I COULDN'T understand what was happening. Neither could Gavner. He slumped against the wall and stared at the knife sticking out of his belly. He dropped his own knives, gripped the handle, and tried to pull it out, but his strength deserted him, and he slid to the floor.
Though Gavner and I were shocked, the vampaneze didn't seem the least bit surprised. They relaxed, and those at the rear returned to their cave. The one with the red birthmark on his cheek stepped forward, stood beside Kurda, and studied the dying vampire. "I thought for a minute you were coming to his aid," the vampaneze said.
"No," Kurda replied. He sounded mournful. "I'd have knocked him out and taken him away somewhere if possible, but others could have tracked down his mental signals. There's a boy up ahead, a half-vampire. He's injured, so he won't be hard to catch. I want him taken alive. They won't be able to track him."
"Do you mean the boy behind you?" the vampaneze asked.
Kurda swiveled sharply. "Darren!" he gasped. "How long have you been there? How much have you -"
Gavner groaned. I jolted into action, ducked forward, ignored Kurda and the vampaneze, and crouched beside my dying friend. His eyes were wide open but he didn't seem to see anything. "Gavner?" I asked, holding his hands, which were bloody from trying to take out the knife. The Vampire General coughed and trembled. I could feel the life slipping out of him. "I'm with you, Gavner," I whispered, crying. "You're not alone. I'll -"
"Suh-suh-suh," he stuttered.
"What is it?" I wept. "Don't hurry. You've got plenty of time." That was a barefaced lie.
"Suh-sorry if muh-muh-my snoring... kuh-kept you... awake," he wheezed. I didn't know if the words were meant for me or someone else, and before I could ask, his expression froze on his face, and his spirit passed on to Paradise.
I pressed my forehead to Gavner's and howled pitifully, clutching his dead body to mine. The vampaneze could have taken me easily then, but they were embarrassed, and nobody moved forward to capture me. They just stood around, waiting for me to stop crying.
When I finally raised my head, nobody dared meet my gaze. All eyes dropped to the floor, Kurda's quickest of all. "You killed him!" I hissed.
Kurda gulped deeply. "I had to," he croaked. "There was no time to let him die a noble death - you might have gotten away if I'd left him for the vampaneze."
"You knew they were here all along," I whispered.
He nodded. "That's why I didn't want to take the route under the stream," he said. "I feared this would happen. Everything would have been OK if we'd gone the way I wanted."
"You're in league with them!" I shouted. "You're a traitor!"
"You don't understand what's happening," he sighed. "This looks terrible, but it's not what you think. I'm trying to save our race, not condemn it. There are things you don't know - things no vampire knows. Gavner's death is regrettable, but when I explain prop-"
"The hell with your explanations!" I screamed. "You're a traitor and a murderer - scum!"
"I saved your life," Kurda reminded me gently.
"At the expense of Gavner's," I sobbed. "Why did you do it? He was your friend. He..." I shook my head and stopped myself before he could answer. "Never mind. I don't want to hear." Stooping, I picked up one of Gavner's knives and brandished it in front of me. The vampaneze raised their weapons immediately and closed in.
"No!" Kurda shouted, stepping in their way. "I said I wanted him taken alive!"
"He has a knife," the vampaneze with the birthmark growled. "Do you want us to let him chop off our fingers while we get it away from him?"
"Don't worry, Glalda," Kurda said. "I'm in control of the situation." Dropping his knife, he spread his hands and walked slowly towards me.
"Stop!" I yelled. "Don't come any closer!"
"I'm unarmed," he said.
"I don't care. I'll kill you anyway. You deserve it."
"Maybe so," Kurda agreed, "but I don't think you'd kill an unarmed man, no matter what he'd done. If I'm wrong, I'll pay for my error of judgment in the severest way possible - but I don't think I am."
I drew back the knife to stab him, then lowered my hand. He was right - even though he'd killed Gavner in cold blood, I couldn't bring myself to do the same.
"I hate you!" I cried, then threw my knife at him. As he ducked, I spun and sped back up the tunnel, turned right, and fled.
As the vampaneze surged after me, I heard Kurda roaring at them not to harm me. He told them I was injured and couldn't get far. One roared back that he was cutting ahead with a few others to block off the tunnels leading to the Halls. Another wanted to know if I was carrying any other weapons.
Then I passed out of earshot of the enemies and the traitor and was racing through darkness, fleeing blindly, crying for my sacrificed friend - the poor, dead Gavner Purl.