Murlough pulled my head back. I felt the blade of a knife poking into the soft flesh of my throat. I stiffened in anticipation of the cut. I wanted to scream, but the blade stopped me. This is it, I thought. This is the end. What a lousy, useless way to die.

But the vampaneze was only teasing me. He slowly removed the knife and laughed nastily. He had all the time in the world. There was no reason for him to rush. He wanted to play with us awhile.

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"You shouldn't have come," Evra muttered. "It was stupid." He paused. "But thanks anyway," he added.

"Would you have left me?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, but I knew he was lying.

"Don't worry," I told him. "We'll still figure a way out of this."

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" A way out?" Murlough boomed. "Don't talk rubbish. How are you going to escape? Chew through the ropes? You could if you could reach them with your teeth, but you can't. Snap them with your super vampire strength? No good. They're too strong. I tested them myself in advance, hmmm?

"Face it, Darren Shan - you're doomed! Nobody's going to ride to the rescue. Nobody can find you down here. I'm going to take my time, cut you up into itty-bitty pieces, drop you all over the city - like confetti - and there isn't a thing you can do about it, so wise up!"

"At least let Evra go," I begged. "You've got me. You don't need him. Think how horrible it'd be for him if you let him go: he'd have to live with the knowledge that I'd died in his place. That would be a horrible burden. It would be even worse than killing him."

"Maybe." Murlough grunted. "But I'm a simple man. I like simple pleasures. It's a nice idea, but I'd rather slice him up slowly and painfully, if it's all the same to you. Fewer complications."

"Please." I sobbed. "Let him go. I'll do anything you want. I... I... I'll give you Mr. Crepsley!"

Murlough laughed. "No go. You had the chance to do that earlier. You blew it. Besides, you couldn't lead me to him now. He's bound to have changed hotels again. Might even have fled the city."

"There must be something I can give you!" I yelled desperately. "There must be some way I can..." I stopped.

I could practically hear Murlough's ears stiffening.

"What is it?" he asked, after several seconds of silence. "What were you going to say?"

"Wait a minute!" I snapped. "I have to think something through." I could feel Evra's eyes on me, half hopeful, half resigned to the fate he felt neither of us could escape.

"Hurry up," Murlough prompted me, coming around in front of me. His purple face didn't show up well in the dim light of the cavern, so his eyes and lips appeared to be three free-floating globs of red, while his discolored hair looked like a strange kind of bat. "I haven't got all night," he said. "Speak while you're able."

"I was just thinking," I said quickly. "You're going to have to leave town after this, aren't you?"

" Leave?" Murlough bellowed. "Leave my beautiful tunnels? Never! I love it here. You know what being down here makes me feel like? As if I'm inside the body of the city. These tunnels are like veins. This cavern is the heart, where the blood of the city flows in and out." He smiled, and for once it wasn't an evil expression. "Can you imagine?" he said softly. "Living in a body, roaming the veins - the tunnels of blood - freely, as you please."

"Nevertheless," I said bluntly, "you will have to leave."

"What's all this talk of leaving?" he snapped, jabbing me with the knife. "You're beginning to annoy me."

"I'm just being practical," I said. "You can't stay here. Mr. Crepsley knows where you are. He'll return."

"That coward? I doubt it. He'll be too -?

"He'll return with help," I interrupted. "With other vampires."

Murlough laughed. "The Vampire Generals, do you mean?"

"Yes," I said.

"Nonsense! They can't come after me. There's an agreement between them and us. They don't interfere. Crepsley isn't a General, is he?"

"No," I said. "He's not."

"There you are!" Murlough yelled triumphantly. "He couldn't have come after me if he was. Rules and laws and ways of living. They mean as much to the vampires as they do to the vampaneze."

"All the same, the Generals will come," I insisted quietly. "They couldn't before, but now they can. Maybe tonight. Tomorrow for sure. Maybe this is what Mr. Crepsley planned for all along."

"What are you blabbering about?" Murlough looked uneasy.

"You said something interesting a while ago," I said. "You were surprised Mr. Crepsley came down here with me. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but now that I've thought about it, I agree: it was weird of him. I thought it was because he wanted to help me find Evra, but now..."

" What?" Murlough screeched when I didn't go on. "Say what you're thinking. Out with it, or..." He raised the knives threateningly.

"The pact between the vampires and vampaneze," I said quickly. "It says one side can't interfere with the other, right?"

"Right," Murlough agreed.

" Unlessit's to defend or avenge themselves."

Murlough nodded. "This is so."

I smiled weakly. "Don't you see? I'm a half-vampire. If you kill me, the Generals will have an excuse to come after you. Mr. Crepsley must have planned this all along." I took a deep breath and looked Murlough straight in the eye. "He let you find me. He wanted you to grab me. He meant for you to kill me."

Murlough's eyes widened. "No," he wheezed. "He wouldn't."

"He's a vampire," I said. "Of course he would. This is his city. I'm just his assistant. Which would you choose to sacrifice?"

"But... but..." the vampaneze scratched his face nervously. "I didn't make the first move!" he shouted. " You came after me."

I shook my head. "Mr. Crepsley came after you. I'm innocent. I pose no threat. If you kill me, you'll be held accountable. The Generals will descend on you, and no vampaneze will step in to defend you."

Murlough let my words sink in, in silence, then he started jumping up and down on the spot, swearing furiously. I let him rage for a while, then I said, "It's not too late. Let me go. Let Evra go, too. Run away from the city. They can't touch you then."

"But I love these tunnels." Murlough groaned.

"Do you love them enough to die for them?" I asked.

His eyes narrowed. "You're very smart, aren't you?" he snarled.

"Not really," I said. "I wouldn't have come down here if I was. But I am able to see the truth when it's staring me in the face. Kill me, Murlough, and you sign your own death warrant."

His shoulders sagged, and I knew I was safe. Now there was only Evra to worry about...

"Snakey," Murlough said menacingly. "He isn't a vampire. There's nothing to stop me killing him, hmmm?"

"No!" I shouted. "If you harm Evra, I'll go to the Generals myself and tell them -?

"Tell them what?" Murlough interrupted. "Do you think they'd care? Do you think they'd risk war for the sake of a reptile?" He laughed. "Young Murlough's in a killing mood. I might not be able to have the little half-vampire, but I won't be cheated out of Snakey, too. Watch, Darren Shan. Watch as I carve the snake-boy a new mouth - in his stomach!"

He grabbed the ropes around Evra and tugged him forward with his left hand. With his right, he positioned one of the knives and prepared to make the first cut.

"Wait!" I screamed. "Don't do it! Don't do it!"

"Why shouldn't I?" Murlough sneered.

"I'll swap places!" I yelled. "Me for Evra."

"No good," Murlough said. "You're a half-vampire. No deal."

"I'll give you somebody else! Somebody even better!"

"Who?" Murlough laughed. "Who could you give me, Darren Shan?"

"I'll give you..." I gulped deeply, shut my eyes, and whispered the terrible words.

"What was that?" Murlough asked, pausing suspiciously. "Speak up. I didn't hear you."

"I said..." I licked my lips and forced the words out again, louder this time. "I said I'll give you my girlfriend. If you spare Evra, I'll give you... Debbie."

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