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Ocean of Blood
By Shan, Darren
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2011 Shan, Darren
All right reserved.
“A howling, hungry creature of dark delights.”
The vampire known as Quicksilver threw a knife high into the smoke-clogged air of the tavern. Those around him watched with beady-eyed, bloodthirsty fascination as he held his head back, opened his mouth wide and waited for the knife to drop. A few people shrieked but Quicksilver didn’t flinch, expertly tracking the flight of the dagger. At precisely the right moment he clenched his teeth together and caught the blade two inches past the tip. As the handle quivered, he turned slowly, so that everyone in the room could see. Pulling out the knife, he threw it into the wood of the table – it drove in all the way to the hilt – and took a bow.
As the crowd went wild with applause, Quicksilver grinned and slumped into a chair close to another vampire and a gaggle of admiring young ladies. “There,” he beamed. “I told you I could do it.”
“One of these nights,” the other bloodsucker said, “you’ll time that wrong and end up with a knife through the back of your throat.”
“Don’t be such an old woman, Wester,” Quicksilver laughed. “You’ll scare these lovely creatures and I would hate to send them to bed with nightmares.”
“It will take more than your dull tales to scare us,” one of the ladies snorted, but they were undeniably impressed.
“What’s your real name?” another lady asked, cuddling up to the man with the odd orange hair, immaculate gray suit and dazzling smile.
“I only reveal that to my very special friends,” Quicksilver murmured. Then, as she blushed, he whispered in her ear, “Larten Crepsley.” After that he called for more wine and the rest of the night passed most pleasantly.
A groggy Wester rose before Larten and stumbled to the window of the inn where they had bedded for the day. He peered through the curtains at the sunlight, hissed and let them swish shut. It would be another couple of hours before they could go out. The sun wouldn’t kill the vampires instantly, but they’d start to redden within minutes and would be in agony in less than an hour. If they were exposed to its rays for two or three hours, there would be nothing left of them except for charred bones.
Wester washed in a basin of water and studied his beard in the mirror above it. Shaving was a complicated business for vampires. Normal razors were useless on their tough hair. He and Larten had picked up specially hardened blades a couple of years ago, but Wester had lost his in the course of their travels. He’d asked to borrow Larten’s, but the slightly older vampire had said it was time Wester learned to take better care of his possessions. Larten had just been teasing him, but Wester didn’t want to give his friend the satisfaction of seeing him plead, so he’d grown a beard since then.
“My head,” Larten groaned, sitting up, then flopping back again. “What time is it?”
“Too early to be getting up,” Wester grunted.
“How much did we drink last night?”
“I don’t want to think about it.”
Vampires could consume a lot more alcohol than humans and it was difficult for them to get drunk. But Wester and Larten had been managing to defy the physical odds most nights.
“They were nice ladies,” Larten chuckled. “They loved my knife trick.”
“You should try it at the Cirque Du Freak,” Wester said drily. “It would go over well there.”
The pair had bumped into their old ally, Mr. Tall, a while ago. They’d spent a fun few nights with the circus crew and Larten had performed some of his old magic routines in the show. He had been rusty to begin with, but adjusted swiftly. He had an incredibly fast hand, even for a vampire. It was how he’d earned his nickname—one of their friends had once said his fingers moved as if made of quicksilver.
Larten and Wester had been traveling the world for almost twenty years since their first time at Council. Both had learned a lot, not just about the ways of vampires, but about ladies too. Larten had been a slow starter but was making up for lost time, dazzling maidens with his smile, confidence and agility wherever he went.
The pair occasionally met with their master, Seba Nile, but spent most of the time by themselves or with others their age, vampires in their thirties, forties, fifties or sixties. They were youths by vampire standards and had been cut loose by their masters to explore the world of humans one final time before pledging themselves to the demands of the clan.
The door to their room crashed open. Wester whirled defensively, then relaxed as a large vampire with long blond hair staggered in. It was Yebba. He had been traveling with them for the past month, though it had been a few nights since they’d last seen him.
“I’m thirsty,” Yebba roared, kicking Larten’s bed. “Up, cur, and come keep me company.”
“Wester says the sun hasn’t set yet,” Larten yawned.
“I don’t give a damn,” the massive vampire said, then collapsed like a bear and sat on the floor, blinking dumbly.
“A heavy night’s drinking?” Wester smiled.
“Aye,” Yebba said morosely. “A woman broke my heart. What else could I do but drown my sorrows in ale?”
“Another broken heart?” Wester tsked. “That must be the fourth this year.”
“Aye.” Tears welled in Yebba’s eyes. “Vampires weren’t made for love.”
“What happened this time?” Wester asked slyly. “Did you bite her?”
“That only happened once,” Yebba scowled. “And it was an accident.”
“It has happened to us all,” Larten said, propping himself on an elbow.
“I don’t remember you biting any of your lady friends,” Wester frowned.
“No, but there was one time…” He coughed and blushed. “Never mind.”
“Tell us,” Wester hooted. “Come on, Quicksilver, you can’t leave Yebba to bare his soul alone.”
“Well, do you recall a night a couple of years ago when I didn’t return to our inn?”
“That happens at least once a month,” Wester said.
“This was different,” Larten snapped. “I’d been out with a lady and drank more than was good for me. I felt hungry on the way home, so I popped into a room to feed. But I made too much noise and woke the woman up. She screamed bloody murder and I tumbled out of her room without silencing her.”
“Why didn’t you breathe on her and knock her out?” Wester asked.
Larten shrugged. “I was drunk. I forgot about my vampiric breath. Before I knew it, a mob had formed and I was chased out of town. I was almost trapped in the open and burned alive.”
When Wester and Yebba had stopped laughing, Yebba said, “Why didn’t you flit? They couldn’t have troubled you once you hit top speed and vanished from sight.”
Larten’s blush deepened and Wester had to answer for him. “He can’t flit when he’s drunk—he loses his sense of coordination and can’t run that fast.”
The pair fell apart with laughter. Larten sniffed angrily, but his lips were twitching at the corners. Eventually he burst out laughing too. When their fit had passed, Wester trudged down to order food and ale, then the three of them waited for the sun to set, so that they could again seek excitement in the inns, taverns and gaming halls of the humans they had once been.
Excerpted from Ocean of Blood by Shan, Darren Copyright © 2011 by Shan, Darren. Excerpted by permission.
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