WE PROCEEDED WITH CAUTION for the first few nights after finding the blood-spattered cave. But when we encountered no further signs of the vampire killer, we put our worries on hold and enjoyed the rough pleasures of the trail as best as we could.

Running with wolves was awesome. I learned a lot by watching them and asking Mr. Crepsley questions; he considered himself something of a wolf expert.


Wolves aren't fast, but they never get tired, sometimes roaming twenty or thirty miles a day. They usually pick on small animals when they go hunting, but sometimes they go after larger victims, working as a team. Their senses - sight, hearing, smell - are strong. Each pack has a leader, and they share food equally. They're great climbers and can survive any kind of conditions.

We hunted with them a lot. It was so cool to race alongside them on bright star-speckled nights, over the gleaming snow - chasing a deer or fox and sharing the hot, bloody kill. Time passed quicker with the wolves around, and the miles slipped by almost unnoticed.

One cold, clear night, we came to a thick briar patch that covered the floor of a valley sheltered between two towering mountains. The thorns were extra thick and sharp, capable of pricking the skin of even a full vampire. We paused at the mouth of the valley while Mr. Crepsley and Gavner decided how to go on.

"We could climb the side of one of the mountains," Mr. Crepsley mused, "but Darren is not as strong a climber as us - he could be damaged if he slipped."

"How about going around?" Gavner suggested.

"It would take too long."

"Could we dig a way under?" I asked.

"Again," Mr. Crepsley said, "it would take too long. We will just have to pick our way through as carefully as we can."

He took off his sweatshirt, and so did Gavner.

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"What are you getting undressed for?" I asked.

"Our clothes would protect us a little," Gavner explained, "but we'd come out the other end in tattered rags. Best to keep them intact."

When Gavner took off his pants, we saw he was wearing a pair of yellow boxer shorts with pink elephants sewn into them. Mr. Crepsley stared at the shorts incredulously. "They were a present," Gavner mumbled, blushing furiously.

"From a human female you were romantically involved with, I presume," Mr. Crepsley said, the corners of his normally stern mouth twitching upward, threatening to split into a rare unrestrained smile.

"She was a beautiful woman." Gavner sighed, tracing the outline of one of the elephants. "She just had very bad taste in underwear..."

"And in boyfriends," I added impishly. Mr. Crepsley burst into laughter at that and doubled over, tears streaming down his face. I'd never seen the vampire laugh so much - I would never have guessed he could! Even Gavner looked surprised.

It took Mr. Crepsley a long time to recover from his laughing fit. When he'd wiped the tears away and was back to his normal somber self, he apologized (like laughing was a crime). Then he rubbed some awful-smelling lotion into my skin, which sealed the pores, making it harder to cut. Without wasting any more time, we went ahead. The going was slow and painful. No matter how careful I was, every few feet I'd step on a thorn or scratch myself. I protected my face as best as I could, but by the time we were halfway into the valley, my cheeks were specked with shallow red rivulets.

The Little People hadn't taken off their blue robes, even though the cloth was being cut to ribbons. After a while, Mr. Crepsley told them to walk in front, so they endured the worst of the thorns while clearing a path for the rest of us. I almost felt sorry for the silent, uncomplaining pair.

The wolves had the easiest time. They were built for terrain like this, and swiftly slinked through the briars. But they weren't happy. They'd been acting strangely all night, creeping along beside us, low in spirits, sniffing the air suspiciously. We could sense their anxiety, but didn't know what was causing it.

I was watching my feet, stepping carefully over a row of glinting thorns, when I ran into Mr. Crepsley, who'd come to a sudden stop. "What's up?" I asked, peering over his shoulder.

"Gavner!" he snapped, ignoring my question.

Gavner shuffled past me, breathing heavily (we teased him about his heavy breathing a lot). I heard him utter a choked cry as he reached Mr. Crepsley.

"What is it?" I asked. "Let me see." The vampires parted and I saw a tiny piece of cloth snagged on a briar bush. A few drops of dried blood had stained the tips of the thorns.

"What's the big deal?" I asked.

The vampires didn't answer immediately - they were gazing around worriedly, much in the same way that the wolves were.

"Can you smell it?" Gavner finally replied quietly.


"The blood."

I sniffed the air. There was only the faintest of scents because the blood was dry. "What about it?" I asked.

"Think back six years," Mr. Crepsley said. He picked the cloth off the briar - the wolves were growling loudly now - and thrust it under my nostrils. "Breathe deeply. Ring any bells?"

It didn't right away - my senses weren't as sharp as a full vampire's - but then I remembered that long-ago night in Debbie Hemlock's bedroom, and the smell of the insane Murlough's blood as he lay dying on the floor. My face turned white as I realized - it was the blood of a vampaneze!

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