Title: Tunnels of Blood.
Author: Darren Shan.
Genre: Fiction, fantasy, horror, YA, vampire fiction.
Publication Date: 2000.
Summary: When corpses are discovered—drained of blood—Darren Shan, the vampire's assistant, and Evra the snake-boy are compelled to leave the carnival for the big city and hunt down the foul creature that is committing such acts. Beneath the streets, evil stalks. But could the culprit be one of their own? And can they escape, or are they doomed to perish in the tunnels of blood?
My rating: 8/10.
♥ Studying the cross, I smiled. To think I used to believe vampires were terrified of crosses! Most of that stuff in old movies and books is crap. Crosses, holy water, garlic: none of those matter to vampires. We can cross running water. We don't have to be invited into a house before entering. We cast shadows and reflections (though a full vampire can't be photographed—something to do with bouncing atoms). We can't change shape or fly.
A stake through the heart will kill a vampire. But so well a well-placed bullet, or fire, or a heavy falling object. We're harder to kill than humans, but we aren't immortal. Far from it.
♥ Anyway, I had no sympathy for cats. The blood of cats is poisonous to vampires. Drinking from one wouldn't have killed me, but it would have made me sick. And cats are hunters, too. The way I saw it, the less cats there were, the more rats there'd be.
♥ He chuckled. He stretched out a hand and clicked his fingers, causing me to blink. Next think I knew, the cross was in his hand.
"How's it done?" I asked. "Can only full vampires do it?"
"I will demonstrate again. Watch closely this time."
Replacing the cross on the piece of wood, he stood back and clicked his fingers. Once again it disappeared and turned up in his hand. "Did you see?"
"See what?" I was confused.
"One final time," he said. "Try not to blink."
I focused on the small silver piece. I heard his fingers clicking and—keeping my eyes wide open—thought I saw the slightest blur darting between me and the cross.
When I turned to look at him, he was tossing the cross from hand to hand and smiling. "Figured me out yet?" he asked.
I frowned. "I thought I saw... it looked like..." My face lit up. "You didn't move the cross!" I yelled excitedly. "You moved!"
He beamed. "Not as dull as you appear," he complimented me in his usual sarcastic manner.
♥ "What about locks?" I asked.
"Those are different. You understand what static energy is?" My face was a blank. "Have you ever brushed a comb through your hair and held it up to a think sheet of paper?"
"Yeah!" I said. "The paper sticks to it."
"That is static energy," he explained. "When a vampire flits, a very strong static charge builds up. I have learned to harness that charge. Thus I am able to force open any lock you care to mention."
I thought about that. "And the click of your fingers?" I asked.
"Old habit die hard." He smiled.
♥ "Imagine if they knew the truth—that you're a couple of vampires and I'm a snake-boy!"
"I don't think it would matter," I said. "Mr. Crepsley tips well, and that's the important thing. 'Money buys privacy,' as I heard one of the manages say when a maid was complaining about a guy who'd been walking around naked in the corridors."
"I saw him!" Evra exclaimed. "I thought he locked himself out of his room."
"Nope," I smiled. "Apparently he's been walking around like that for four or five days. According to the manager, he comes every year for a couple of weeks and spends the entire time roaming around naked as a baby."
"They let him?" Evra asked in awe.
"'Money buys privacy,'" I repeated.
"And I thought the Cirque Du Freak was a strange place to live," Evra muttered wryly. "Humans are even weirder than us!"
♥ Evra couldn't understand what the fuss was about.
"What's the point of it?" he kept asking. "People spend a bunch of money buying each other presents they don't really need; they drive themselves half-crazy getting a big dinner ready; trees and turkey are bred and slaughtered in huge numbers. It's ridiculous!"
I tried telling him that it was a day of peace and goodwill, when families come together and rejoice, but he wouldn't listen. As far as he was concerned, it was a crazy money-making racket.
♥ ..we walked around for a while, watching the lights come on above the streets and in the windows.
"I love this time of evening," Debbie said. "It's like one city goes to sleep and a new one wakes up."
"A city of nightwalkers," I said, thinking of Mr. Crepsley.
♥ "Can I come over tomorrow?" I asked, struggling to find the left arm of the coat.
"Sure, if you want to," she said.
"Look, Debbie," I said, "I'm sorry I didn't kiss you. I'm just—"
"Scared?" she asked, smiling.
"Yeah," I admitted.
She laughed. "Okay," she said. "You can come over tomorrow. I want you to. Only, next time be a little braver, okay?" And she closed the door behind me.
♥ I never made the killer cut. Because, as my arm flew back, it connected with somebody. Somebody floating downward. Somebody who'd jumped from above. Somebody who screeched as my arm struck him, and rolled away from me as fast as he could.
Forgetting the vampire for a moment, I looked over my shoulder at the rolling figure. I could tell it was a man, but that was all I could tell until he stopped moving and got to his feet.
When he stood and looked at me, I found myself wishing he'd kept on rolling right out of the room.
He was a fearsome sight. A tall man. Broad and bloated. Dressed in white from head to ankle, an immaculate white suit, spoiled only by smudges of dirt and blood he'd picked up while rolling.
In total contrast to his white suit were his skin, hair, eyes, lips, and nails. The skin was a blotchy purple color. The rest were a dark, vibrant red, as though they'd been soaked in blood.
I didn't know who or what this creature was, but I could tell immediately that he was an agent of evil. It was written all over him, the way he stood, the way he sneered, the way madness danced in his unnatural red eyes, the way his ruby-red lips pulled back over his sharp, snarling teeth.
♥ "You thought I was a murderer?" Mr. Crepsley roared. I nodded glumly. "You are even dumber than I thought! Do you have so little faith in me that you—"
"What else was I supposed to think?" I cried. "You never tell me anything. You disappeared into the city every night, not saying a thing about where you were going or what you were doing. What was I supposed to think when I heard six people had been found drained of their blood?"
Mr. Crepsley looked startled, then thoughtful. Finally he nodded wearily. "You are right." He sighed. "One must show trust in order to be trusted. I wished to spare you the gory details. I should not have. This is my fault."
♥ "The vampaneze are..." he searched for words. "In olden nights, humans were looked down upon by many vampires, who fed on them as people feed on animals. It was not unusual for vampires to drink dry a couple of people a week. Over time, we decided this was not acceptable, so laws were established which forbade needless killing.
"Most vampires were content to obey the laws—it is easier for us to pass unnoticed amongst humans if we do not kill them—but some felt our cause had been betrayed. Certain vampires believed humans were put on this planet for us to feed upon."
"That's crazy!" I shouted. "Vampires start off as humans. What sort of—"
"Please," Mr. Crepsley interrupted. "I am only trying to explain how these vampires thought. I am not condoning their actions.
"Seven hundred years ago, events came to a head. Seventy vampires broke away from the rest and declared themselves a separate race. They called themselves the vampaneze and established their own rules and governing bodies.
"Basically, the vampaneze believe it is wrong to feed from a human without killing. They believe there is nobility in draining a person and absorbing their spirit—as you absorbed part of Sam Grest's when you drank from him—and that there is shame in taking small amounts, feeding like a leech."
"So they always kill the people they drink from?" I asked. Mr. Crepsley nodded. "That's terrible!"
"I agree," the vampire said. "So did most of the vampires when the vampaneze broke away. There was a huge war. Many vampaneze were killed. Many vampires were, too, but we were winning. We would have hunted them out of existence, except..." He smiled bitterly. "The humans we were trying to protect got in the way."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Many humans knew about vampires. But, as long as we did not kill them, they let us be—they were afraid of us. But when the vampaneze started slaughtering people, the humans panicked and fought back. Unfortunately they could not tell the difference between vampires and vampaneze, so both were tracked down and killed.
"We could have handled the vampaneze," Mr. Crepsley said, "but not the humans. They were on the verge of wiping us out. In the end, our Princes met with the vampaneze and a truce was agreed to. We would leave them alone if they stopped murdering so freely. They would only kill when they needed to feed and would do all they could to keep their murders secret from humanity.
"The truce worked. When the humans realized they were safe, they stopped hunting us. The vampaneze traveled far away to avoid us—part of the agreement—and we have had virtually noting to do with them for the last several centuries, apart from occasional clashes and challenges."
"Chellenges?" I asked.
"Vampires and vampaneze live roughly," Mr. Crepsley said. "We are forever testing ourselves in fights and competitions. Humans and animals are interesting opponents, but if a vampire really wants to test himself, he fights a vampaneze. It is common for vampires and vampaneze to seek each other out and fight to the death."
"That's stupid," I said.
Mr. Crepsley shrugged. "It is our way. Time has changed the vampaneze," he went on. "You noticed the red hair and nails and eyes?"
"And lips," I added. "And he had purple skin."
"These changes have come about because they drink more blood than vampires. Most vampaneze are not as colorful as Murlough—he has been drinking dangerously large amounts of blood—but they all have similar markings. Except for young vampaneze—it takes a couple of decades for the colors to set in."
I thought over what I'd been told. "So the vampaneze are evil? They're why vampires have such a bad reputation?"
Mr. Crepsley rubbed his scar thoughtfully. "To say they are evil is not entirely true. To humans, they are, but to vampires they are more misdirected cousins than out-and-out ghouls."
"What?" I couldn't believe he was defending them.
"It depends on how one looks at it," he said. "You have learned to take no notice of drinking from humans, yes?"
"Yes," I said, "but—"
"Do you remember how ahainsy it you were in the beginning?"
"Yes," I said again, "but—"
"To many humans, you are evil," he said. "A young half-vampire who drinks human blood... how long do you think it would be before somebody tried to kill you if your true identity were known?"
I chewed my lower lip and thought about his words.
"Do not get me wrong," Mr. Crepsley said. "I do not approve of the vampaneze and their ways. But nor do I think they are evil."
"You're saying it's okay to kill humans?" I asked warily.
"No," he disagreed. "I am saying I can see their point. Vampaneze kill because of their beliefs, not because they enjoy it. A human soldier who kills in war is not evil, is he?"
"This isn't the same thing," I said.
"But it falls along similarly murky lines. To humans, vampaneze are evil, plain and simple. But for vampires—and you belong to the vampire clan now—it is not so easy to judge. They are kin.
"Also," he added, "the vampaneze have their noble points. They are loyal and brave. And they never break their word—when a vampaneze makes a promise, he sticks by it. If a vampaneze lies and his kinsmen find out, they will execute him, no questions asked. They have their faults, and I have no personal liking for them, but evil?" He sighed. "That is hard to say."
♥ "..You know the myth about vampires not being able to enter a house unless they are invited inside?"
"Sure," I said. "I never believed it."
"Nor should you. But, like most myths, it has its roots in fact. The vampaneze almost never kill humans at home. They catch their prey outside, kill and feed, then hide the bodies, or disguise the wounds to make the death look accidental. Mad vampaneze normally forget these fundamental rules, but Murlough has remembered. That is how I knew he would not attack the man at home."
"How did you know he was going to attack him at all?" I asked.
"The vampaneze are traditionalists," Mr. Crepsley explained. "They select their victims in advance. They sneak into their houses while the humans are sleeping and mark them—three small scratches on the left cheek. Did you notice such marks on the fat man?"
I shook my head. "I wasn't looking."
"They are there," Mr. Crepsley assured me. "They are small—he probably thought he scratched himself while sleeping—but unmistakable once one knows what to look for: always in the same spot and always the same length."
♥ "We shall continue. It is better to search than sit back and wait. At least this way we are exerting some sort of control over our destiny."
♥ "Turning into a person's mental signals requires radarlike emissions on both sides." He held up his two index fingers about a foot apart. "Say this is me." He wiggled his right finger. "This is Mr. Tall." He wiggled the left. "Many years ago, we learned to recognize each other's mental waves. Now, if I want to find Mr. Tall, I emit a radar-like series of waves." He bent his right finger up and down. "When these signals connect with Hibernius, part of his mind automatically signals back, even if his conscious mind remains unaware of it."
"You mean you could find him even if he didn't want to be found?"
Mr. Crepsley nodded. "That is why most people refuse to share their wave identity. You should only reveal it to one you truly trust."
♥ "Leave my beautiful tunnels? Never! I love it here. You know what being down here makes me feel like? As if I'm inside the body of the city. These tunnels are like veins. This cavern is the heart, where the blood of the city flows in and out." He smiled, and for once it wasn't an evil expression. "Can you imagine?" he said softly. "Living in a body, roaming the veins—the tunnels of blood—freely, as you please."
♥ From the movies I'd seen, I was expecting a long, exciting fight. I thought the two would trade insults first, then Mr. Crepsley would draw a knife or a sword and they'd lunge at and evade one another, battling their way around the room, nicking each other in the early stages, gradually working up to the more serious wounds.
But it wasn't like that. This was a fight between superfast predators of the night who were only interested in killing, not impressing action-hungry audiences. There were just four moves in the conflict, and it was over in the space of two blurred and furious seconds.
Mr. Crepsley made the first move. His right hand zipped out and sent a short knife flying through the air. It struck Murlough in the upper left of his chest, a few inches than its target—his heart. The vampaneze recoiled and drew in air to scream.
While Murlough's mouth was opening, Mr. Crepsley sprang forward. One huge leap was all it took, then he was at the side of the bed, in position to go hand-to-hand with the vampaneze.
That was the second move of the fight.
The third move was Murlough's—his only one. In a panic, he lashed out at Mr. Crepsley with his left-handed knife. The blade glittered through the air at a frightening speed and would have been the end of the vampire had it been on target. But it wasn't. It soared a good three inches above the vampire's head.
As Murlough's left arm followed through on the swing, it left a gap that Mr. Crepsley exploited. Using only his bare right hand, he delivered the killer blow. Keeping the hand flat, rough nails jutting out life fave sharp blades, he drove it into Murlough's stomach.
And when I say into, I mean into!
Murlough gasped and went deathly still. The knife dropped from his hand and he gazed down. Mr. Crepsley's hand had disappeared into the flesh of the vampaneze's belly, all the way up to his forearm.
He left the hand there a second, then yanked back sharply, bringing guts and a torrent of dark blood with it.
Murlough groaned and collapsed to his knees, almost squashing the goat in the process, then toppled to the floor, where he rolled over onto his back and tried closing the hole in his stomach with spit he'd quickly licked onto the palms of his hands.
But the hole was too wide. The vampaneze's healing spit was useless. There was noting he could do to seal the flesh or stop his precious blood from pumping out. He was finished.
Mr. Crepsley stepped back from the dying vampaneze, picked up one of the bedsheets, and wiped his hand on it. His face was expressionless. He appeared neither pleased nor saddened by what he had done.
♥ Was it wise to risk five lives for the sake of one? Probably not. But it was human. If I'd learned one thing from my encounter with the crazy vampaneze, it was that even the undead could be human. We had to be—without a touch of humanity, we'd be like Murlough, nothing more than bloodthirsty monsters of the night.