|Publisher:||Little, Brown Books for Young Readers|
|Series:||Cirque Du Freak Series , #11|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)|
|Lexile:||730L (what's this?)|
|Age Range:||12 - 14 Years|
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Cirque Du Freak #11: Lord of the Shadows
Book 11 in the Saga of Darren Shan
By Darren Shan
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2007 Darren Shan
All rights reserved.
My eyes snapped open. I wanted to scream, but there was a hand over my mouth, rough and powerful. Fear gripped me. I lashed out at my attacker. Then my senses returned and I realized it was just Harkat, muffling my screams so that I didn't disturb any of the sleepers in the neighboring caravans and tents.
I relaxed and tapped Harkat's hand to show that I was OK. He released me and stepped back, his large green eyes alive with concern. He handed me a mug of water. I drank deeply from it, then wiped a shaking hand across my lips and smiled weakly. "Did I wake you?"
"I wasn't asleep," Harkat said. The grey-skinned Little Person didn't need much sleep and often went two or three nights without dozing. He took the mug from me and set it down. "It was a bad one this ... time. You started screaming five or six ... minutes ago, and only stopped now. The same nightmare?"
"Isn't it always?" I muttered. "The wasteworld, the wave of fire, the dragon, the ... Steve," I finished quietly. I'd been haunted by the nightmare for almost two years, screaming myself awake at least a couple of times a week. In all those months I hadn't told Harkat about the Lord of the Shadows and that wretched face I always saw at the end of the nightmare. As far as Harkat knew, Steve was the only monster in my dreams — I didn't dare tell him that I was as scared of myself as I was of Steve Leopard.
I swung my legs out of my hammock and sat up. I could tell by the darkness that it was only three or four in the morning, but I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep anymore. The nightmare always left me shaken and wide awake.
Rubbing the back of my neck, I found myself studying Harkat out of the corner of my eye. Although he wasn't the source of my nightmares, I could trace their origins back to him. The Little Person had been built from the remains of a corpse. For most of his new life he hadn't known who he was. Two years ago, Mr. Tiny — a man of immense power, with the ability to travel through time — transported us to a barren wasteworld and sent us off on a quest to discover
Harkat's previous identity. We fought a variety of wild creatures and twisted monstrosities before finally fishing Harkat's original body out of the Lake of Souls, a holding place for damned spirits.
Harkat used to be a vampire called Kurda Smahlt. He'd betrayed the vampire clan in a bid to prevent war with our blood-cousins, the purple-skinned vampaneze. To make up for his sins, he'd agreed to become Harkat Mulds and travel back into the past to be my guardian.
I'm Darren Shan, a Vampire Prince. I'm also one of the hunters of the Lord of the Vampaneze — a.k.a. Steve Leopard. Steve was destined to lead the vampaneze to victory over the vampires. If he won, he'd wipe us out entirely. But a few of us — the hunters — had the ability to stop him before he came fully into his powers. If we found and killed him before he matured, the war would be ours. By helping me as Harkat, Kurda hoped to help the clan and prevent their destined destruction at the hands of the vampaneze. In that way he could put right some of the wrongs he'd committed.
Having learned the truth about Harkat, we returned to our own world — rather, our own time. Because what we worked out later was that the wasteworld wasn't an alternative universe or Earth in the past, as we'd first thought — it was Earth in the future. Mr. Tiny had given us a glimpse of what was to come if the Lord of the Shadows came to power.
Harkat thought the ruined world would only come to pass if the vampaneze won the War of the Scars. But I knew about a prediction that I hadn't shared with anybody else. When the hunt for Steve was finally concluded, there would be one of two possible futures. In one, Steve became the Lord of the Shadows and destroyed the world. In the other future, the Lord of the Shadows was me.
That's why I woke in a cold sweat, to the sound of my own screams, so often. It wasn't just fear of the future, but fear of myself. Would I somehow play a part in creating the barren, twisted world I'd seen in the future? Was I damned to become a monster like Steve, and wreck all that I held dear? It seemed impossible, but the uncertainties gnawed away at me all the same, prompted by the ever-repeating nightmares.
I spent the time before dawn chatting with Harkat, small talk, nothing serious. He'd suffered terrible nightmares before finding out the truth about himself, so he knew exactly what I was going through. He knew what to say to calm me down.
When the sun rose and the Cirque camp started to come to life around us, we made an early start on our day's chores. We'd been with the Cirque Du Freak since returning from our grueling quest in the waste-world. We knew nothing about what was happening in the War of the Scars. Harkat wanted to return to Vampire Mountain, or at least make contact with the clan — now that he knew he had once been a vampire, he was more concerned than ever for them. But I held off. I didn't feel the time was right. I had a hunch that we were meant to remain with the Cirque, and that destiny would decide our course as and when it saw fit. Harkat strongly disagreed with me — we'd had some very heated arguments about it — but he reluctantly followed my lead, though I'd sensed recently that his patience was coming to an end.
We performed a variety of jobs around the camp, helping out wherever we were needed — moving equipment, mending costumes, feeding the Wolf Man. We were handymen. Mr. Tall — the owner of the Cirque Du Freak — had offered to find more responsible, permanent positions for us, but we didn't know when we'd have to leave. It was easier to stick to simple tasks and not get too involved in the long-term running of the show. That way we wouldn't be missed too much when the time came to part company with the freakish folk.
We'd been performing on the outskirts of a large city, in an old, run-down factory. Sometimes we played in a big top that we transported around with us, but Mr. Tall always liked to take advantage of local venues whenever possible. This was our fourth and final show in the factory. We'd be moving on in the morning, to new pastures. None of us knew where we'd be going yet — Mr. Tall made those decisions and usually didn't tell us until we'd broken camp and were already on the move.
We put on a typically tight, exciting show that night, built around some of the longest-serving performers — Gertha Teeth, Rhamus Twobellies, Alexander Ribs, Truska the bearded lady, Hans Hands, Evra and Shancus Von. Usually the Vons rounded off the show, treating audiences to one final scare when their snakes slid from the shadows overhead. But Mr. Tall had been experimenting with different lineups recently.
Onstage, Jekkus Flang was juggling knives. Jekkus was one of the Cirque helpers, like Harkat and me, but tonight he'd been billed as a star attraction and was entertaining the crowd with a display of knife tricks. Jekkus was a good juggler, but his act was pretty dull compared to the others. After a few minutes, a man in the front row stood up as Jekkus balanced a long knife on the tip of his nose.
"This is rubbish!" the man shouted, climbing onto the stage. "This is meant to be a place of magic and wonder — not juggling tricks! I could see stuff like this at any circus."
Jekkus took the knife from his nose and snarled at the intruder. "Get off the stage, or I'll cut you up into tiny pieces!"
"You don't worry me," the man snorted, taking a couple of large paces over to Jekkus, so they were eyeball to eyeball. "You're wasting our time and money. I want a refund."
"Insolent scum!" Jekkus roared, then lashed out with his knife and cut off the man's left arm just below the elbow! The man screamed and grabbed for the falling limb. As he was reaching for his lost forearm, Jekkus struck again and cut off the man's other arm in the same place!
People in the audience erupted with panic and surged to their feet. The man with the jagged stumps beneath his elbows tottered towards the edge of the stage, desperately waving his half arms around, face white with apparent shock. But then he stopped — and laughed.
The people in the front rows heard the laughter and stared up at the stage suspiciously. The man laughed again. This time his laughter carried farther, and people all around relaxed and faced the stage. As they watched, tiny hands grew out of the stumps of the man's arms. The hands continued to grow, followed by wrists and forearms. A minute later, the man's arms had returned to their natural length. He flexed his fingers, grinned, and took a bow.
"Ladies and gentlemen!" Mr. Tall boomed, appearing suddenly on stage. "Put your hands together for the fabulous, the amazing, the incredible Cormac Limbs!"
Everybody realized they'd been the victims of a practical joke — the man who'd stepped out of the audience was a performer. They clapped and cheered as Cormac sliced off his fingers one by one, each of which grew back quickly. He could cut off any part of his body — though he'd never tried chopping of his head! Then the show finished for real and the crowd poured out, babbling with excitement, wildly discussing the mystical mysteries of the sensational Cirque Du Freak.
Inside, Harkat and I helped with the cleaning up. Everyone involved was vastly experienced, and we could normally clear everything away within half an hour, sometimes less. Mr. Tall stood in the shadows while we worked. That was odd — he normally retired to his van after a show — but we took little notice of it. You grew used to oddness when you worked with the Cirque Du Freak!
As I was stacking several chairs, to be removed to a truck by other hands, Mr. Tall stepped forward. "A moment, please, Darren," he said, removing the tall red hat he wore whenever he went onstage. He took a map out of the hat — the map was much larger than the hat, but I didn't question how he'd fit it inside — and unrolled it. He held one end of the map in his large left hand and nodded for me to take the other end.
"This is where we are now," Mr. Tall said, pointing to a spot on the map. I studied it curiously, wondering why he was showing me. "And this is where we will be going next," he said, pointing to a town a hundred miles away.
I looked at the name of the town. My breath caught in my throat. For a moment I felt dizzy and a cloud seemed to pass in front of my eyes. Then my expression cleared. "I see," I said softly.
"You don't have to come with us," Mr. Tall said. "You can take a different route and meet up with us later, if you wish."
I started to think about it, then made a snap gut decision instead. "That's OK," I said. "I'll come. I want to. It ... it'll be interesting."
"Very well," Mr. Tall said briskly, taking back the map and rolling it up again. "We depart in the morning."
With that, Mr. Tall slipped away. I felt he didn't approve of my decision, but I couldn't say why, and I didn't give much thought to it. Instead I stood by the stacked-up chairs, lost in the past, thinking about all the people I'd known as a child, especially my parents and younger sister.
Harkat limped over eventually and waved a grey hand in front of my face, snapping me out of my daze. "What's wrong?" he asked, sensing my disquiet.
"Nothing," I said, with a confused shrug. "At least, I don't think so. It might even be a good thing. I ..." Sighing, I stared at the ten little scars on my fingertips and muttered without looking up, "I'm going home."
Alexander ribs stood, rapped his rib cage with a spoon, and opened his mouth. A loud musical note sprang out and all conversation ceased. Facing the boy at the head of the table, Alexander sang, "He's green, he's lean, snot he's never seen, his name is Shancus — happy birthday!"
Everybody cheered. Thirty performers and helpers from the Cirque Du Freak were seated around a huge oval table, celebrating Shancus Von's eighth birthday. It was a chilly April day, and most people were wrapped up warmly. The table was overflowing with cakes, sweets, and drinks, and we were digging in happily.
When Alexander Ribs sat down, Truska — a woman who could grow her beard at will — stood and sung another birthday greeting. "The only things he fears is his mother's flying ears, his name is Shancus — happy birthday!"
Merla snapped one of her ears off when she heard that and flicked it at her son. He ducked and it flew high over his head, then circled back to Merla, who caught it and reattached it to the side of her head. Everyone laughed.
Since Shancus had been named in my honor, I guessed I'd better chip in with a verse of my own. Thinking quickly, I stood, cleared my throat, and chanted, "He's scaly and he's great, today he has turned eight, his name is Shancus — happy birthday!"
"Thanks, godfather." Shancus smirked. I wasn't really his godfather, but he liked to pretend I was — especially when it was his birthday and he was looking for a cool present!
A few others took turns singing birthday greetings to the snake-boy, then Evra stood and wrapped up the song with, "Despite the pranks you pull, your mom and I love you, pesky Shancus — happy birthday!"
There was lots of applause, then the women at the table shuffled over to hug and kiss Shancus. He pulled a mortified expression, but I could see he was delighted by the attention. His younger brother, Urcha, was jealous and sat a little way back from the table, sulking. Their sister, Lilia, was rooting through the piles of presents Shancus had received, seeing if there was anything of interest to a five-year-old girl.
Evra went to try and cheer up Urcha. Unlike Shancus, and Lilia, the middle Von child was an ordinary human and he felt he was the odd one out. Evra and Merla had a tough time making him feel special. I saw Evra slip a small present to Urcha, and heard him whisper, "Don't tell the others!" Urcha looked much happier after that. He joined Shancus at the table and tucked into a pile of small cakes.
I made my way over to where Evra was beaming at his family. "Eight years," I remarked, clapping Evra on his left shoulder (some of his scales had been sliced away from his right shoulder a long time ago, and he didn't like people touching him there). "I bet it feels like eight weeks."
"You don't know how right you are." Evra smiled. "Time flies when you have kids. You'll find out yourself one —" He stopped and grimaced. "Sorry. I forgot."
"Don't worry about it," I said. As a half-vampire, I was sterile. I could never have children. It was one of the drawbacks to being part of the clan.
"When are you going to show the snake to Shancus?" Evra asked.
"Later." I grinned. "I gave him a book earlier. He thinks that's his real present — he looked disgusted!
I'll let him enjoy the rest of the party, then hit him with the snake when he thinks the fun is over."
Shancus already owned a snake, but I'd bought a new one for him, larger and more colorful. Evra helped me choose it. His old snake would be passed on to Urcha, so both boys would have cause to celebrate tonight.
Merla called Evra back to the party — Lilia had got stuck in wrapping paper and needed to be rescued. I watched my friends for a minute or two, then turned my back on the festivities and walked away. I wandered through the maze of vans and tents of the Cirque Du Freak, coming to a halt near the Wolf Man's cage. The savage man-beast was snoring. I took a small jar of pickled onions out of my pocket and ate one, smiling sadly as I remembered where my taste for pickled onions had come from.
That memory led to others, and I found myself looking back over the years, recalling major events, remarkable triumphs, and sickening losses. The night of my blooding, when Mr. Crepsley pumped his vampiric blood into me. Slowly coming to terms with my appetite and powers. Sam Grest — the original pickled onion connoisseur. My first girlfriend, Debbie Hemlock. Learning about the vampaneze. The trek to Vampire Mountain. My Trials, where I'd had to prove myself worthy of being a child of the night. Failing and running away. The revelation that a Vampire General — Kurda Smahlt — was a traitor, in league with the vampaneze. Exposing Kurda. Becoming a Prince.
Excerpted from Cirque Du Freak #11: Lord of the Shadows by Darren Shan. Copyright © 2007 Darren Shan. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
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