Hunters of the Dusk Chapter TWO


I SNAPPED out of sleep to the sound of screaming.

Jerking awake, I fell out of my hammock, on to the hard, cold floor of my rocky cell. My hand automatically darted for the short sword which I kept strapped by my side at all times. Then the fog of sleep cleared and I realized it was only Harkat, having a nightmare.

Harkat Mulds was a Little Person, a short creature who wore blue robes and worked for Mr. Tiny. He'd been human once, though he didn't remember who he used to be, or when or where he lived. When he died, his soul remained trapped on Earth, until Mr. Tiny brought him back to life in a new, stunted body.

"Harkat," I mumbled, shaking him roughly. "Wake up. You're dreaming again."

Harkat had no eyelids, but his large green eyes dimmed when he was asleep. Now the light in them flared and he moaned loudly, rolling out of his hammock, as I had moments before. "Dragons!" he screamed, voice muffled by the mask he always wore - he wasn't able to breathe normal air for more than ten or twelve hours, and without the mask he'd die. "Dragons!"

"No," I sighed. "You've been dreaming."

Harkat stared at me with his unnatural green eyes, then relaxed and tugged his mask down, revealing a wide, grey, jagged gash of a mouth. "Sorry, Darren. Did I wake... you?"

"No," I lied. "I was up already."

I swung back on to my hammock and sat gazing at Harkat. There was no denying he was an ugly build of a creature. Short and squat, with dead, grey skin, no visible ears or a nose - he had ears stitched beneath the skin of his scalp, but was without a sense of smell or taste. He'd no hair, round, green eyes, sharp little teeth and a dark grey tongue. His face had been stitched together, like Frankenstein's monster.

Of course, I was no model myself - few vampires were! My face, body and limbs were laced with scars and burn marks, many picked up during my Trials of Initiation (which I'd passed at my second attempt, two years ago). I was also as bald as a baby, as a result of my first set of Trials, when I'd been badly burnt.

Harkat was one of my closest friends. He'd saved my life twice, when I was attacked by a wild bear on the trail to Vampire Mountain, then in a fight with savage boars during my first, failed Trials of Initiation. It bothered me to see him so disturbed by the nightmares which had been plaguing him for the last few years.

"Was this nightmare the same as the others?" I asked.

"Yes," he nodded. "I was wandering in a vast wasteland. The sky was red. I was searching for something but I didn't... know what. There were pits full of stakes. A dragon attacked. I fought it off but... another appeared. Then another. Then..." He sighed miserably.

Harkat's speech had improved greatly since he'd first started speaking. In the beginning he'd had to pause for breath after every two or three words, but he'd learnt to control his breathing technique and now only stalled during long sentences.

"Were the shadow men there?" I asked. Sometimes he dreamt of shadowy figures who chased and tormented him.

"Not this time," he said, "though I think they'd have appeared if you... hadn't woken me up." Harkat was sweating - his sweat was a pale green colour - and his shoulders shook slightly. He suffered greatly in his sleep, and stayed awake as long as he could, only sleeping four or five hours out of every seventy-two.

"Want something to eat or drink?" I asked.

"No," he said. "Not hungry." He stood and stretched his burly arms. He was only wearing a cloth around his waist, so I could see his smooth stomach and chest - Harkat had no nipples or belly button.

"It's good to see you," he said, pulling on his blue robes, which he'd never grown out of the habit of wearing. "It's been ages since... we got together."

"I know," I groaned. "This war business is killing me, but I can't leave Paris to deal with it alone. He needs me."

"How is Sire Skyle?" Harkat asked.

"Bearing up. But it's hard. So many decisions to make, so many troops to organize, so many vampires to send to their death."

We were silent a while, thinking about the War of the Scars and the vampires - including some very good friends of ours - who'd perished in it.

"How've you been?" I asked Harkat, shrugging off the morbid thoughts.

"Busy," he said. "Seba's working me harder all the time." After a few months of milling around Vampire Mountain, Harkat had gone to work for the quartermaster - Seba Nile - who was in charge of stocking and maintaining the Mountain's stores of food, clothes and weapons. Harkat started out moving crates and sacks around, but he'd learnt quickly about supplies and how to keep up with the needs of the vampires, and now served as Seba's senior assistant.

"Do you have to return to the Hall of Princes soon?" Harkat asked. "Seba would like to see you. He wants to show you... some spiders." The mountain was home to thousands of arachnids, known as Ba'Halen's spiders.

"I have to go back," I said regretfully, "but I'll try to drop by soon."

"Do," Harkat said seriously. "You look exhausted. Paris is not the only one who... needs rest."

Harkat had to leave shortly afterwards to prepare for the arrival of a group of Generals. I lay in my hammock and stared at the dark rock ceiling, unable to get back to sleep. This was the cell Harkat and me had first shared when we came to Vampire Mountain. I liked this tiny cubbyhole - it was the closest thing I had to a bedroom - but rarely got to see much of it. Most of my nights were spent in the Hall of Princes, and the few free hours I had by day were normally passed eating or exercising.

I ran a hand over my bald head while I was resting and thought back over my Trials of Initiation. I'd sailed through them the second time. I didn't have to take them - as a Prince, I was under no obligation - but I wouldn't have felt right if I hadn't. By passing the Trials, I'd proved myself worthy of being a vampire.

Apart from the scars and burns, I hadn't changed much in the last six years. As a half-vampire, I only aged one year for every five that passed. I was a bit taller than when I left the Cirque Du Freak with Mr. Crepsley, and my features had thickened and matured slightly. But I wasn't a full-vampire and wouldn't change vastly until I became one. As a full-vampire I'd be much stronger. I'd also be able to heal cuts with my spit, breathe out a gas which could knock people unconscious, and communicate telepathically with other vampires. Plus I'd be able to flit, which is a super-fast speed vampires can attain. On the down side, I'd be vulnerable to sunlight and couldn't move about during the day.

But all that lay far ahead. Mr. Crepsley hadn't said anything about when I'd be fully blooded, but I gathered it wouldn't happen until I was an adult. That was ten or fifteen years away - my body was still that of a teenager - so I had loads of time to enjoy (or endure) my extended childhood.

I lay relaxing for another half hour, then got up and dressed. I'd taken to wearing light blue clothes, trousers and a tunic, covered by a long, regal-looking robe. My right thumb snagged on the arm of the tunic as I was pulling it on, as it often did - I'd broken the thumb six years ago and it still stuck out at an awkward angle.

Taking care not to rip the fabric on my extra tough nails - which could gouge holes in soft rock - I freed my thumb and finished dressing. I pulled on a pair of light shoes and ran a hand over my head to make sure I hadn't been bitten by ticks. They'd popped up all over the mountain recently, annoying everyone. Then I made my way back to the Hall of Princes for another long night of tactics and debate.

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