Lord loss, p.18
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       Lord Loss, p.18

         Part #1 of The Demonata series by Darren Shan
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  “As long as I'm fighting, I'll be an emotionless shell here,” he says. “If I lose, that won't change, and you'll never know — I'll simply die of old age. But if I win …” He winks. “Don't worry — you'll soon find out!”

  Dervish faces Lord Loss and the funnel. Takes a deep breath. Holds it. Lets it out nervously. “Remember, Grubbs,” he mutters. “Don't give up on me. No matter how much time passes — even if it's decades — there's always hope.”

  “I'll look after you,” I promise, weeping uncontrollably.

  “Your Mom and Dad would have been proud of you tonight,” Dervish says. “Gret too.”

  With that, he turns his back on me and marches to the funnel. Lord Loss bows politely as he approaches, then unfolds all eight of his arms and strikes for Dervish's throat. Dervish ducks swiftly, avoiding the demon master's lunge. “Uh-uh!” he laughs. “You won't make that quick a finish of me!”

  Leaping over the demon, he grabs hold of a thick strand of web, spins around, hollering wildly, then disappears down the funnel, becoming a speck, then nothing.

  Lord Loss floats towards the opening. Glances back at me, eyes cold and hateful. “In the past, I've respected those who bested me,” he snarls. “But you belittled both the game and me. I will be keeping a close watch on you, Grubitsch Grady, and if you ever —”

  “My name's Grubbs,” I grunt, cutting him short. I step forward, wiping tears from my face. “Now piss off back to your own world, you motherless scum, and save your threats for those who care.”

  For a moment it looks like he's going to abandon protocol and rip me to shreds. But then he snarls, whirls away from me, and hurls himself into the funnel of webs. There's a flash. The world turns red, then black. The webs fade. The funnel blinks out of existence. Walls and ceiling slowly return.

  It ends.


  WORKING numbly. A quick trip to the house to fetch new candles. Then I sweep debris — broken chess boards and pieces — out of the way. Methodical. Chasing every last splinter and shard. Stacking them neatly against the walls. Need to keep active. Not dwelling on the game or the fight — or Dervish.

  His body rematerialized as reality returned. But only his body — not his mind. He stands by the wall to my left, vacant, unresponsive, eyes glazed over.

  Bill-E regains consciousness — and humanity — as I'm coming towards the end of my big cleanup. “Where am I?” he mutters. “What's happening?” He stands shakily and stares at the bars of the cage. His voice rises fearfully. “What am I doing here? Where's Dervish? What's —”

  “It's OK,” I shush him, fetching the key and unlocking the door. “Dervish is over by that wall. There's no need to be afraid.”

  Bill-E stumbles out of the cage and glances nervously at the eerily motionless man in the candle-lit shadows. “What's the story?” he asks. “The last thing I remember is following Dervish — then nothing.”

  I haven't thought about what I'm going to tell Bill-E. So I say the first thing that comes into my head.

  “We were right — Dervish was a werewolf. He knocked you out and brought you here. I tracked him and fought with him. He recovered. He was grief-stricken when he realized what he'd done — the change had never affected him this way before. He gave me a book with a spell in it and told me to cast it.”

  “What sort of a spell?” Bill-E asks, edging closer to Dervish. “A calming spell,” I improvize. “He'd been saving it for an emergency. It stops him from turning into a werewolf — but it also robs him of his personality. He's like a zombie now. He can't speak or respond. I don't know how long he'll stay that way — maybe forever. But if he recovers, he'll be safe. He won't change again.”

  Bill-E waves a hand in front of his uncle's eyes — Dervish doesn't blink. He's crying when he looks at me. “I didn't want this!” he sobs. “I wanted to stop him from harming people, but not this way!”

  “There was no other solution, short of killing him,” I answer quietly. “Dervish had controlled the beast all these years, but it had grown stronger and was close to over-whelming him.”

  “And you don't know how long he'll be like this?” Bill-E asks.

  I shake my head. “A week. A year. A decade. There's no telling.”

  Bill-E smiles weakly. “He must have really loved me to do this to himself,” he notes proudly. “Only a father would act this selflessly.”

  I start to tell Bill-E the truth — that Dervish is his uncle, my dad was his dad, I'm his brother — then stop. What would it achieve? If I told him, he'd have to come to terms with his real dad's death and being an orphan. This way, he believes he's not alone. I think it's better to have a zombie for a father than no father at all.

  “Yeah,” I nod tiredly. “He was your dad. No doubt about it.” Stepping forward, I take hold of one of Dervish's hands and press the other into Bill-E's. “Now let's get the hell out of here — this place gives me the creeps.”


  Meera recovers the following afternoon. No memory loss or serious injury. I tell her the whole story while Bill-E's at home with Ma and Pa Spleen. She weeps when she sees Dervish. Cradles his face. Calls his name. Scours his eyes for a trace of who he was.



  Lawyers. Social workers. Bankers.

  Meera goes through Dervish's drawers with me. Sets the bureaucratic wheels in motion. My world becomes a flurry of legal papers and professional advice. Concerned officials kept at bay by Dervish's lawyers. Regular inspections. Visits from doctors and welfare workers. Tests. Under observation. Having to prove myself capable of looking after both myself and my uncle.

  Dervish isn't that difficult to care for. I lay out his clothes each night and dress him as soon as he wakes in the morning. He can go to the toilet himself, once I point him the right way. When I lead him down to breakfast, he sits and eats. After that he does whatever I tell him — rests, or exercises, or walks with me to the Vale to stock up on supplies and prove to everybody that he's healthy and unharmed. He's empty, distressingly so, and I have to spend a lot of time on him.

  But I can cope.


  Autumn trundles round and I have to start school. Leaving Dervish alone in the house. I'm nervous the first few days, worrying about him, but when I realize he can't come to harm, I relax and settle down.

  I sit next to Bill-E in most classes. (I've had to repeat a year, to make up for all the work I missed.) We get on better than ever. Occasionally he'll make mention of that night in the forest and cellar, but I always change the conversation quickly — I have no wish to dwell on such matters.

  I enjoy school, and making friends — even homework! This is reality, the normal, dull, everyday world. It's great to be back.

  A year.

  I grow four inches. Broaden. I was always large for my age — now I'm positively massive. And still growing! Bill-E calls me the Impeccable Hulk, and refers to the two of us as Little and Large.

  He spends a lot of weekends with Dervish and me, watching DVDs and MTV. He says we should hold a party and invite some girls over — says we could act like lords in a castle. Talks of getting a monocle for his lazy left eye and crowning himself King Bill-E the First. I just smile and say nothing when he starts up with fantasy stuff like that. Of course I'm interested in girls, but I'm not ready for dating yet. One step at a time. The demons were scary, but girls — well, girls are really terrifying!

  Dervish hasn't changed. As lifeless as ever, eyes blank, never smiling or frowning, laughing or crying. I talk to him all the time, telling him about school, discussing TV shows, running math problems by him. He never shows any sign that he understands, but it's comforting to treat him like an ordinary person. And maybe, somewhere far away, in the midst of bloody battle, he hears — and perhaps it helps.

  I take him to the barber's once a month, to have his hair and beard cut. Buy new clothes for him every so often. Experiment with various brands of deodorant. Keep him respectable and in
shape, so if he ever does return, he won't have cause for complaint.

  Meera drops by every few weeks or so. Keeps an eye on us. Drives me outside the Vale to hit the bigger stores. I tell her what Dervish said, about not leaving Carcery Vale, but she says it's OK as long as she's with me. But we're careful not to linger, always back a couple of hours before the sun sets — demons are more powerful in this world at night. She usually sleeps over when she comes. Bill-E jokes about it and says we're having an affair. I wish!

  I often dream of Lord Loss and his familiars. I worry about his threat and what he'll do to me if he ever gets the chance. I block the entrances to the secret cellar with thick planks and dozens of nails. Avoid Dervish's study as much as possible, for fear I'd find a book about Lord Loss, which might somehow allow him to latch onto me and break through Dervish's magic defences.

  But even more than the demon master, I worry about changing. Every time a full moon comes I sleep nervously — if at all — tossing and turning, imagining the worst, checking under my nails first thing in the morning, examining my teeth and eyes in the mirror.

  I've memorized the names and numbers of the Lambs — the Grady executioners. If I have to call them one day, I pray that I have the strength to do it.

  The morning after a full moon. Fourteen months since my battle with Lord Loss. A crisp, sun-crowned morning. Stretching. Yawning. Thinking about school. Also about a girl — Reni Gossel. I like Reni. Very cute. And she's been giving me the sort of looks that make me think she maybe thinks I'm cute too. Wondering if it's time to hold that party Bill-E's been pressing for.

  My cheeks feel sticky. Curious, I rub a few fingers over them. They come away wet — and red!

  My head flares. Heart pounds. Stomach clenches. Thoughts of school and Reni forgotten. I fall out of bed. Desperately check under my nails — dirty with earth and blood. Hairs stuck to my hands and around my mouth.

  Moaning. Slapping off the hairs.

  I reel out of the room and down the stairs, almost falling and breaking my neck. Head spinning. Lights exploding within my brain. Vomit rising in my throat. Telephone numbers flash across my eyes. “And the wolf shall lie down with the lamb.”

  Into the kitchen. Dervish is sitting at the table, slowly spooning corn flakes into his mouth. I turn in circles, wringing my hands, tearing at my hair. My eyes fix on the telephone hanging from the wall. I stop panicking. Calm falls on me like a sudden cold rainfall. I know what I must do. Best to do it now, as soon as possible, before I lose my nerve. Call the executioners. Give myself over to the Lambs. Arrange for others to take care of Dervish. Bid this world farewell.

  I start towards the phone, resigned to my fate.

  A solemn voice behind me — “Grubbs.”

  I turn slowly, reluctantly, for some reason expecting to see Lord Loss. But there's only Dervish. He's holding up a tin of red paint, a small pot of dirt, and a ratty woollen scarf that has been ripped into hairy fragments.

  “The look on your face!” my uncle says.

  And grins.

  The horrifying adventures continue in


  Book 2 in THE DEMONATA series

  Available now from Little, Brown and Company

  Turn the page for a sneak peek. …


  PEOPLE think I'm crazy because I see lights. I've seen them all my life. Strange, multicolored patches of lights, swirling through the air. The patches are different sizes, some as small as a coin, others as big as a cereal box. All sorts of shapes — octagons, triangles, decagons. Some have thirty or forty sides. I don't know the name for a forty-sided shape. Quadradecagon?

  No circles. All of the patches have at least two straight edges. There are a few with curves or semicircular bulges, but not many.

  Every color imaginable. Some shine brightly, others glow dully. Occasionally a few of the lights pulse, but normally they don't. Just hang there, glowing.

  For a long time I didn't know the lights were strange. I thought everybody saw them. I described them to Mom and Dad when I learned to speak, but they thought I was playing a game, seeking attention. It was only when I started school and spoke about the lights in class that it became an issue. My teacher, Miss Tyacke, saw that I wasn't making up stories, that I really believed in the lights.

  Miss Tyacke called Mom in. Suggested I visit somebody better qualified to understand what the lights signified. But Mom's never had much time for psychiatrists. She thinks the brain can take good care of itself if left alone. She asked me to stop mentioning the lights at school, but otherwise she wasn't concerned.

  I stopped talking about the lights when Mom told me to, but the damage had already been done. Word spread among the children — Kernel Fleck is weird. He's not one of us. Stay away from him.

  I never made many friends after that.

  My name's Cornelius, but I couldn't say that when I was younger. The closest I could get was Kernel. Mom and Dad thought that was cute and started using it instead of my real name. It stuck, and now that's what everybody calls me.

  I think some parents shouldn't be allowed to name their kids. There should be a committee to disallow names that will cause problems later. I mean, even without the lights, what chance did I have of fitting in with any normal crowd with a name like Kernel Fleck!

  We live in a city. Mom's a university lecturer. Dad's an artist who also does some freelance teaching. (He actually spends more time teaching than drawing, but whenever anyone asks, he says he's an artist.) We live on the third floor of an old warehouse that has been converted into apartments. Huge rooms with very high ceilings. I sometimes feel like a Munchkin, or Jack in the giant's castle.

  Dad's very good with his hands. He makes brilliant model air-planes and hangs them from the wooden beams in the ceiling of my bedroom. When they start to clutter the place up, or if we just get the urge one lazy Sunday afternoon, the two of us make bombs out of apples, conkers — whatever we can find that's hard and round — and launch them at the planes. We fire away until we run out of ammo or all the planes are destroyed. Then Dad sets to work on new models and the process gets repeated. At the moment, the ceiling's about a third full.

  I like the city. Our house is great; we're close to lots of shops, a cool adventure playground, museums, cinemas galore. School's OK too. I don't make friends, but I like my teachers and the building — we have a first-rate lab, a projection room, a massive library. And I never get bullied — I roar automatically when I'm fighting, which isn't good news for bullies who don't want to attract attention!

  But, sweet as life should be, I'm not happy. I feel lonely. I've always been a loner, but it didn't bother me when I was younger. I liked being my myself. I read lots of books and comics, watched dozens of TV shows, invented imaginary friends to play with. I was content.

  That changed recently. I don't know why, but I don't like being alone now. I feel sad when I see groups of friends having a good time. I want to be part of them. I want friends who'll tell me jokes and laugh at mine, who I can discuss television shows and music with, who'll pick me to be in their teams. I try getting people to accept me, but the harder I try, the more they avoid me. I sometimes hover at the edge of a group, ignored, and pretend I'm part of it. But if I speak, it backfires. They glare at me suspiciously, move away, or tell me to get lost. “Go watch some lights, freak!”

  The loneliness began maybe three or four months ago, but got really bad this last month. I'm not enjoying life anymore. The hours drag, especially at home or when I have free time at school. I can't distract myself. My mind wanders. I keep thinking about friends and how I don't have any, that I'm alone and might always be this way. I've talked with Mom and Dad about it, as much as I can, but it's hard to make them see how miserable I am. They said things would change when I was older, but I don't believe them. I'll still be weird, no matter how old I am. Why should people like me more then than now?

  I try so hard to fit in. I watch the popular shows and lis
ten to the bands I hear others talking about. I read all the hot comics and books. Wear cool clothes when I'm not at school. Use all the latest slang and curses.

  It doesn't matter. Nothing works. Nobody likes me. I'm wasting my time. This past week, I've gotten to thinking that I'm wasting my entire life. I've had dark, horrible thoughts, where I can see only one way out, one way of stopping the pain and loneliness. I know it's wrong to think that way — life can never be that bad — but it's hard not to. I cry when I'm alone — once or twice I've even cried in class. I'm eating too much food, putting on weight. I've stopped washing and my skin's gotten greasy. I don't care. I want to look like the freak I feel I am.

  Late at night. In bed. Playing with the patches of light, trying not to think about the loneliness. I've always been able to play with the lights. I remember being three or four years old, the lights all around me, reaching out and moving them, trying to fit them together like jigsaw pieces. Normally the lights remain at a distance of several feet or more, but I can call them closer when I want.

  The patches aren't solid. They're like floating scraps of plastic. If I look at a patch from the side, it's almost invisible. I can put my fingers through them, like ordinary pools of light. But, despite all that, I can move them around.

  When I want to move a patch, I focus on it and it glides towards me, stopping when I tell it. Reaching out, I push at one of the edges with my fingers. There's no contact, but as my fingers get closer, the light moves in whatever direction I'm pushing. When I stop, the light stops. I figured out very early on that I could put patches together to make mosaic-like shapes. I've been doing it ever since, at night, or during lunch at school when I have nobody to play with. Playing with them more than ever recently. Sometimes the lights are the only way I have to escape the miserable loneliness for a while.

  I like making weird shapes, like Pablo Picasso paintings. I saw a program on him at school a couple of years ago, and felt an immediate connection. I think Picasso saw lights too, only he didn't tell anyone. People wouldn't think he was a great artist if he'd said he saw lights — they'd say he was a nutcase, like me.

  The shapes I make are nowhere near as fabulous as Pablo Picasso's paintings. I'm no artist. I just try to create interesting patterns that will amuse me. They're rough, but I like them. They never last either. The shapes hold as long as I'm studying them, but once I lose interest or fall asleep, they come undone and the pieces drift apart, returning to their original positions in the air around me.

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