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«Death's Shadow», Darren Shan

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PART ONE — A WHOLE NEW WORLD

Snapshots of Beranabus I

Brigitta was sixteen years old and about to get married. She had been promised to a prince since birth. He was handsome and kind, and she was looking forward to the wedding. She had dreams of bearing many fine warrior sons, becoming queen of a mighty empire and living a long and happy life.

But the prince angered a powerful priestess. For revenge, she summoned a demon on the day of the wedding. The beast killed many of the guests and kidnapped Brigitta. She suffered terribly, but the demon didn’t kill her. Instead, several months later he sent her back to the prince—pregnant.

Brigitta was in shock, but the prince cared only about the shame this would bring upon his family. He called in a favour of King Minos and sent Brigitta to Crete on his fleet’s fastest ship. Her mouth was bound and her face covered, so nobody could identify her.

At the island she was led into the infamous Labyrinth, where her face and mouth were freed under cover of darkness. She was left to roam the twisting pathways of the maze until the Minotaur found and killed her.

Like hundreds of other doomed victims, Brigitta tried to find a way out of the Labyrinth, but her quest was hopeless. She could hear the harsh breathing of the Minotaur echoing through the tunnels, and the scraping of his hooves along the dusty floor. She knew he was following her, watching, waiting, savouring her anguish and fear.

Brigitta was in the final stage of her pregnancy. She hoped the Minotaur would kill her before the baby was born, to spare the child a ghastly death. But she could not delay the birth forever. Eventually she had to lie down and, in the blood-stained dirt of the maze, delivered a squealing boy. There was no light, so she could not check if he was deformed. He felt like a normal baby, but she would never know for sure.

As she cradled her son to her breast, the Minotaur moved in for the kill. He did not mask his footsteps. The beast hoped she would run. He liked it when his prey ran. But Brigitta only sat there, hugging her baby and crying. Just before the monster reached her, she leant over the infant and whispered, “Your name is Beranabus.”

Then the Minotaur was upon her, and the corridors echoed with human screams and bullish howls of vicious delight.

When he had sated his inhuman appetite, the Minotaur turned his attention to the baby. The child had been silent since the beast had separated him from his mother. The monster sat on Brigitta’s severed head and picked up the baby, studying him with a vicious smile.

The Minotaur shook Beranabus wildly, to make him cry. But instead the baby did something entirely unexpected—he giggled. Although he looked like a human child, he was a creature of two universes. He had the mind and curiosity of one much older.

The Minotaur growled and held the boy up by his foot. He clamped his jaws around Beranabus’s head and squeezed softly.

Again the baby laughed, then reached out with a trembling hand. The Minotaur thought the baby meant to slap him away. But Beranabus was only fascinated. He explored the beast’s fangs and nose, patting and stroking them as if playing with a doll.

The Minotaur released the child’s head and hoisted him up for a better look. The baby scratched the beast’s scalp and horns. The Minotaur chuckled throatily, then winced as Beranabus tugged his hair. He reached sharply for the baby’s hands. But although he wrapped his large, hairy fingers around the boy’s pudgy wrist, the Minotaur didn’t rip the fingers off or even bite them. There was something unusual about this baby which the Minotaur had never experienced before.

Beranabus wasn’t afraid.

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