Chapter TWENTY-THREE

 

A stunned silence greeted my obscene offer. Evra was the first to break it.

"No!" he screamed. "Don't do it! You can't!"

"Debbie for Evra," I said, ignoring Evra's pleas. "How about it?"

"Debbie?" Murlough scratched his cheeks slowly. It took him a few seconds to figure out who I was referring to. Then he remembered and smiled. "Ah! Debbie! Darren Shan's tasty girlfriend." His eyes twinkled as he thought about her.

"She'd be more use to you than Evra," I said. "You could drink from her. You said you'd like to. You said she'd have nice blood."

"Yes," Murlough agreed. "Salty. Juicy." He took a step back from Evra. "But why choose?" he mused aloud. "Why not have both? Kill the snake-boy now, drink from Debbie later. She won't be hard to find. I can watch the square tomorrow, find out where she lives, and as soon as night comes..." He grinned.

"You don't have time," I said. "You have to leave the city tonight. You can't wait."

"Still yapping about leaving?" Murlough snorted. "If I let you go - as you've convinced me I should - I won't have to leave."

"Yes you will," I contradicted him. "It'll take a while for the vampires to discover I'm alive. The Generals will come straight down these tunnels when they arrive. They'll find out about me eventually, but if they kill you beforehand..."

"They wouldn't dare!" Murlough shrieked. "It would mean war!"

"But they wouldn't know that. They'd think they were in the right. They'd pay dearly for their mistake, but that would be no consolation as far as you're concerned. You have to leave, as soon as possible. You can return in a couple of weeks, but if you stick around now, it'll be a recipe for disaster."

"Young Murlough doesn't want to leave." The vampaneze pouted. "I like it here. I don't want to go. But you're right." He sighed. "For a few nights at least, I must get out. Find a dark, abandoned cellar. Hole up. Lay low."

"That's why Debbie would be better than Evra," I pressed on. "You must be hungry. You'll want to feed before leaving, yes?"

"Oh, yes," Murlough agreed, rubbing his bloated stomach.

"But feeding without planning is dangerous. Vampires are used to it, but vampaneze aren't, are they?"

"No," Murlough said. "We're smarter than vampires. We think ahead. Plan it out. Mark our meals in advance."

"But you can't do that now," I reminded him. "You need a quick snack to keep you going while you're away. I can provide that. Agree to my terms and I'll take you to Debbie. I can get you in and out without anybody knowing."

"Darren! Stop!" Evra roared. "I don't want this! You can't -?

Murlough punched Evra hard in the stomach, shutting him up.

"How can I trust you?" the vampaneze hissed. "How do I know you won't trick me?"

"How could I?" I retorted. "Keep my hands bound behind my back. Keep a knife close to my throat. Leave Evra where he is - I'll come back for him later, once you've fed and left. If I try anything, I'll be dooming us both. I'm not stupid. I know what's at stake."

Murlough hummed tunelessly as he thought it over.

"You can't do this." Evra moaned.

"It's the only way," I said softly.

"I don't want to trade Debbie's life for mine," he said. "I'd rather die myself."

"See if you think that way tomorrow." I grunted.

"How can you do it?" he asked. "How can you give her up as if she was just a... a..."

"A human" I said shortly.

"I was going to say animal."

I smiled thinly. "To a vampire it's the same thing. You're my best friend, Evra. Debbie's just a human I had a crush on."

Evra shook his head. "I don't recognize you anymore," he said sadly, and turned away from me.

"All right." Murlough reached a decision. He drew back his knives, then thrust them forward. I winced, but he only cut the rope around my ankles. I fell heavily to the floor. "We'll do it your way," the vampaneze declared. "But if you put one foot out of line..."

"I won't," I said, getting up. "Now - how about your word?"

"What?"

"You haven't given it to me yet. I'm not leaving without it."

The vampaneze grinned. "Clever boy," he gurgled. "All right. I give you my word - the girl for Snakey. Debbie for Evra. Is that good enough for you?"

I shook my head. "Say you'll let me go when you're finished with Debbie. Say you won't stop me coming back to free Evra. Say you'll do nothing to hurt either of us afterward."

Murlough laughed. "Oh, you're clever all right. Almost as clever as young Murlough. Very well. I'll let you go. I'll do nothing to stop you coming back, or hurt you once you're free." He raised a finger. "But if you ever return to this city, or if our paths cross in the future, it'll be death. This is a temporary deal, not a long-term guarantee. Agreed?"

"Agreed."

"Very well. Should we start?"

"Aren't you going to undo a few of these ropes?" I asked. "I can barely walk like this."

" Barelyis good enough." Murlough laughed. "I'm not going to take any chances with you. I've got a feeling you wouldn't miss a trick." He shoved me hard in the back. I stumbled, then found my feet and began to walk.

I glanced over my shoulder at Evra. "I won't be long," I said. "I'll be back before dawn, and we'll both go home to the Cirque Du Freak, okay?"

He didn't answer. He refused to even look at me.

Sighing, I turned around and started out of the lair, Murlough guiding me through the tunnels, singing gruesome little songs as he skipped along after me, telling me what he was going to do once he got his foul hands on Debbie.

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