The Saga of Larten Crepsley: Brothers to the Death (Cirque du Freak Series)by Darren Shan
After years of wandering, Larten has finally found his way back to his vampire family and resumed the vigorous, brutal training to become a General. But there are vampires determined to pull Larten into starting a war that could have global implications and casualties. Vampires who will stop at nothing. Vampires who would betray Larten in the most cutting way.See more details below
After years of wandering, Larten has finally found his way back to his vampire family and resumed the vigorous, brutal training to become a General. But there are vampires determined to pull Larten into starting a war that could have global implications and casualties. Vampires who will stop at nothing. Vampires who would betray Larten in the most cutting way.
Fans of the series will appreciate the conclusion of the master's story, while new fans will be able to jump into the book without any trouble. This is a good read for fantasy and adventure fans alike."—VOYA
Praise for The Saga of Larten Crepsley:"Fans of Darren Shan will eat this book up and likely go on to reread the series, now that they know the backstory on how a killer was born."—VOYA
"Cirque du Freak" aficionados will be intrigued by this glimpse into Crepsley's formative years..."— School and Library Journal
Read an Excerpt
Brothers to the Death
By Shan, Darren
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2012 Shan, Darren
All right reserved.
“This is what happens to lovers of vampires.”
On a grassy bank in a park on the outskirts of Paris, a young man lay beside a middle-aged woman, holding her hand. They were talking softly, shielded from the setting evening sun by a large umbrella. Those passing by thought they were perhaps a mother and son. None suspected that the orange-haired gentleman in the blood-red suit was more than twice the age of the woman.
“What do you think people would say if I kissed you?” Larten murmured.
Alicia giggled. “There would be a scandal.” Much about her had changed over the years, but her giggle was the same as ever.
“I relish a juicy scandal,” Larten said, leaning closer towards her.
“Don’t!” Alicia laughed, pushing him away. “You know I don’t like it when you tease me.”
“What if I was not teasing?” Larten asked with a smile. But the smile was for Alicia’s benefit. He was serious—he did want to kiss her.
“That’s sweet of you,” Alicia said. “But I’m an old woman. You can’t have any real interest in me after all these decades. I’m a wrinkly hag!”
“Hardly,” Larten snorted. Alicia looked much older than him now, but in his eyes she was as beautiful as when they’d first met almost thirty years earlier.
Alicia rolled away from him, into the sunlight, where she stretched and lazily studied the clouds. Larten’s smile never faltered, but inside he felt sad. It had been a decade and a half since his reunion with Alicia. They had met often over the course of those years. Each time he hoped she’d kiss him, declare her love for him, accept him as her husband. He wanted things to be like they were in 1906, when they were engaged and madly in love.
But Alicia felt that she was too old to marry again, and if she ever did give her hand to another man, she wanted to give it to a man her own age. It didn’t matter that Larten had been born almost eighty years before her. He looked like he was in his twenties and that was how she thought of him. To Alicia he could never be more than a friend. Larten had accepted that—he had no choice—but he couldn’t help wishing he was more.
“The children are having fun,” Alicia noted, nodding at a boy and girl playing by the edge of a small pond.
The girl was almost eighteen, a young woman who would probably marry soon and have children of her own. But Larten still thought of her as little Sylva. She was a tall, slim, pretty maid, but to him she would always be a cute, chubby baby.
The boy was in his thirties but didn’t look much older than Sylva. He was a vampire like Larten, aging only one year for every ten that passed. He was of medium height, but broad, built like a wrestler. He could have thrown Sylva to the far side of the pond, but he always handled her gently, as Larten had taught him, careful never to squeeze too hard when he was holding her hand, knowing he could shatter every bone in her fingers if he did.
Gavner hadn’t wanted to return to Paris. He had left under a cloud, swearing loyalty to Tanish Eul, a weak, selfish vampire who had killed an innocent woman to save his own thickly layered neck. When Larten caught up with them and herded the killer to his execution, Gavner thought his world had ended. He hated the man whom he’d known since childhood as Vur Horston, and yearned to strike him dead.
Larten had granted him that opportunity. Handing Gavner a knife, the General told him that he had killed Gavner’s parents. He said that Gavner had every right to exact revenge, and he offered himself to the bewildered teenager.
Gavner would never forget how close he’d come to stabbing Larten. His mind was in a whirl. Tanish Eul’s sudden death had shocked him. When he learned that Larten had killed his parents too, it seemed like the only way to end the madness was to murder the orange-haired vampire. His fingers tightened and he tried to drive the knife forward into Larten’s heart, stopping it forever.
But something held him back. He still wasn’t sure why he hadn’t struck. Maybe it had been the calm acceptance in Larten’s eyes, the fact that he wasn’t afraid of death, that he felt like he deserved to die. Perhaps it was because the vampire had been true to him for the first time in his life, and Gavner couldn’t kill a man for telling the truth. Or maybe he just didn’t have a killer’s instinct.
Whatever the reason, Gavner had let the knife drop, collapsed in a weeping huddle, and given himself over to confusion and grief.
“I wish you could spend more time with us,” Alicia sighed as Gavner chased Sylva around the pond, threatening to throw her in. “Sylva misses you when you’re not here.”
“I suspect she misses Gavner more,” Larten remarked wryly. He had never been much of a father figure. He’d always been distant with Sylva, and especially with Gavner. It was a mystery to him why the pair liked him so much.
“Gavner’s like a brother to her,” Alicia admitted, “but she’s fond of you too. She thinks of you as an uncle.”
“Uncle Larten,” the vampire chuckled, blushing slightly. “How ridiculous.”
“Don’t be so stuffy,” Alicia growled, pinching his left cheek until his scar burned whitely. Then she smiled and kissed one of her fingers and pressed it to the scar. “You still haven’t told me how you got that,” she said, changing the subject.
“I will one night,” Larten promised. “When you are old enough.”
The pair laughed. Gavner heard the laughter—his senses were much sharper than a human’s—and he paused to smile in the direction of the couple who had been the only real parents he’d ever known. (He tried not to think about the nights when he had served as Tanish Eul’s surrogate son. While he would never speak ill of Tanish, who had been nothing but loving to Gavner, he was ashamed that he had not seen through the killer’s mask.)
Larten and Vancha March had helped Gavner recover. They’d told him much about the clan, explained Tanish’s bitter history, helped prepare him for life as a creature of the night. When they left Petrograd, Larten urged Gavner to travel with Vancha. He said that the Prince could teach Gavner more than he ever could. But Gavner asked to learn from Larten instead. He had always wanted to get closer to the aloof, tall man with the scar. He saw this as a chance to gain a father. There were no more lies between them. He hoped to build a strong relationship with Larten Crepsley, to earn his respect and love.
Larten did respect Gavner, and loved him in his own strange way. But he never made any open display of affection. He was shy with most people, slow to reveal anything personal. But it went beyond shyness with Gavner. He had orphaned the boy and would never allow himself to forget that. He had told Gavner the whole sad story, how he’d been suffering with a fever, how his young assistant had been killed, the way he’d lost his mind and slaughtered a shipful of humans.
Gavner had forgiven him—he had come close to killing when he lost Tanish Eul, so he could empathize with the older vampire—but Larten still blamed himself, and every time he looked at Gavner he was reminded of that dark day, of the stain on his soul. Though he had spent most of the last fifteen years with the youth, teaching him the ways of the clan, he’d always kept his assistant at arm’s length, insisting Gavner treat him as nothing more than a tutor.
“I will never be a father to you,” he’d declared several years ago, after Gavner had absentmindedly referred to Larten as his father. “I do not deserve such love and I will cast you aside if you ever speak of me in that way again. I will accept your friendship if you feel I am entitled to it, but no more than that.”
Gavner knew that Larten thought of him as more than a mere assistant, just as he thought of Larten as more than a mentor. But he accepted the older vampire’s rules and never again spoke of his true feelings. If this was what Larten needed in order to feel comfortable around his student and would-be son, so be it. He would do anything to please the man who had reluctantly reared him.
While Gavner studied Larten and Alicia, smiling sadly as he thought of the past, Sylva snuck up on him and pushed him hard. Gavner yelped, arms flailing, then fell into the water. He came up spluttering and roaring. He looked for Sylva, to drag her in, but she’d already fled—she knew how swiftly a vampire could react.
“Hide me!” Sylva squealed, seeking shelter behind her mother and Larten.
“If you were my daughter I would spank you,” Larten growled as Gavner hauled himself out of the pond. “You know that sunlight is bad for him. I will have to help him fish his hat out of the pond before his hair catches fire.”
Sylva’s smile faded as she stared at the glowering vampire. But then Larten winked and she knew that everything was fine. She looked on with delight as he hurried to the shivering Gavner, expressing concern for him—then howled with glee as he shoved his unsuspecting assistant back into the pond.
“Men never grow up,” Alicia tutted, but she was smiling too. She offered Gavner the rug she was sitting on when they returned, and helped him dry his hair. She corrected him when he cursed Larten and Sylva—“Gentlemen do not use such crude words.”—then packed up and led them home.
Gavner and Sylva strayed ahead of their elders, walking arm in arm. Sylva chatted about friends, fashion, and movies, and Gavner pretended to be interested in such things. He had already forgiven her for pushing him into the pond—he’d never been one to hold a grudge. Larten and Alicia followed leisurely, strolling like any ordinary couple.
“How long can you stay this time?” Alicia asked, already knowing the answer. Larten and Gavner had arrived a week earlier, and though nothing had been said, she’d gathered within a few hours that it would be a short visit. Larten always tried to cram in a lot if he wasn’t staying long. When she heard him making plans for all the things that he wanted to do, she knew the pair would be moving on in a matter of days, not weeks or months. From his expression this afternoon, she realized the time had come for them to leave, so she asked the question at last, the same way she always did. It was a long-established routine of theirs.
“We go tonight,” Larten said. “We have a meeting that we must attend. It is not far from here as vampires measure things, but it will take us most of the night to get there.”
“Will you return soon?” she asked, again already knowing the answer.
Larten sighed. “I do not think so. We have been forced to deal with unpleasant but determined people, and I suspect the negotiations will take some time.”
“How mysterious your lives are,” Alicia said enviously. “I bet you’re off to meet a magician or witch.”
“Nothing so fanciful,” Larten smiled. “I would prefer it if we were. These men pose more of a threat to the world, I fear, than any being of magic.”
“What do you mean?” Alicia asked, frowning at him as they reached the small house where she and Sylva lived.
“We do not have much to do with human politicians or soldiers,” Larten said, pausing at the door to cast one last glance at the setting sun. “But occasionally a group tries to forge links with us and we find ourselves having to deal with them. This is one such time, and I am worried about the outcome. Tell me, Alicia, what do you know about Nazis?”
“We are so alike,” Franz said with a smile. “Vampires and National Socialists are creatures of similar beliefs and habits. We have common goals and hopes. If we unite, it will benefit both our clans.” The officer’s smile widened. Larten had never met people who smiled as freely as the Nazis. But he found no warmth or humor in their grins, merely menace, deceit, and threats.
The Nazis had been courting the night walkers for several years. Their leader was a man who believed in the supernatural. He had set his followers the task of finding out whether or not vampires were real. The members of the clan were usually adept at keeping their secrets, but somebody had let their guard down at some point and discussed their ways with one of the investigators. It didn’t happen often, but it wasn’t without precedent—Larten himself had accidentally given some of their secrets away to Bram Stoker when the author was researching his book Dracula.
The Nazis had been politely hounding the Generals of the clan ever since they found out about them. The Princes had avoided the entreaties of the political party, as they always did whenever a group tried to forge links with them. It had happened a few times over the centuries. Vampires were faster and stronger than humans. They would make powerful allies… powerful weapons. The Nazis weren’t the first to seek the support of the creatures of the night.
But no other group had pressed as hard as the smiling soldiers in the sharp suits. No army or party had claimed to share so many common ideals. Nobody had promised as much as the representatives of the short man with the silly-looking mustache.
Many Generals were in favor of a union with the Nazis. They saw shades of themselves in the Germans. Like vampires, National Socialists believed in honor, order, unity. They had stabilized a country in chaos. They lived by strict laws and preached obedience and decency. They had little time or sympathy for the weak or old—they focused on the strong, the pure, those who could handle themselves in a fight. They were more interested in control and power than vampires were, but apart from that they were as close to the clan in spirit as any humans had ever appeared to be.
Some highly ranked Generals had met with members of the party in recent years, and now a Prince had been sent to parlay. Mika Ver Leth was chosen to head the debate, mostly because he was young and open to new ideas. (Though Larten thought the fact that he dressed in black and looked like a Nazi also played a part in the decision.)
This was the first time a Prince had negotiated with a human delegation and it was a momentous event in the history of the clan. Mika had to choose a General to be his second, someone he could discuss the complex issues with. Most thought he would opt for an elderly vampire with a proven record, but to everyone’s surprise—not least of all Larten’s—he had asked for Seba Nile’s ex-student.
The pair had been engaged in talks with the Nazis for several weeks. Franz was only the latest in a line of party members that they had dealt with. They’d been treated to a tour of Germany to meet a variety of the National Socialists in the flesh. Mika had read many documents about the party, their beliefs and aims. They had dined well, slept in fine hotels, and been treated like honored dignitaries.
Yet Larten hadn’t felt at ease since linking up with Mika. He couldn’t put his finger on the exact reason for his discomfort. He just didn’t trust these people. They reminded him in some ways of Tanish Eul, only far more dangerous than the cynical, self-serving Tanish had ever been.
Larten listened with a polite expression but a heavy heart as Franz outlined a list of reasons why vampires should support the growing Nazi movement. He promised to provide the clan with an army of new, German recruits. They would be equals, sharing all that came their way. He said the Nazis wished to learn from the wise vampires and emulate their great deeds, to turn the world away from the petty vices of the day, towards the noble pursuits of the night.
Gavner Purl and Arra Sails sat several feet behind Mika and Larten. Arra was a respected General now, but she still considered Mika to be her mentor. When he had need of her, she acted as his assistant, the way Gavner assisted Larten. She hadn’t hesitated when he’d asked her to come with him. There was no dishonor in serving the wishes of a Prince, no matter how experienced a General you might be.
Larten hadn’t spoken much with Arra. Their nights were packed with meetings and fact-finding outings, and by day they slept. Besides, he wasn’t sure what to say. He had made his admiration of her clear in the past, but that was before he’d renewed his relationship with Alicia. His French amour might only be a close friend now, but he still hoped that she would one night ask to be more. Any romantic entanglement with Arra would have felt like a betrayal. It was easier to keep out of her way and avoid a potentially complicated situation.
“The world is changing,” Franz said. He was still smiling, but not as widely as before. Larten had sensed a change in the atmosphere over the last few nights. The Nazis had grown impatient and Franz was having a hard time hiding his mounting frustration.
“The world is forever changing,” Mika said.
“True,” Franz nodded. “But now more than ever. Faster than ever. A storm is coming. We will all need friends if we are to survive. You will find us friends of the highest caliber. Strong. Loyal. Dependable.”
“What are you like as enemies?” Mika asked casually, and although he said it with a chuckle, Larten saw Franz’s face darken.
“Why speak of us that way?” Franz growled. “We have no wish to be anything but your allies.”
“You misunderstand me,” Mika said. “If we become your friends, your enemies will be our enemies. If you go to war, it will be our war. I want to know how you plan to deal with those who don’t share your vision for the future.”
“I see.” Franz was beaming again. “First, it is important to recognize that we do not seek war. We hope to expand and redraw the boundaries of our once-great nation, to again be a force of true power in the world. Ideally we will exert our influence peacefully. If others resist and threaten us, we will of course fight—and win—but war isn’t something we wish to actively pursue.”
“Yet there are some you long to destroy,” Mika pressed. “People of certain nations and religions…”
“Destroy is the wrong word,” Franz purred. “We believe this world would be better without certain types of people. We have always been up front about that. But vampires share those beliefs. You cut loose the old and infirm, those of low character, base creatures who would drag you down. We seek to do the same. Surely that cannot be an issue for proud, pure warriors such as yourselves?”
Mika nodded slowly, considering Franz’s words. This was the heart of their debate, even though they had largely skirted the issue so far. Vampires came from all corners of the earth, regardless of color, race, or creed. If you were strong, determined, and honest, you could join the clan and be entitled to respect. The Nazis weren’t so eager to include people of specific backgrounds.
“What do you think?” Mika asked suddenly, turning to Larten.
The orange-haired vampire blinked and stared at the Prince. Larten still wasn’t sure why Mika had invited him to be his second. The ravenlike Prince had said little to the General. He hadn’t asked for Larten’s views or discussed matters with him in detail. Until now.
As Larten struggled to form a polite, diplomatic response, Mika shook his head. “Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. And don’t worry about our hosts. I want your true opinion. Share your thoughts with me, openly and honestly. That is the vampire way,” he murmured to Franz and the officers who flanked him. “I hope you won’t be offended.”
“Of course not,” Franz said, but he was squinting at Larten suspiciously.
“On which particular points do you wish me to comment, Sire?” Larten asked.
“All of them,” Mika said. “I want your general reaction. Tell me what you think of the National Socialists and their desire to merge with us.”
“I dislike and distrust them,” Larten said bluntly. Some of the officers gasped, but Franz silenced them with a sharp gesture. He was glaring at Larten, but he said nothing, waiting to hear the rest.
“They are cruel,” Larten went on. He didn’t enjoy airing his feelings this way, but Mika had asked him to be open, and Larten would never disobey the demands of a Prince. “Vampires are hard, yes. We ask much of ourselves and those who would be part of the clan. We execute the mad, the weak, the injured, the old, or urge them to make an end of their own. In that respect we are like these humans.
“But those we treat harshly have chosen the path of the night. They left their human ways behind when they joined the clan. They understand why we treat them so pitilessly. They acknowledge our rule, live by our laws, accept death when they are no longer fit to fight.
“The enemies… no, the victims of the Nazis have no such choice. These people hate without reason. They pass judgment on innocents. In that way we differ. Vampires are harsh, Nazis are vicious. We are merciless, they are monstrous.”
One of the officers cursed and leapt to his feet. He drew a pistol and leveled it at Larten. Before he could fire, Franz barked a command and the officer angrily holstered his weapon and sat. When he had control of the room again, Franz faced Larten and sneered. “You understand nothing of us or the problems we face.”
“Perhaps,” Larten said calmly. “But I was asked for my opinion and I gave it.”
“Do you share his view?” Franz snapped at Mika.
The Prince smiled thinly. “In any group you will find people of differing beliefs and standards. I’m sorry if my assistant’s criticism upset you. I simply wanted to know where he stood on this issue.”
“And now you know,” Franz said. “But where do you stand?”
“I will have to think about that before I give my answer.” Mika rose and offered his hand. Franz hesitated, then shook the Prince’s hand.
“We have been patient,” the officer said softly, “but we cannot wait forever. I must know if you are with us or against us, and I need to know soon.”
“You shall,” Mika promised. “I’m close to making a decision. There are just a few minor matters I need to think over. You will have your answer shortly.”
Franz didn’t look happy, but he nodded curtly and took his seat, watching with narrowed, hostile eyes as the Prince and his followers slipped out of the room and returned to the fabulous hotel suite where they had been quartered.
Mika said nothing to Larten on their way back to the hotel, and retired to his room as soon as they got there, giving no indication whether or not he approved of what Larten had said. Gavner shared a worried glance with his master, then went to his own room. A distracted Larten nodded goodnight to Arra in the lobby, but as he climbed the stairs he realized she was following him. He glanced over his shoulder questioningly.
“It’s time we had a chat,” Arra said, then brushed ahead and waited for him at the door to his suite.
Arra cast a scornful eye around the room when she entered, unimpressed by the florid furniture and antiques. “Do you sleep in the bed?” she asked.
“Where else?” Larten replied.
“I laid hands on a coffin when I came here,” she said. “I’ve had it shipped from one hotel to another. Beds are for humans.”
Larten smiled. “You sound like Vancha March.”
“A most noble vampire,” Arra nodded, then sat on the least comfortable looking chair and studied Larten seriously. She hadn’t changed much since he had first met her. By no means beautiful, but pretty in her own way. She’d picked up scars in battle since she’d become a vampire and was leaner than when she’d served as Evanna’s apprentice. But she wore the same brown clothes, and in the dim light she could have passed for a teenager.
“You spoke passionately tonight,” Arra noted.
“I said what was in my heart.”
“The Nazis didn’t like being called monsters.”
Larten shrugged. “Perhaps that was uncalled for. But their smug smiles sicken me. I wished to wipe the grins from their faces.”
“You certainly did that.” Like Mika, Arra gave no sign whether she felt Larten had been right to speak the way he had. Before he could ask, she said, “Why don’t you like me anymore?”
Larten blinked. “What do you mean?”
“You craved me before. You tried to sweet-talk me into taking you as a mate on many occasions. Even when you weren’t openly flattering me, your gaze trailed me everywhere I went. But now you look away when I’m around. Why?”
Larten laughed. “Evanna herself could not have put the question in more direct a fashion!”
“Never mind that barmy old witch,” Arra huffed. “Tell me why I repulse you.”
“You do not repulse me,” Larten said softly. “On the contrary, I think you are as striking as ever. But circumstances have changed. There is another woman.…”
“You’ve mated?” Arra snapped.
“No. She is human.”
“Then you’ve married?”
“You’re engaged?” Arra pressed.
Arra’s dark brown eyes hardened. “Are you even partners?”
Larten cleared his throat. “We were in the past, but now we are just friends.”
“You wish to be more,” Arra guessed, “but she won’t have you.”
“She thinks she is too old for me.” Larten thought that Arra would laugh, but she didn’t. Instead she stunned him with her next sentence.
“I have a mate. I mated five years ago with Darvin Allegra. You don’t know him. He’s a fine General, a fierce fighter, though not as passionate in the coffin as I had hoped he’d be.”
“Arra!” Larten gasped. “You cannot say things like that!”
“I can if it’s true,” she retorted.
“What about Mika? I always thought…”
She shook her head. “I rejected his advances in the past, and I doubt if he will ever choose a mate now. He has no time for love these nights. He takes his duties as a Prince very seriously.”
“Why did Darvin not come here with you?” Larten asked.
“He wasn’t invited,” Arra said. “Business is business. Besides, he knows I plan to take you as a mate in the future and he’s jealous. I don’t think he—”
“Stop!” Larten roared, blushing furiously. “How can you say such things when you already have a partner?”
“I’ll be free in two years,” Arra said. “It was a seven-year agreement and I have no intention of signing up for another spell. I’ll be faithful to Darvin for the next twenty-four months, but after that…”
Larten gaped at the dark-haired vampiress. “You were never this frank in the past,” he mumbled. “You teased me and kept me at arm’s length.”
“That’s what young women do to their admirers,” Arra sniffed. “But I’m older. I’m not interested in games now. We would be good together, so it’s time we stopped fooling around.”
Excerpted from Brothers to the Death by Shan, Darren Copyright © 2012 by Shan, Darren. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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