much will come in time. The vampaneze will fall, and so shall the humans. This world will be yours, Darren ¨C rather, ours . Together we'll rule. Your hand at the tiller, my voice in your ear. I'll guide and advise you. Not openly ¨C I haven't the power to directly steer you ¨C but on the sly. I'll make suggestions, you'll heed them, and together we'll build a world of chaos and twisted beauty."
"What makes you... think I'd have anything to do... with a monster like you?" I snarled.
"He has a point, father," Evanna murmured. "We both know what lies in store for Darren. He will become a ruler of savage, unrelenting power. But he hates you. That hatred will increase over the centuries, not diminish. What makes you think you can rule with him?"
"I know more about the boy than you do," Mr Tiny said smugly. "He will accept me. He was born to." Mr Tiny squatted and looked straight down into Steve's eyes. Then he looked up into mine, his face no more than five or six centimetres away. "I have always been there for you. For both of you," he whispered. "When you competed with your friends for a ticket to the Cirque Du Freak," he said to me, "I whispered in your ear and told you when to grab for it."
My jaw dropped. I had heard a voice that day, but I'd thought it was only an inner voice, the voice of instinct.
"And when you," he said to Steve, "noticed something strange about Darren after your meeting with Larten Crepsley, who do you think kept you awake at night, filling your thoughts with doubt and suspicion?"
Mr Tiny pulled back half a metre. His smile had returned, and it now threatened to spread from his face and fill the tunnel. "I influenced Crepsley and inspired him to blood Darren. I urged Gannen Harst to suggest Steve try the Coffin of Fire. Both of you have enjoyed enormous slices of good fortune in life. You put it down to the luck of the vampires, or the survival instinct of the vampaneze. But it was neither. You owe your nine cat's lives ¨C and quite a few more ¨C to me."
"I don't understand," I said, confused and alarmed. "Why would you go to all that trouble? Why ruin our lives?"
"Ruin ?" he barked. "With my help you became a Prince and Steve became a Lord. With my backing the two of you have led the creatures of the night to war, and one of you ¨C you, Darren! ¨C now stands poised to become the most powerful tyrant in the history of the world. I have made your lives, not ruined them!"
"But why us?" I pressed. "We were ordinary kids. Why pick on Steve and me?"
"You were never ordinary," Mr Tiny disagreed. "From birth ¨C no, from conception you were both unique." He stood and looked at Evanna. She was staring at him uncertainly ¨C this was news to her too. "For a long time I wondered what it would be like to father children," Mr Tiny said softly. "When, spurred on by a stubborn vampire, I finally decided to give parenthood a try, I created two offspring in my own mould, beings of magic and great power.
"Evanna and Hibernius fascinated me at first, but in time I grew tired of their limitations. Because they can see into the future, they ¨C like me ¨C are limited in what they can do in the present. All of us have to abide by laws not of our making. I can interfere in the affairs of mankind more than my children can, but not as much as I'd wish. In many ways my hands are tied. I can influence mortals, and I do, but they're contrary creatures and short-lived. It's difficult to manipulate large groups of humans over a long period of time ¨C especially now that there are billions of them!
"What I longed for was a mortal I could channel my will through, a being not bound by the laws of the universe, nor shackled by the confines of humanity. My ally would have to start as a human, then become a vampire or vampaneze. With my help he would lead his clan to rule over all. Together we could govern the course of the world for hundreds of years to come, and through his children I could control it for thousands of years ¨C maybe even the rest of time itself."
"You're mad," I growled. "I don't care if you did help me. I won't work with you or do what you want. I'm not going to link myself to your warped cause. I doubt that Steve would have either, if he'd won."
"But you will join me," Mr Tiny insisted, "just as Steve would have. You must. It's in your nature. Like sides with like." He paused, then said proudly and provocatively, "Son sides with sire."
"What ?" Evanna exploded, leaping to an understanding sooner than I did.
"I required a less powerful heir," Mr Tiny said, his gaze fixed on me. "One who'd carry my genes and mirror my desires, but who could act freely as a mortal. To weed out any weaknesses, I created a pair, then set them against each other. The weaker would perish and be forgotten. The stronger would go on to claim the world." He stuck his arms out, the gesture both mocking and strangely heartfelt. "Come and give your father a hug, Darren ¨C my son !"