I decided to do the act with Madam Octa - Mr. Crepsley's spider - by myself. I was totally able to handle her. Besides, it was fun to take over from Mr. Crepsley. I'd been on stage with him a bunch of times, but always as his sidekick.

I went on after Hans Hands - a man who could run a hundred yards on his hands in less that eight seconds - and had great fun. The audience cheered, and later I sold a bunch of candy spiders to clamoring customers.

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I hung out with Evra after the show. I told him about Gavner Purl and asked what he knew about Vampire Generals.

"Not much," he said. "I know they exist, but I've never met one."

"What about the Council?" I asked.

"I think that's a huge meeting they have every ten or fifteen years," he said. "A big conference where they get together and discuss things."

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That was all he could tell me.

A few hours before dawn, while Evra was tending to his snake, Gavner Purl appeared from Mr. Crepsley's van - the vampire preferred to sleep in the basements of buildings, but there had been no suitable rooms in the old mill - and asked me to walk with him awhile.

The Vampire General walked slowly, rubbing the scars on his face, like Mr. Crepsley did a lot when he was thinking.

"Do you enjoy being a half-vampire, Darren?" he asked.

"Not really," I answered honestly. "I've gotten used to it, but I was happier as a human."

He nodded. "You know that you will age at only a fifth of the human rate? You've resigned yourself to a long childhood? It doesn't bother you?"

"It bothers me," I said. "I used to look forward to growing up. It bugs me that it's going to take so long. But there's nothing I can do about it. I'm stuck, aren't I?"

"Yes," he sighed. "That's the problem with blooding a person: there's no way to take the vampire blood back. It's why we don't blood children: we only want people who know what they're getting into, who wish to abandon their humanity. Larten shouldn't have blooded you. It was a mistake."

"Is that why he was talking about being judged?" I asked.

Gavner nodded. "He'll have to account for his error," he said. "He'll have to convince the Generals and Princes that what he did won't harm them. If he can't..." Gavner looked grim.

"Will he be killed?" I asked softly.

Gavner smiled. "I doubt it. Larten is widely respected. His wrists will be slapped, but I don't think anybody will look for his head."

"Why didn't you judge him?" I asked.

"All Generals have the right to pass judgment on nonranked vampires," he said. "But Larten's an old friend. It's best for a judge to be unbiased. Even if he'd committed a real crime, I would have found it hard to punish him. Besides, Larten's no ordinary vampire. He used to be a General."

"Really?" I stared at Gavner Purl, stunned by the news.

"An important one, too," Gavner said. "He was on the verge of being voted a Vampire Prince when he stepped down."

"A prince?" I asked skeptically. It was hard to imagine Mr. Crepsley with a crown and royal cape.

"That's what we call our leaders," Gavner said. "There are very few of them. Only the noblest and most respected vampires are elected."

"And Mr. Crepsley almost became one?" I said. Gavner nodded. "What happened?" I asked. "How did he end up traveling with the Cirque Du Freak?"

"He resigned," Gavner said. "He was a couple of years shy of being ordained - we call the process of Prince-making an ordination - when one night he declared he was sick of the business and wanted nothing more to do with the Generals."

"Why?" I asked.

Gavner shrugged. "Nobody knows. Larten never gave much away. Maybe he just got tired of the fighting and killing."

I wanted to ask who it was the Vampire Generals had to fight, but at that moment we passed the last of the town houses and Gavner Purl smiled and stretched his arms.

"A clear run." He grunted happily.

"You're leaving?" I asked.

"Have to," he said. "A General's schedule is a busy one. I only dropped by because it was on my way. I'd like to stay and chat over old times with Larten, but I can't. Anyway, I think Larten will be on the move soon himself."

My ears perked up. "Where's he going?" I asked.

Gavner shook his head and grinned. "Sorry. He'd scalp me alive if I told. I've already said more than I should. You won't tell him I told you about his being a General, will you?"

"Not if you don't want me to," I said.

"Thanks." Gavner crouched down and faced me. "Larten's a pain in the butt sometimes. He plays his cards too close to his chest, and getting information out of him can be like prying teeth from a shark. But he's a good vampire, one of the best. You couldn't hope for a better teacher. Trust him, Darren, and you won't go wrong."

"I'll try." I smiled.

"This can be a dangerous world for vampires," Gavner said softly. "More dangerous than you know. Stick with Larten and you'll be in a better position to survive than many of our kind. You don't live as long as he has without learning more than your fair share of tricks."

"How old is she?" I asked.

"I'm not sure," Gavner said. "I think about a hundred and eighty or two hundred."

"How old are you?" I asked.

"I'm a whippersnapper," he said. "Barely past the hundred mark."

"A hundred years old!" I whistled softly.

"That's nothing for a vampire," Gavner said. "I was barely nineteen when first blooded and only twenty-two when I became a full vampire. I could live to be a good five hundred years old, the gods of the vampires permitting."

"Five hundred!" I couldn't imagine being so old.

"Picture trying to blow out the candles on that cake!" Gavner chuckled. Then he stood. "I must be off. I have fifty miles to make before dawn. I'll have to slip into overdrive." He grimaced. "I hate flitting. I always feel sick afterward."

"Will I see you again?" I asked.

"Probably," he replied. "The world's a small place. I'm sure our paths will cross again one fine, gloomy night." He shook my hand. "So long, Darren Shan."

"Until next time, Gavner Purl," I said.

"Next time," he agreed, and then he was off. He took several deep breaths and started to jog. After a while he broke into a sprint. I stood where I was, watching him run, until he hit flitting speed and disappeared in the blink of an eye, at which point I turned and headed back to camp.

I found Mr. Crepsley in his van. He was sitting by the window (it was completely covered with strips of dark sticky tape, to block out the sun during the day), staring moodily off into space.

"Gavner's gone," I said.

"Yes," he sighed.

"He didn't stay long," I remarked.

"He is a Vampire General," Mr. Crepsley said. "His time is not his own."

"I liked him."

"He is a fine vampire and a good friend," Mr. Crepsley agreed.

I cleared my throat. "He said you might be leaving, too."

Mr. Crepsley regarded me suspiciously. "What else did he say?"

"Nothing," I lied quickly. "I asked why he couldn't stay longer, and he said there was no point, since you'd probably be moving on soon."

Mr. Crepsley nodded. "Gavner brought unpleasant news," he said carefully. "I will have to leave the Cirque for a while."

"Where are you going?" I asked.

"To a city," he responded vaguely.

"What about me?" I asked.

Mr. Crepsley scratched his scar thoughtfully. "That is what I have been contemplating," he said. "I would prefer not to take you with me, but I think I must. I may have need of you."

"But I like it here," I complained. "I don't want to leave."

"Nor do I," Mr. Crepsley snapped. "But I must. And you have to come with me. Remember: we are vampires, not circus performers. The Cirque Du Freak is a means of cover, not our home."

"How long will we be away?" I asked unhappily.

"Days. Weeks. Months. I cannot say for sure."

"What if I refuse to come?"

He studied me ominously. "An assistant who does not obey orders has no purpose," he said quietly. "If I cannot rely on your cooperation, I will have to take steps to remove you from my employ."

"You mean you'd fire me?" I smiled bitterly.

"There is only one way to deal with a rebellious half-vampire," he answered, and I knew what that way was - a stake through the heart!

"It's not fair," I grumbled. "What am I going to do by myself all day in a strange city while you're asleep?"

"What did you do when you were a human?" he asked.

"Things were different," I said. "I had friends and a family. I'm going to be alone again if we leave, like when I first joined up with you."

"It will be hard," Mr. Crepsley said compassionately, "but we have no choice. I must be away with the coming of dusk - I would leave now, were we not so near to dawn - and you must come with me. There is no other..."

He stopped as a thought struck him. "Of course," he said slowly, "we could bring another along."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"We could take Evra with us."

I frowned as I considered it.

"The two of you are good friends, yes?" Mr. Crepsley asked.

"Yes," I said, "but I don't know how he'd feel about leaving. And there's his snake. What would we do with that?"

"I am sure somebody could look after the snake," Mr. Crepsley said, warming to the idea. "Evra would be good company for you. And he is wiser: he could keep you out of mischief when I am not around."

"I don't need a baby-sitter!" I huffed.

"No," Mr. Crepsley agreed, "but a guardian would not go amiss. You have a habit of getting into trouble when left to your own devices. Remember when you stole Madam Octa? And the mess we had with that human boy, Sam whatever his name was?"

"That wasn't my fault!" I yelled.

"Indeed not," Mr. Crepsley said. "But it happened when you were by yourself."

I made a face but didn't say anything.

"Will I ask him or not?" Mr. Crepsley pressed the issue.

" I'llask him," I said. "You'd probably bully him into going."

"Have it your own way." Mr. Crepsley rose. "I will go and clear it with Hibernius." That was Mr. Tail's first name. "Be back here before dawn so I can brief you - I want to make sure we are prepared to travel as soon as night falls."

Evra took a lot of time deciding. He didn't like the idea of parting company with his friends in the Cirque Du Freak - or with his snake.

"It won't be forever," I told him.

"I know," he said uncertainly.

"Look at it as a vacation," I suggested.

"I like the idea of a vacation," he admitted. "But it would be nice to know where I was going."

"Sometimes surprises are more fun," I said.

"And sometimes they aren't," Evra muttered.

"Mr. Crepsley will be asleep all day," I reminded him. "We'll be free to do whatever we want. We can go sightseeing, to the movies, swimming, anything we want."

"I've never been swimming," Evra said, and I could tell by the way he grinned that he'd decided to come.

"I'll tell Mr. Tall you're coming?" I asked. "And get him to have someone take care of your snake?"

Evra nodded. "She doesn't like the cold weather in any case," he said. "She'll be asleep most of the winter."

"Great!" I grinned. "We'll have a blast."

"We'd better," he said, "or it'll be the last time I go on 'vacation' with you."

I spent the rest of the day packing and unpacking. I only had two small bags to bring, one for me and one for Mr. Crepsley, but - apart from my diary, which went everywhere with me - I kept changing my mind about what to bring.

Then I remembered Madam Octa - I wasn't bringing her along - and hurried off to find somebody to look after her. Hans Hands agreed to watch her, although he said there was no way he'd let her out of her cage.

Finally, after hours of running around - Mr. Crepsley had it easy, the wily old goat! - night came and it was time to leave.

Mr. Crepsley checked the bags and nodded stiffly. I told him about leaving Madam Octa with Hans Hands and again he nodded. "We picked up Evra, said good-bye to Mr. Tall and some of the others, then turned away from the camp and began walking.

"Will you be able to carry both of us when you flit?" I asked Mr. Crepsley.

"I have no intention of flitting," he said.

"Then how are we going to travel?" I asked.

"Buses and trains," he replied. He laughed when I looked surprised. "Vampires can use public transportation as well as humans. There are no laws against it."

"I suppose not," I said, grinning, wondering what other passengers would think if they knew they were traveling with a vampire, a half-vampire, and a snake-boy. "Should we go then?" I asked.

"Yes," Mr. Crepsley answered simply, and the three of us headed into town to catch the first train out.

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