Read an Excerpt
Palace of the Damned
By Darren Shan
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2011 Darren Shan
All right reserved.
“a palace of the dead”
A huffing Larten Crepsley mounted a treacherous, icy ridge and stared across a frozen sea of jagged peaks. He had visited most parts of the world in his decades as a vampire, but this was the harshest wilderness he’d ever experienced. A plateau of ice peppered with rocky outcrops. Whipping snow that could blind a man in minutes. Temperatures so low that each breath stung his throat and lungs. It was a hostile, alien, unforgiving landscape.
Larten threw back his head and howled with mad delight. He was loving this! There was no better place for a vampire to perish than in an area where no human would dare tread. This would make for a brutal, lonely death, and he deserved nothing better. A fitting end for a savage killer.
The baby he was carrying moaned softly and shivered beneath the covering of the vampire’s shirt. Larten was holding him clasped in one arm, sheltered from the wind and snow as much as possible. He felt a stab of guilt at the baby’s cry and paused to puff a breath of warm air down the neck of his shirt. The boy gurgled happily, then shivered again.
Larten wished he’d left the baby behind. Taking him was an act of madness. He had done it to save the child from a cannibal, but he saw now how crazy he’d been. The boy had stood a chance on the ship, but was doomed for sure out here in this chilling realm of death.
“At least you will find Paradise,” Larten whispered, rubbing the baby’s back to keep him warm. “And my soul will not be there to trouble you.”
Every vampire dreamed of going to Paradise when he died. It was the reward at the end of the road to which every night-walker aspired. But Larten was sure he would never know that eternal peace. He had lost his mind on the ship and slaughtered the crew and passengers, including the baby’s parents. True, they had hung an innocent girl–poor, loyal Malora–but they’d thought she was a monster. (“Like me,” Larten croaked.) Their punishment far outweighed their crime.
A cruel wind cut through Larten and he staggered down the other side of the ridge. He had lost track of time in this barren land of ice. It felt like he had been wandering for days, but he suspected it was more like twelve hours. A vampire could survive a long time in conditions like these, but a human baby? Larten guessed the boy was close to the limits of his fragile form.
He considered backtracking, to return the baby to the ship, but he’d lost his way many hours earlier. Everything looked the same once you got away from the coast. He wouldn’t be able to find the rowboat again. Even if he did, the ship would have sailed on, and Larten had no idea in which direction the towns lay.
Towns! It was hard to believe anyone could live here, but there were areas along the coast where life was supported. If Larten knew how to find them, he would have taken the baby to the nearest homestead and left him to the mercy of the people within. But the towns could be anywhere. It was impossible to judge.
“You will have to die with me,” he mumbled, teeth chattering, orange hair caked with frost, eyes slit against the wind and snow. “But we will find a good place to perish. I can do that much right at least.”
Larten’s only concern now was to find a cave that could serve as the baby’s tomb. Larten didn’t care if he himself died in the open, to be buried in snow or torn apart by scavengers. But he wanted something better for the boy, a sheltered, quiet place where his remains wouldn’t be disturbed.
The wind roared around them and the temperature dropped. Larten hadn’t thought it could get any colder, but he was wrong. Even his vampire blood seemed poised to turn to ice in his veins. His exposed flesh was numb. His lips were drawn back from his teeth in a grimace. The scar on the left side of his face was blue from the chill. Only his chest was marginally warm, where the baby nestled beneath his shirt.
Larten slipped and almost collapsed on top of the boy, but managed to twist and fall on his side. He gasped from the shock of the cold impact. Part of him wanted to lie there and let nature take its course. If he had been alone, he might have stopped. It would have been easier than rising and pushing on. But there was the baby to consider, so he prepared himself to get up.
As he struggled to his feet, he caught sight of something pounding towards him. It was massive, white like the snow, almost invisible. If not for its dark eyes he would have missed it until it was upon him. He had seen polar bears before, but even if he hadn’t, he would have known this beast instantly. In the wastelands of the north, what else could it be?
Larten tore his shirt open, dropped the startled baby and leaped forward. The bear was female, not as large as some he’d seen, but still taller than Larten when erect. She looked scraggly and starved. An elderly sow, well past her prime. She had been tracking Larten for an hour. A more cunning creature would have waited even longer, until her prey was too weak to defend himself. But when she saw the man slip, her mouth watered and she could hold back no longer.
Larten threw himself at the bear as she reared up on two legs and bellowed at him. He was in worse shape than the sow, but he had a child to protect and that gave him a slight, desperate edge. He didn’t care what happened to him, but he wasn’t going to let this ferocious carnivore feast on the hot, steaming innards of the baby.
As the bear wrapped her limbs around Larten, he dug for her eyes with his thumbs. All vampires had hard, sharp nails, but Larten’s were longer and more jagged than usual, since he hadn’t trimmed them while suffering with a fever on the ship. The nail on his left thumb found the bear’s eye and speared it at the first attempt.
The sow yowled and shook her head, snapping at Larten’s arm. She had endured much pain in her time, but nothing like this. She had already forgotten the promise of food. All she cared about now was killing the brute who had hurt her.
Larten couldn’t afford a drawn-out fight. He knew that even with one eye the bear would soon wear him down if he tried to spar with her. If he didn’t finish her swiftly, he would die, and the baby too.
Ignoring the threat of the gnashing fangs, Larten dug the nails of his right hand into the bear’s neck. The fur was thick and the skin was tough, but Larten pierced both coverings and his nails sank into hot flesh and drew blood.
As the sow howled and clawed at his back, Larten grabbed the fur on the other side of the beast’s neck and pulled so that the skin beneath was stretched tight. Opening his mouth wide, he latched on to her throat and bit hard. He worked his teeth savagely from side to side, biting and chewing, ignoring the pain as the bear’s claws cut deep into his back. Blood shot up his nose and he almost choked. But he snorted it out and jammed his chin in farther, sliding his lower teeth left and right like a saw.
The bear spewed blood and her grip slackened. But Larten didn’t relax—he wasn’t going to fall into the same trap that she had when she saw him topple. He continued to chew until the sow collapsed, convulsed a few times and fell still.
When it was over, Larten rolled aside, panting, warm for the first time since he’d stepped ashore. His eyes were bright and he was grinning horribly. He was going to die in this godsforsaken land, but at least he’d squeezed in one last, decent fight. It was a pity the bear hadn’t been younger and stronger—this would have been a good way to perish. Perhaps he could find another to finish the job.
The baby cried out weakly, reminding Larten that he wasn’t alone and hadn’t just his own fate to consider. He could track down a fiercer bear later. First he had to deal with the baby and find a final resting place for the boy, somewhere safe from the creatures that would otherwise pick his bones clean.
Larten crawled across and picked up the trembling child. As he settled the baby back inside his shirt, he paused and glanced at the dead polar bear. He was keen to press on, but there was no telling how long it might take to find a cave. If he fell before he laid the boy to rest, he’d fail in his quest to secure the baby a tomb. It was a pointless quest but Larten had fixed on the idea. He had done much wrong in his life, but he didn’t want to add to the list at this late stage. Finding a cave where he could lay the child’s remains wouldn’t change anything in the grand scheme of things, but it mattered to Larten. In that land of the lost, it was all that he cared about.
Larten scratched at his injured back–the wounds were deep, but not life-threatening–while considering his course. He could dig through the fur and flesh of the bear’s stomach with his nails. There would be hot juices inside. Digested food that he could mash up and feed to the baby. It would make for a foul meal, but the boy wouldn’t complain once his stomach was full. And Larten could fashion wraps out of the fur, one for the child and another for himself. Protected and fed, they could maybe march for another day or two. Surely that would give him all the time he needed to find a cave for his young, doomed charge.
Grimacing against the pain in his back, Larten wiped blood from his lips and knelt by the bear. He said a quick prayer over its carcass, then made a blade of his fingers and set to work, staying hunched against the snow that never stopped blowing while he sliced open the dead bear’s stomach and trawled through a maze of steaming, gooey guts.
A storm was raging. It had whipped up without warning and had been blowing for hours. Larten struggled through it, his face buried in the rough cloak he’d made from the fur of the polar bear. The baby was covered entirely and was gurgling happily in the dark, sticky warmth.
Larten had slipped many times and almost fallen through cracks in the ice. This was deadly land if you couldn’t see clearly. Very easy to wander off the edge of a ridge or drop into an icy abyss. It would have been best to sit, covered by the fur, and wait out the storm.
But the baby would soon be hungry again. Larten had brought some strips of meat, which he could chew up and feed to the child like a bird feeding a chick. But he didn’t know if the boy would be able to stomach such an offering. He hadn’t reacted favorably to yesterday’s foul feast and had vomited up most of it. Larten was resigned to the fact that the baby would die, but he hated the thought of the infant starving to death in his arms. So he pushed on, preferring the idea of the baby falling into a chasm with him to perishing of hunger.
Larten pictured faces of the dead as he stumbled forward. Vur Horston, Traz, Wester’s family, Zula Pone and of course the faces of the people on the ship, the doomed crew and passengers, fresh in his memory and with more cause than the others to haunt his thoughts.
But mostly he found himself focusing on the face of poor Malora, filling with guilt and regret when he recalled how she had died protecting him and how he had failed her in her hour of need. He would never forgive himself for not being there when she had needed him most.
Seba had said, many years ago before blooding him, that a vampire had to prepare himself for a lifetime of death. When you lived as long as they did, most of the people you knew would die before you. Larten had accepted that. He wasn’t afraid of death or the grief he must endure when losing a loved one. That was the way of the clan and he faced the hardships without complaint.
But in that icy wilderness, his mind still askew from the madness that had consumed him on the ship, Larten cursed his long years and the choices he’d made. He felt that the dead were jealous of him, that they hated him for being alive. He cringed as he imagined their voices on the wind, their hands snaking around his ankles, an army of ghosts rising up to drag him down and torment him.
Something shimmered far off to his right. Larten thought his mind was playing tricks but then it came again, a flash of yellow and green. He stopped and squinted. The snow was thick as ever and it was almost impossible to see anything farther than a couple of feet away. But Larten held his position and kept his eyes open. Moments later the flicker of colors came again, but farther off this time.
Larten didn’t know what it might be. An animal? He couldn’t think of any green or yellow animals in this part of the world. A human? Perhaps he was close to a town, or maybe this was a hunter in search of game.
“Hey!” Larten called, shouting through a cupped hand to amplify his voice.
But if it was a person, they either didn’t hear him or ignored him.
Larten changed direction. It was probably nothing, a leaf or a scrap of cloth, but hope drove him on. If it was a person, he could hand over the baby. Maybe the boy didn’t have to die with the vampire. Instead of a cave, he might wind up in a cottage with a fire burning brightly in one corner and a pail of warm milk to drink from.
There was only ice in the place where Larten had glimpsed movement. He stood, peering into the snow-riddled darkness, trying not to breathe. For a long time he saw nothing. But then, as the wind briefly died down, he caught sight of it again, a long way off, something green and yellow. He started to cry out, but lost sight of the object once more as the storm revived.
Larten trailed the phantom for the rest of the night. The longer he chased it, the more convinced he became that it wasn’t real. He thought a ghost was leading him to his doom, toying with him cruelly. Or the snow had impaired his vision and the occasional flashes of green and yellow were nothing more than a flare at the back of his eyes. If he’d been alone, he would have abandoned the colors and their mocking promise of hope. But as long as the baby breathed, Larten owed him. If there was even the slimmest of chances that this might prove the saving of the boy, Larten had to seize it.
So he pushed on, through snow, over ice, defying the bitter wind. Cold was setting in again, despite his covering of fur. He could feel himself drawing close to the end. Even vampires had their limits. As plagued as he’d been with sickness recently, it was a miracle he had made it this far. He tried chewing a piece of meat to renew his strength, but it only made him feel sick.
He had bottles of blood, taken from the few sailors he’d spared on the ship, but he was reluctant to drink. Human blood was nectar to a vampire. He could go a long way on a small amount. If he drank now, he’d find the strength to continue, but that would carry him farther than he cared. He didn’t want another week of life. So he left the bottles buried deep beneath his shirt and stumbled on.
Shortly after dawn, as he readjusted the fur to protect his face from the weak sunlight, the green and yellow flashes vanished. He had lost track of them many times before, only to catch another flicker out of the corner of his eye a few minutes later, so he waited calmly. But eventually he realized the colors–if they’d existed in the first place–had disappeared for good. He and the baby were alone, stranded and more lost than ever.
Larten sneered at the wind and snow. He should have known better. He had let himself be distracted when all that mattered was finding a cave. There was no hope for the baby in this damned land. All he’d done was waste time and make it more likely that the child would have to rot in the open with him.
“The same old Larten,” he muttered. “Always indecisive. But no more.”
He straightened and let the rough cloak of bloodstained fur drop to the snowy ground. Enough was enough. He was going to do what he should have done as soon as he got ashore—dig a hole and bury the baby alive. Not a pleasant way for the boy to die, but at least his suffering would be short. It would be hard digging through ice and frozen earth, but his vampire nails were a match for the job. Once the grim deed was done, he could go in search of his own death.
Larten stopped halfway into a crouch. The wind had dropped for a second and he’d spotted an opening in a rocky ridge to his left. It looked like the mouth of a cave.
For a long moment Larten stared slack-jawed at the ridge. Was this real? If so, perhaps the colors had been too. Maybe the yellow and green flashes had been shades of the baby’s parents, leading Larten to this place, so that their son could be laid to rest in a proper tomb. It was unlikely, but Larten had seen and heard of stranger things.
Sighing, he picked up the fur, covered himself and the boy again, and set off towards the hole in the rock. One way or another he was determined to part ways with the baby at the ridge. Death had been cheated long enough. It was time to pay the grim reaper his due.
It wasn’t a cave. It was a palace of the dead.
Larten couldn’t believe it at first. The opening in the rock was larger than it had looked from afar, but he’d assumed it was no more than an ordinary cave. He entered happily, glad to be out of the bite of the wind, thinking maybe this would be a good place for him to die too. He stood within the entrance awhile, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness.
And then he realized it wasn’t that dark. The world behind him was sparkling beneath the rays of the day’s young sun, but the cave ahead was illuminated too. There was a source of light at the other end. Frowning, Larten made sure one of his knives was within easy reach–he felt nervous for some reason–then inched forward, whispering to the baby to keep him quiet.
When the tunnel opened out into a great cavern, Larten forgot about his knife, the baby, and everything else, and just stared around in silent, dumbstruck wonder.
Like many of the halls of Vampire Mountain, this monumental cave had started out as a natural feature, but had been worked on by other hands since nature last applied her touch. Rocks had been removed from the ceiling and panels of crystal inserted in their place. That was why the cave was bright—the light of the sun reflected through the crystals.
Symbols and pictures had been carved into the walls, along with words, row after row of text, encircling the cavern. Larten had never learned to read, so he wasn’t sure what language it was, but from the different styles he assumed more than one person had worked on the carvings.
There were dozens of ice sculptures dotted around the cavern and hanging by ropes from the ceiling. Some of the sculptures were of objects—a chandelier that looked like it was decorated with candles, a drinking fountain, a four-poster bed, several chairs and thrones. Others were of men, or to be more precise, vampires. Even if there hadn’t been the marks on their fingertips and the scars of warfare on their faces and limbs, Larten would have known. One vampire always recognized another, even if that other was only an icen statue.
The grandest sculpture stood at the center of the cavern. It was a perfect replica of Vampire Mountain, carved out of ice, twenty feet tall. Larten felt a pang of homesickness, which surprised him—after all, he hadn’t been forced out of the mountain, but had left of his own accord.
At the foot of the giant sculpture sat a long coffin made of ice. Others were spread around the hall, an almost perfect circle of them, only disturbed in two places by a chasm that Larten would soon explore. But first the main coffin. He didn’t want to die before his curiosity had been sated.
The coffin was beautifully decorated with carvings of wolves, bats and bears. Weapons were buried within the ice, a sword, several knives and an ax. They surrounded the body of a naked vampire, one of the finest warriors the clan had ever produced. As Larten drew abreast of the corpse, he peered through the lid of ice at the face of the vampire inside, preserved as if he’d died only a few nights ago. He noted the missing hand and half a missing jaw, but he didn’t need those features to identify the dead General. He’d known as soon as he set foot inside the cavern. Part of him had known when he saw the opening in the ridge from afar.
“Perta Vin-Grahl,” Larten sighed, and knelt before the final resting place of the vampire who had passed into the realms of myth hundreds of years before.
When the vampaneze broke away from the clan, Perta Vin-Grahl fought harder than anyone to eliminate the traitors. He hated the breakaway group, but loved the vampire clan even more. When the Princes agreed to a truce, Perta couldn’t accept their decision. In order not to clash with his leaders and create more problems, he led a group of similarly inclined vampires away into the frozen wilds to perish out of sight and mind.
One of Perta’s group returned years later with tales of a tomb like a palace and coffins made of ice. For centuries nobody knew if the stories were true. Many had searched for Perta Vin-Grahl’s final resting place, but none had found it. Until now.
Larten studied the face of the dead General and smiled weakly. It was ironic that such a noble vampire should have been discovered by a disgraceful failure. Destiny had a wicked sense of humor. Seba or Vancha should have had this honor, even Wester. Not pitiful Larten Crepsley.
For a moment Larten considered taking the news back to the clan. Nobody knew what had happened on the ship. If he withheld that information, and only spoke of his incredible find, he would be embraced by the Princes, saluted by the Generals, respected by all. The future would be his.
But Larten hadn’t been reared to lie. Seba had taught him, above all else, to be honest. If he returned with his tale, he must tell all. He couldn’t accept a life of half-truths. And since he didn’t wish to admit his shame to his old master, he decided it would be for the best if he stayed true to his original course.
“My apologies if I disturbed your slumber, General,” Larten murmured, then dug out the baby from beneath his makeshift cloak and set him on top of the coffin. The boy gasped from the cold, then laughed and wriggled his legs. Larten smiled and gently touched the baby’s cheek. He’d meant to bury the child, but he no longer thought that was essential. This was a place of death, but there was also some form of strange magic in the air. Perhaps the ghosts of the frozen Generals guarded it, or maybe it was some other force, but Larten was certain the baby’s corpse wouldn’t be disturbed here, even out in the open, atop the coffin of ice.
“Even in death may you be triumphant, young one,” he said softly, then left the boy to freeze. It wouldn’t take long, and he couldn’t think of a better place for the innocent baby to lie than over the preserved remains of the legendary Perta Vin-Grahl.
Leaving the cloak of fur on the floor by the coffin, Larten strode to the edge of the chasm running through the cave. The crack in the ice started at one side and ran all the way across to the other. It was five feet wide at its narrowest, fifteen at its widest. It was a relatively recent fissure—a couple of coffins at opposite sides had fallen into it, and others nearby had been disturbed.
Larten gazed down into the abyss. He couldn’t see the bottom. The crack seemed to stretch all the way to the center of the earth. He picked up a stone and dropped it, but there was no sound of it landing.
“So it ends,” Larten whispered, wondering how long he would fall, if there was ice at the bottom or fiery magma. Maybe this was a supernatural rip and ghosts would attack him and keep him alive, suspend and torment him. In this mysterious, eerie cave he could believe just about anything.
Larten was eager to leap, but first he made himself remember his master, Seba Nile, and praised his name. He thought about Wester too, the vampire who had been like his brother. The Princes, Vancha, Malora, Evanna. He considered them one by one and said a few words for each, apologizing to those who might be hurt by his suicide. No vampire could be proud of taking his own life, but if you had to, there was a right way and a wrong way to go about it. This would be Larten’s final act and he didn’t want to pass poorly from this world.
When he had said his farewells, Larten stared once again into the abyss and smiled. He was glad it was over. Sorry that things had come to this, but at least he need suffer no more. If he was reborn and given a second chance, as some believed, he would try to do better next time around. In this life he had struggled from the start and it was maybe for the best that he was done with it.
Larten wanted to roar the death cry of the clan–“Even in death may I be triumphant!”–but there could be no triumph for him in suicide. Keeping his lips tight, he leaned forward and let himself fall.
As he toppled over the edge, his eyes widened. Imminent death has a way of focusing the senses, and in that moment Larten knew he was a fool. Yes, he had strayed, hit rock bottom, shamed himself and disappointed those who had tried to help him over the years. But life had been given to him by a higher force and he had no right to surrender his grip on it so cheaply. He should have fought on and done all that he could to redeem himself. This was selfish and wasteful. Cowardly. Nobody should voluntarily give up on life. If it was your time to die, death would calmly claim you. Otherwise it was your duty to press on and live.
Larten cried out with dismay and flapped his arms wildly to regain his balance. But it was too late. His weight had carried him clear of the ledge and he was falling. There could be no going back. Gravity had hold and all that lay ahead of him now was the fall, the crash and…
A hand grabbed the back of his shirt and Larten came to a stunned halt. Then, as his life hung in the balance and he blinked with confusion and dread, someone chuckled and said, “Well, well, what have we here?”
Larten tried to turn around to see who had hold of him. As he did, his shirt ripped and he lurched forward again.
“Careful,” the stranger tutted, grabbing another handful of shirt. “These stitches were not meant to take such a strain. If you don’t keep very still, they’ll snap and that will be the end of you.”
Larten gulped and stared at the drop beneath him. He had never felt so desperate to live. Or so helpless. “Who are you?” he gasped.
“The eye of the storm,” the man answered cryptically. “The heart of the sun. The shadow in your soul.” He paused solemnly, then teasingly added, “But you can call me Desmond.”
Larten had thought he could never feel any colder than when he’d been trudging through the purgatorial snow, but when he realized who had hold of him, a chill spread from the pit of his stomach that was even icier than the coffin of Perta Vin-Grahl. “Mr. Tiny!” Larten cried.
There was an approving grunt. “My reputation has preceded me. That is how it should be. Now tell me, Master Crepsley, do you want to live or shall I let you fall?”
Larten’s throat tightened. Mr. Tiny waited a few seconds, then shook him playfully. “It’s all the same to me, dear boy. This doesn’t have to be a reprieve. I can release you if you wish. Just say the word and…”
Larten felt the small man’s fingers loosening. “No!” he screamed.
“I didn’t think so,” Mr. Tiny laughed and suddenly Larten was flying through the air. But not the air of the chasm—Mr. Tiny had thrown him across the room and he landed in an untidy heap near the base of Perta Vin-Grahl’s coffin, on top of which the baby was still wriggling and gurgling.
Larten sat up, panting heavily, and watched the infamous meddler come towards him with a curious waddle. The tiny man had white hair, rosy cheeks and a thick pair of spectacles. He was dressed in a bright yellow suit and a green pair of boots. Larten recalled the flashes of color that he had followed to this cave. “You led me here,” he muttered.
“Do you think so?” Mr. Tiny smiled.
“I saw green and yellow when I was in the snow.”
Mr. Tiny seemed to consider that. “It might have been me,” he conceded. “Or it might have been coincidence.” He beamed and there was nothing remotely warm in his smile. “Or it could have been destiny.”
Mr. Tiny stopped close to Larten and gazed around the cavern. There was a large, heart-shaped watch pinned to his breast pocket. Larten had heard many vampires comment on that watch and wonder at its true purpose. Mr. Tiny was older than any of the clan. According to the legends, he had been on this planet before the rise of vampire or man, maybe before life itself began. Nobody knew how powerful he was, or what his exact designs might be, but his love of chaos and suffering had been well documented over the millennia.
“I made a nice job of it, didn’t I?” Mr. Tiny said, nodding at the roof. “You’d never believe how difficult it was to fit those crystals.”
Larten frowned. “You created this?”
“Just the roof,” Mr. Tiny said modestly. “Perta and his cronies did the rest. I added the crystals to cast more of a shine on things. You don’t have to worry,” he added. “The crystals filter the rays of the sun. This light can’t do you any harm.”
Larten hadn’t been thinking about the beams, but now that his attention was drawn to it, he realized he felt none of the pain that he did in normal sunlight.
“I like this place,” Mr. Tiny said. “It’s atmospheric. I often come here when I’m in a reflective mood and want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Even the mightiest of us need our time-outs, as humans will refer to it in another few decades or so.”
Larten failed to pick up on Mr. Tiny’s reference to the future. He was more concerned with why the diminutive man of magic had led him here… why his life had been spared… and what Desmond Tiny was planning for him next.
“Why did you save me?” Larten asked.
Mr. Tiny sniffed. “You didn’t want to die. Most mortals don’t, even if they find themselves in as desolate and soul-destroying a spot as you. Almost all of those who take their own lives wish at the last moment that they hadn’t. They see at the end how much they’ve given up, how precious life is, even when it’s treated them like dirt and crushed their dreams. Many think they’ve passed beyond hope, but they never really have, not until they pass beyond life itself. Alas, that knowledge comes too late for most would-be suicides and they die with regret. Very few are offered the chance that you have been handed.”
“And I appreciate it greatly,” Larten said truthfully. “But why save me? Out of all who teeter on the edge, why pull me back?”
Mr. Tiny shrugged. “It was your destiny.”
Larten shook his head. “My destiny was to fall. You changed it.”
“Did I?” Mr. Tiny’s eyes sparkled. “Maybe it was my destiny to save you. In that case this was your true destiny, not death.” Mr. Tiny laughed at Larten’s confused expression. “Fate might seem like a complex puzzle, but it’s simple at its core. Near misses and might-have-beens are nothing more than shadows of destiny. Each man has only one true path in life. You thought that yours ended here. You were wrong.”
Mr. Tiny approached the baby and tickled his stomach. As the boy giggled, Mr. Tiny asked, “Does he have a name?”
“No,” Larten said.
“Every mortal should have a name,” Mr. Tiny murmured. “It separates you from the beasts of the wild. How about we call him… Gavner Purl?”
Larten blinked dumbly. “As good a name as any, I suppose.”
“Then Gavner Purl it is.” Mr. Tiny smiled and licked his lips. “Now that we’ve named him, how about we carve him up and share him between us? Little Gavner looks tasty.”
“Leave him alone,” Larten snapped, standing quickly and snatching the boy from the drooling man in the yellow suit.
“Be careful,” Mr. Tiny said coldly. “I don’t take kindly to orders. If I want the child, I’ll take him.” He smiled again. “But I don’t. You can have the mewling, bony thing. I already ate today.” Mr. Tiny nodded politely at Larten and turned towards the exit.
“Wait!” Larten called him back. “You cannot simply walk out on us. You never answered my question about why you saved me.”
Mr. Tiny shrugged. “And I have no intention of doing so. I helped you because it was my wish. That’s all you need to know.”
“And now you are just going to leave me?” Larten asked.
Excerpted from Palace of the Damned by Darren Shan Copyright © 2011 by Darren Shan. Excerpted by permission.
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