Thirty-five

For no reason, Blue felt suddenly afraid. Her heart begin to thump wildly as Hairstreak strode across the room.

‘What is it?’ she whispered to Flapwazzle, who was now wrapped protectively around her feet.

‘I don’t know,’ Flapwazzle whispered back nervously. ‘It’s Hairstreak’s vampire – I can get that from the smell. And he’s worried about something: I can get that from the smell too. But I don’t know what. I can only sense truth, not read minds.’

Blue almost choked. ‘Vampire? Uncle Hairstreak has a vampire?’

‘The droopy young man lurking by the door – the one who tried to come in here. I forget what your uncle called him.’

‘Pelidne,’ Blue said. ‘Pelidne is a vampire?’

‘Didn’t you notice how pale he was?’

Blue’s voice had been rising. Now she modified it with an effort. ‘Yes, but I never thought he might be a vampire.’ Vampire servants were illegal, but it was stupid to think that would make much difference to her uncle. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

‘I didn’t think it was important,’ Flapwazzle said.

‘Not important?’ Blue hissed. ‘He might have drunk our blood!’

‘Wouldn’t have drunk mine,’ Flapwazzle sniffed. ‘They’re allergic to it.’

Lord Hairstreak had the door open now and it was indeed Pelidne outside. He leaned across to whisper something in Hairstreak’s ear and Blue only just stifled the urge to shout a warning about the danger to her uncle’s neck.

Hairstreak jerked away as if he’d been bitten. ‘Three?’ he hissed. He glanced back at Blue through the open doorway.

The man Pelidne – the vampire Pelidne – moved forward to whisper something else.

‘I don’t like the look of this,’ Flapwazzle muttered. ‘I think we should get out of here.’ He began to climb up her leg.

Blue stood without waiting for him to anchor on her back again. ‘Our business is done here, Uncle,’ she exclaimed in her most imperious voice. ‘I accept your offer to negotiate.’ She tried to sweep from the room, an effect marred by Flapwazzle, who was clinging to her knee.

Lord Hairstreak moved quickly to block the doorway. ‘Your Majesty,’ he said formally. ‘There has been a development you should know about.’ He blinked slowly, like a lizard. ‘If you don’t know about it already,’ he added softly.

Blue didn’t, so the expression on her face was genuine. As was the panic building in her. She’d caught a hint of what Flapwazzle was sensing – he was on her thigh now, trembling slightly – and it was very frightening indeed. All she could think of was getting out of the mansion and into her flyer.

‘I’m due back at the Purple Palace,’ she said desperately, still trying to bluff it out. (Bluff what out?) ‘They’re expecting me and it’s long past Flapwazzle’s bedtime -’

Flapwazzle managed a little jump and wrapped himself around her stomach. ‘Make a run for it!’ he hissed.

She might even have tried, but Lord Hairstreak caught her arm. ‘This way, Your Majesty,’ he said angrily. He half dragged her out of the room and ten paces along the corridor. He stopped. ‘Would Your Majesty care to comment?’ he asked.

There were three bodies lying near the staircase.

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