The Twilight Circus (3 page)

BOOK: The Twilight Circus
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We're only human
, he had said to Fish earlier. A plan started to form in his mind, and as it grew he felt his courage grow with it. Keeping secrets was just Crone's job; making sure Nat Carver and his Wolven stayed alive was his destiny. If only he could make contact with Nat Carver before he left the country! He glanced at his watch and reached for the telephone.


There was a welcome warm rush of air as the London-to-Paris Eurostar glided along the freezing platform. Never had Nat been so glad to see a train. After the hoodie had legged it, the other people on the platform had been giving him funny looks, and Jude had given him a right earful. The doors opened and Nat had one ear cocked to his mum moaning on about how lucky he was not to have been killed by the hoodie with the knife—
just because he had been lucky enough to escape death once … And what was he flipping well playing at…? Did he think he was indestructible…

Nat nodded in all the right places until she had calmed down. He was curious and confused about the girl; his senses had alerted him that something bad was going to happen and he had reacted because of a strange, wild-animal need to give chase. But when he had got close
enough to smell her, he knew there was nothing bad about her, even though she was a thief. And there had been something unsettling about the way she had looked at him when she saw his eyes change. He could have sworn she had a look of wonder on her face, not fear.

Forget it
, Nat told himself as he followed his mum onto the train.
It'll always be a mystery. Anyway, I'll never see her again

Nat and Jude had been touched when they had received their tickets; Iona had booked them the best seats in first class and they were looking forward to traveling to Paris in style.

“This is the life,” said Jude, her eyes widening behind the unflattering glasses. “This is a new start, Nat. We're actually doing it…. We're running away to join the circus!”

Nat grinned; her excitement was contagious. He settled back in his seat, thinking of how good it would be to see his dad again after so long, and all the questions he had saved up to ask Woody about Wolven stuff. It was weird to think that in a couple of hours, he and his mum would be safe at last. Jude stretched her long legs onto the seats.

“Roll up, roll up,
mesdames et messieurs
, for Carver's Twilight Circus of Illusion … the greatest show on the planet.”

“Hopefully,” said Nat.

They were traveling more than two hundred miles an hour, more than two hundred feet under the English Channel, which made Nat feel queasy. He didn't do travel, especially underground. He tried very hard not to think about the thousands of tons of solid rock above him, and what would happen if it all abruptly collapsed. Suddenly, irrationally, he began to feel panicky and hot. He glanced at Jude. There was a slight curve on her lips and Nat could feel her thoughts inside his own head. She was thinking about his dad, imagining seeing the reassuring bulk of him again after so long. Despite his feeling of panic at being underground, Nat got up from his seat and walked unsteadily through the carriage. It was cooler in the connecting sections between the carriages, and he sat on the floor sipping from a bottle of water until he felt almost human again.

Twenty minutes later, when the train came out of the tunnel, Nat heaved a sigh of relief. He had just got to his
feet to find his mum when the connecting door opened and he was joined in the little corridor by a man.

The man nodded affably and Nat nodded back. The man smelled of worry and expensive aftershave. Nat guessed he had come from business premier class because he wore a sharp-looking suit. He had a nice face and floppy hair, which made him look younger than he probably was.

“Amazing feat of engineering, don't you think?” said the man in a posh but pleasant voice. “The tunnel, I mean.”

Nat smiled and nodded just to be polite. He made to open the door, but the man put his hand out as if to bar his way.

“Excuse me,” said Nat, mildly alarmed.

“Don't be frightened,” said the man hastily, withdrawing his hand.

“Why would I be frightened?” asked Nat cautiously. The man was harmless; Nat could feel and smell there was nothing to fear from him.

The man gave a wry laugh. “Good Lord, it's me that should be frightened,” he said, almost to himself. “You could probably knock me straight through the side of the train if you wanted to.”

Nat decided it was best not to say anything.

“What else can you do?” asked the man, leaning forward conspiratorially. “Telepathy? Can you change your shape?”

Nat tried to keep his face impassive. “I don't know what you mean,” he said, “and I don't want to knock you through the side of the train.”

“Yes, but you could if you wanted to,” insisted the man, smiling slightly. He held out a rectangular card. “Forgive me,” he said. “My name is Crone. Quentin Crone.”

Nat privately thought what bad luck it was to be saddled with a name like that, but he took the card anyway. “

Crone nodded enthusiastically. “Ex-MI5, now working independently to eradicate the increase in malignant paranormals.”

“Good luck with that,” said Nat, feigning disinterest.

Crone tried again, feeling slightly unsettled by Nat Carver's presence. He was surprised and a little annoyed at how awed he felt.

“Nat Carver, I need your help,” he said. “I'd like to offer you a deal. You and the Wolven, Woody.”

Nat was now seriously alarmed, but trying not to show it. He scowled. “See that man through there?” he said, nodding at a random passenger. “If you don't leave me alone, I'll tell him you're bothering me.”

Crone looked worried. “Just listen to what I have to say,” he said hurriedly. “If you still don't want to know after you've heard me out, then forgive the intrusion, and I'll leave you alone.”

Nat said nothing, just glared at Crone with his unnerving dark blue eyes.

“NightShift has no ties with the British government,” assured Crone. “We are funded entirely by a private benefactor. But we have a problem. All our operatives are human. If you and Woody would agree to help us, I'll use my influence to guarantee you both amnesty and—”

“No,” said Nat firmly. “And my name is
Nat Carver.”

Quentin Crone smiled sympathetically. “Still a bit of scarring around the old throat area, I see. I imagine that's hard to disguise.”

Nat instinctively put his hand up to his neck. Thanks to his Wolven blood the scars had healed fast, but the
place where Lucas Scale had nearly ripped his head from his neck still felt raw sometimes, reminding him of how lucky he was to be alive. He stared at Crone, realizing he had blown it. Then he gave up and slumped his shoulders. “How did you know?” he asked.

“You really don't need to worry,” Crone assured him. “Your secret is utterly safe with me.”

“I know,” said Nat. “You
OK … that is … I know I can trust you, but you're still wasting your time.”

“How are your injuries?” asked Crone.

“I still get some pain,” said Nat cautiously. “Apparently it's normal after having your throat torn out.”

“NightShift needs people like you and Woody,” said Crone. “People with gifts like yours, who have experience in ridding our world of monsters, like Lucas Scale, for example.”

Nat's face drained of blood. “That was out of order,” he said quietly. “I don't talk about him.”

“You know his body was never found,” said Crone, hating himself for frightening the boy.

Nat shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut. “Shut up,” he said.

“Supernatural events are hotting up faster than you can say global warming,” said Crone. “The world is becoming a dark place thanks to creatures like Scale. The malevolent undead who live on the edge of shadows, causing chaos, corrupting and creating others to take part in some hellish crime against humankind. And someone, or
, is waking them up.”

Nat stared at Crone. “You don't think it's Lucas Scale?” he whispered in dismay.

“I don't know for sure,” admitted Crone, “but if you and Woody would agree to work with us, we can find whoever or
it is and destroy them.”

Nat shook his head. “Even if I wanted to, I don't think Woody would agree to it. Not after what happened to his clan at Helleborine Halt. All he wants to do now is forget.”

Crone tried another tack. “And what if he has no luck in locating his clan?”

“I don't know.” Nat shrugged, wondering how Crone knew all this. “All I do know is that we're moving south when the circus show closes for the winter break. We'll keep looking until we find out what happened to them.”

Crone nodded wearily. “Where will you go then?”

Nat shrugged again. He hadn't thought past the winter. He didn't really know where home
, now. When his dad had fled the country, they had given up their London flat and moved in temporarily with his nan and granddad to a strange little town in north Somerset called Temple Gurney. Nat had no doubt in his mind that 11 Camellia Lane, his grandparents' house, would be under surveillance for a very long time to come.

“I dunno,” said Nat in rather a small voice.

“How does it feel to be a fugitive like your father?” asked Crone.

“We didn't do anything wrong,” pointed out Nat.

“The events at Helleborine Halt are going to take years to blow over,” said Crone. “A prime minister and his entire cabinet were brought down because of you and Woody. You'll be on the run for the rest of your life. Ask your father what it's like not to be able to go home.”

“Home is where my family is. And Woody,” said Nat firmly.

“Think of it as a crusade against evil, with NightShift as the special weapons division.” Crone grinned.

“You don't give up, do you?” said Nat, smiling slightly. “Anyway, I'm only thirteen.”

“You've met one of our team already,” said Crone. “She's not much older than you.”

Nat narrowed his eyes.
The hoodie
! “The mugger?”

“Not a mugger,” said Crone. “Try superhuman hero, black belt in three disciplines, zombie basher, et cetera, et cetera. Her name is Alexandra Fish. She was very keen to meet you,
she's one of our best agents.”

“Not my idea of a superhero,” muttered Nat. “She might have hurt that old lady really badly.”

no old lady,” said Crone. “The person dressed as an old lady was me.”

Nat didn't know what to say.

“Fish and I just wanted to see for ourselves the gifts that Professor Paxton said you had,” said Crone gently.

told you where to find me?” asked Nat incredulously.

Crone nodded. “Things have changed, Nat. He thought we could help each other. He's also asked me to look out for you.”

“More like the other way around from what you've told me,” said Nat.

“We do have some successes,” said Crone, a little touchily.

“So in return for NightShift's protection we would be sort of like consultants?” asked Nat.

“Exactly,” agreed Quentin Crone.

Nat grinned. “We could head up the Shape-shifting Department?”

Crone knew when he was being made fun of. He gave up. “I'll pretend you agreed to the deal and I'll keep my side of the bargain anyway,” he said. “I'll do everything in my power to keep your trail cold. I will sabotage any government information about the Wolven and Helleborine Halt and I will permanently remove any images from the World's Most Wanted site. On that, you have my word.”

Nat looked at him askance. “Why would you do that?”

“Because we're the good guys.” Crone smiled. “You have my card. If you hear anything … anything at all about Mr. Scale, it's in your interest to tell me. Do we have a deal?”

“I'll try to keep in touch,” said Nat. The train was slowing down.

“I suppose it's good-bye, then,” said Nat awkwardly.

Au revoir
, Nat.” Crone smiled, shaking Nat's hand. “We've reached the end of the line.”


Far away from the NightShift HQ in London, and roughly five hundred miles south of Paris, lay the wild and remote region of Salinas. It rested uneasily on a bed of salt plains and squashy, treacherous marshland. Jet-black bulls roamed the white plains, sharing their landscape with all manner of wild creatures from the warty-tusked wild boar and delicate pink flamingo to the rare and beautiful blue-eyed, black palomino, a horse so rarely glimpsed it was rumored to be all but extinct in the wild.

Above the plains of Salinas, not too far from the medieval town of Marais, lay the dried-out husk of an ancient vampire in its filthy coffin. A rough wooden stake was still wedged through its blackened heart, driven there with heroic force more than a century before by a brave man. All this time the vampire had lain moribund
and dormant, waiting to be summoned again, to join forces in a reign of promised and unholy evil.

It had long been blind, its eyes having shriveled to calcified balls in its skull, but it could still feel and hear the scurrying and scratching of a hundred tiny creatures as they invaded its coffin. The rats' sharp teeth gnawed through the rotten wood easily, and in minutes they had broken through to where it lay. Dozens of tiny cold feet and long scabrous tails brushed the vampire's desiccated face as the creatures eagerly investigated the rank space.

BOOK: The Twilight Circus
13.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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