I WAS EXCITED BUT ANXIOUS about the journey - I was venturing into the unknown, and I had a feeling it wouldn't turn out to be a smooth trip - so I spent the day busily packing knapsacks for myself and Mr. Crepsley, to make the time pass faster. (Full vampires will die if exposed to the sun for more than a few hours, but half-vampires aren't affected by it.) Since I didn't know where we were going, I didn't know what to take or leave. If Vampire Mountain was icy and wintry, I'd need thick clothes and boots; if it was somewhere hot and tropical, T-shirts and shorts would make more sense.
I asked some of the Cirque people about it but they didn't know anything, except Mr. Tall, who said I should pack for snow. Mr. Tall was one of those people who seemed to know something about everything.
Evra agreed about the snow. "I doubt if sun-shy vampires would make their base in the Caribbean!" He laughed sarcastically.
Evra Von was a snake-boy, with scales instead of skin. Or wait, he used to be a snake-boy - now he was a snake-man. Evra had grown these last six years, gotten taller and broader and older-looking. I hadn't. As a half-vampire, I aged at one-fifth the normal rate. So, although eight years had gone by since Mr. Crep-sley blooded me, I only looked about a year older.
I hated not being able to grow normally. Evra and me used to be best buddies, but not anymore. We were still good friends and shared a tent, but he was a young man now, more interested in people - especially women! - his own age. In reality I was only a couple of years younger than Evra, but I looked like a kid, and it was hard for him to treat me like an equal.
There were benefits to being a half-vampire - I was stronger and faster than any human, and would live longer - but I would have given them all up if it meant looking my real age and being able to lead an ordinary life.
Even though Evra and me weren't as close as we'd once been, he was still my friend, and was worried about me heading off for Vampire Mountain. "From what I know, that journey's no joke," he warned in the vampire mountain deep voice that had hit him a few years ago. "Maybe I should come with you."
I would have loved to jump at his offer, but Evra had his own life to lead. It wouldn't be fair to drag him away from the Cirque Du Freak. "No," I told him. "Stay and keep my hammock warm. I'll be okay. Be-sides, snakes don't like the cold, do they?"
"That's true." He laughed. "I'd probably fall asleep and hibernate till spring!"
Even though Evra wouldn't be coming, he helped me pack. I didn't have much to take: spare clothes, a thick pair of boots, special cooking utensils that folded up neatly so they were easier to carry, my diary - that went everywhere with me - and other stuff. Evra told me to take a rope - he said it might come in handy, especially when it came to climbing.
"But vampires are great climbers," I reminded him.
"I know," he said, "but do you really want to hang off the side of a mountain with only your fingertips for support?"
"Of course he does!" someone boomed behind us before I could answer. "Vampires thrive on danger."
Turning to see who it was, I found myself face-to-face with the sinister being known as Mr. Tiny, and my insides instantly froze with fright.
Mr. Tiny was a small, plump man, with white hair, thick glasses, and a pair of green boots. He fiddled around a lot with a heart-shaped watch. He looked like a nice old uncle but was really a cruel, dark-hearted man who'd cut your tongue out as soon as say hello to you. Nobody knew much about him, but everyone was afraid of him. His first name was Desmond, and if you shortened it to "Des" and put it together with his last name you got Mr. Destiny.
I hadn't seen Mr. Tiny since a little after joining the Cirque Du Freak, but I heard a lot of stories about him - how he ate children for breakfast and burned down towns to warm his feet. My heart palpitated when I saw him standing a few feet away, eyes twinkling, hands wrapped behind his back, eavesdropping on Evra and me.
"Vampires are peculiar creatures," he said, step-ping forward, as though he'd been part of the conversation all along. "They love a challenge. I knew one once who walked himself to death in sunlight, merely because someone had sneered at him for only being able to come out at night."
He stuck out a hand and, scared as I was, I auto-matically shook it. Evra didn't - when Mr. Tiny ex-tended his hand to the snake-man, he stood, quivering, shaking his head furiously. Mr. Tiny just smiled and took back his hand.
"So, you're off to Vampire Mountain," he said, picking up my knapsack and peering inside without asking. "Take matches, Master Shan. The way is long and the days are cold. The winds that gust around Vampire Mountain would cut even a tough-skinned young man like you to the bone."
"Thanks for the advice," I said.
That was the confusing thing about Mr. Tiny. He was always polite and friendly, so even if you knew he was the type of guy who wouldn't blink in the face of great evil, you couldn't help liking him at least some of the time.
"Are my Little People near?" he asked. The Little People were short creatures who dressed in blue robes with hoods, never spoke, and ate anything that moved (including humans!). A couple of the mysterious beings almost always traveled with the Cirque Du Freak, and there were eight of them with us at that time.
"They're probably in their tent," I said. "I brought them some food about an hour ago, and I think they're still eating." One of my jobs was to hunt for the Little People's food. Evra used to do it with me, until he grew up and demanded less messy chores. Nowadays I was helped by a couple of young humans, children of the Cirque helpers.
"Excellent." Mr. Tiny beamed, and began to walk away. "Oh." He paused. "One last thing. Tell Larten not to leave until I've had a word with him."
"I think we're in a hurry," I said. "We might not have time to -"
"Just tell him I want a word," Mr. Tiny interrupted. "I'm sure he'll make time for me." With that, he tipped his glasses at us, waved good-bye, and moved on. I shared a worried look with Evra, found some matches and stuck them in my bag, then hurried off to wake Mr. Crepsley.