Lord of the Shadows

 Darren Shan

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In the distance a wave of blood was building. Red, towering, topped with spitting heads of fire. On a vast plain, a mass of vampires waited. All three thousand or so faced the onrushing wave. At the rear, separated from the crowd, I stood alone. I was trying to push forward - I wanted to be with the rest of the clan when the wave hit - but an invisible force held me back.
As I struggled, roaring silently - my voice didn't work here - the wave swept ever nearer. The vampires pulled closer together, terrified but proud, facing their deaths with dignity. Some were, pointing spears or swords at the wave, as though they could fight it back.
Closer now, almost upon them, half a kilometre high, stretching in an unbroken line across the horizon. A wave of crackling flames and boiling blood. The moon disappeared behind the crimson curtain and a blood-red darkness descended.
The foremost vampires were eaten by the wave. They screamed in agony as they were crushed, drowned or burnt to death, their bodies tossed about like pieces of cork within the heart of the scarlet wave. I reached out to them - my people! - and prayed to the gods of the vampires to free me, so that I could die with my blood brothers and sisters. But still I couldn't break through the invisible boundary.
More vampires vanished beneath the breaking surf of fire and blood, lost to the wave of merciless red. A thousand lives extinguished? fifteen hundred warriors eliminated? two thousand souls sent soaring to Paradise? twenty-five hundred death howls? three thousand corpses, bobbing and burning in the flames.
And then only I was left. My voice returned, and with a desolate cry I collapsed to my knees and glared hatefully up at the crest of the wave as it teetered overhead. I saw faces within the walls of flaming blood - my friends and allies. The wave was taunting me with them.
Then I saw something hovering in the air above the wave, a creature of myth but oh so real. A dragon. Long, glittering, scaled, terrifyingly beautiful. And on its back - a person. A figure of pulsating darkness. It was almost as though his body had been created from shadows.
The shadow man laughed when he saw me, and his laugh was a ghostly cackle, evil and mocking. At his command, the dragon swooped lower, so that it was only a few metres above me. From here I could see its rider's features. His face was a mass of dancing patches of darkness, but when I squinted I recognized him - Steve Leopard.
"All must fall to the Lord of the Shadows," Steve said softly, and pointed behind me. "This is my world now."
Turning around, I saw a vast area of wasteland dotted with corpses. Over the dead bodies crawled giant toads, hissing black panthers, grotesque human mutants, and more nightmarish creatures and shapes. Cities burnt in the far distance, and great mushroom clouds of smoke and flames filled the air overhead.
I faced Steve again and roared a challenge at him. "Face me on the ground, you monster! Fight me now!"
Steve only laughed, then waved an arm at the wave of fire. There was a moment of hushed calm. Then the wave crashed to earth around me and I was swept away, face burning, lungs filling with blood, surrounded by the bodies of the dead. But what terrified me most before I was swallowed by eternal blackness was that I'd snatched one final glimpse of before I died. And this time it wasn't Steve's face I saw - it wasmine .