Authors: Darren Shan
Copyright © 2002 by Darren Shan
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First eBook Edition: July 2007
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Shirley & Derek — “Beauty and the Beast”
Gillie Russell & Zoë Clarke
Ringside crew: The Christopher Little Clan
OBEs (Order of the Bloody Entrails) to: Kerri “Carve Yer Guts Up” Goddard-Kinch “La Femme Fatale” Christine Colinet
Also in the Saga of Darren Shan:
Cirque Du Freak
The Vampire’s Assistant
Tunnels of Blood
Trials of Death
The Vampire Prince
T WAS AN AGE
of tragic mistakes. For me, the tragedy began fourteen years earlier when, mesmerized by a vampire’s amazing performing tarantula, I stole it from him. After an initially successful theft, everything went to hell, and I paid for my crime with my humanity. Faking my own death, I left my family and home, and traveled the world with the Cirque Du Freak, as the assistant to a blood-drinking creature of the night.
My name’s Darren Shan. I’m a half-vampire.
I’m also — through a series of events so astounding I still have trouble believing they really happened — a Vampire Prince. The Princes are the leaders of the vampire clan, respected and obeyed by all. There are only five of them — the others are Paris Skyle, Mika Ver Leth, Arrow, and Vancha March.
I’d been a Prince for six years, living within the Halls of Vampire Mountain (the stronghold of the clan), learning the customs and traditions of my people, and how to be a vampire of good standing. I’d also been learning the ways of warfare, and how to use weapons. The rules of battle were essential to any vampire’s education, but now more than ever — because we were at war.
Our opponents were the vampaneze, our purple-skinned blood-cousins. They’re a lot like vampires in many ways, except in one key area — they kill whenever they drink blood. Vampires don’t harm those they feed from — we simply take a small amount of blood from each human we target — but vampaneze believe it’s shameful to feed without draining their victims dry.
Though there was no love lost between the vampires and vampaneze, for hundreds of years an uneasy truce had existed between the two clans. That changed six years ago when a group of vampaneze — aided by a vampire traitor called Kurda Smahlt — stormed Vampire Mountain in an attempt to seize control of the Hall of Princes. We defeated them (thanks largely to my discovery of the plot prior to their assault), then interrogated the survivors, baffled by why they should choose to attack.
Unlike vampires, vampaneze had no leaders — they were entirely democratic — but when they split from the vampires six hundred years ago, a mysterious, powerful magician known as Mr. Tiny paid them a visit and placed the Coffin of Fire in their possession. This coffin burned alive anyone who lay within it — but Mr. Tiny said that one night a man would lie down in it and step out unharmed, and that man would lead them into a victorious war with the vampires, establishing the vampaneze as the unopposed rulers of the night.
During the interrogation, we learned to our horror that the Lord of the Vampaneze had finally arisen, and vampaneze across the world were preparing for the violent, bloody war to come.
Once our assailants had been put to a painful death, word spread from Vampire Mountain like wild-fire: “We’re at war with the vampaneze!” And we’d been locked in combat with them ever since, fighting grimly, desperate to disprove Mr. Tiny’s dark prophecy — that we were destined to lose the war and be wiped from the face of the earth . . .
T WAS ANOTHER LONG
, tiring night in the Hall of Princes. A Vampire General called Staffen Irve was reporting to me and Paris Skyle. Paris was the oldest living vampire, with more than eight hundred years under his belt. He had flowing white hair, a long, grey beard, and had lost his right ear in a fight many decades ago.
Staffen Irve had been active in the field for three years, and had been giving us a quick rundown of his experiences in the War of the Scars, as it had come to be known (a reference to the scars on our fingertips, the common mark of a vampire or vampaneze). It was a strange war. There were no big battles and neither side used missile-firing weapons — vampires and vampaneze fight only with hand-to-hand weapons like swords, clubs, and spears. The war was a series of isolated skirmishes, three or four vampires at a time against a similar number of vampaneze, fighting to the death.
“There was four of us ’gainst three of them,” Staffen Irve said, telling us about one of his more recent encounters. “But my lads was dry behind the tonsils, while the vampaneze was battle-hardy. I killed one of ’em but the others got away, leaving two of my lads dead and the third with a useless arm.”
“Have any of the vampaneze spoke of their Lord?” Paris asked.
“No, sire. Those I take alive only laugh at my questions, even under torture.”
In the six years that we’d been hunting for their Lord, there’d been no sign of him. We knew he hadn’t been blooded — various vampaneze had told us that he was learning their ways before becoming one of them — and the general opinion was that if we were to have any chance of preventing Mr. Tiny’s predictions, we had to find and kill their Lord before he took full control of the clan.
A cluster of Generals was waiting to speak with Paris. They moved forward as Staffen Irve departed, but I signaled them back. Picking up a mug of warm blood, I passed it to the one-eared Prince. He smiled and drank deeply, then wiped red stains from around his mouth with the back of a trembling hand — the responsibility of running the war council was taking its toll on the ancient vampire.
“Do you want to call it a night?” I asked, worried about Paris’s health.
He shook his head. “The night is young,” he muttered.
“But you are not,” said a familiar voice behind me — Mr. Crepsley. The vampire in the red cloak spent most of his time by my side, advising and encouraging me. He was in a peculiar position. As an ordinary vampire, he held no recognizable rank, and could be commanded by the lowliest of Generals. Yet as my guardian he unofficially had the powers of a Prince (since I followed his advice practically all the time). In reality, Mr. Crepsley was second in command to Paris Skyle, yet nobody openly acknowledged this. Vampire protocol — go figure!
“You should rest,” Mr. Crepsley said to Paris, laying a hand on the Prince’s shoulder. “This war will run a long time. You must not exhaust yourself too early. We will need you later.”
“Nonsense!” Paris laughed. “You and Darren are the future. I am the past, Larten. I will not live to see the end of this war if it drags on as long as we fear. If I do not make my mark now, I never will.”
Mr. Crepsley started to object, but Paris silenced him with the crooking of a finger. “An old owl hates to be told how young and virile he is. I am on my last legs, and anyone who says otherwise is a fool, a liar, or both.”
Mr. Crepsley tilted his head obediently. “Very well. I will not argue with you.”
Paris sniffed. “I should hope not,” he said, then shifted tiredly on his throne. “But this
been a taxing night. I will talk with these Generals, then crawl off to my coffin to sleep. Will Darren be able to manage without me?”
“Darren will manage,” Mr. Crepsley said confidently, and stood slightly behind me as the Generals advanced, ready to advise when required.
Paris didn’t make his coffin by dawn. The Generals had much to argue about — by studying reports on the movements of the vampaneze, they were trying to pinpoint the possible hiding place of their Lord — and it was close to midday before the ancient Prince slipped away.
I treated myself to a short break, grabbed some food, then heard from three of the Mountain’s fighting tutors, who were training the latest batch of Generals. After that I had to send two new Generals out into the field for their first taste of combat. I quickly went through the small ceremony — I had to daub their foreheads with vampire blood and mutter an ancient war prayer over them — then wished them luck and sent them off to kill vampaneze — or die.
Then it was time for vampires to approach me with a wide range of problems and questions. As a Prince I was expected to deal with every sort of subject under the moon. I was only a young, inexperienced half-vampire, who’d become a Prince more by default than merit, but the members of the clan placed their trust completely in their Princes, and I was given the same respect as Paris or any of the others.
When the last vampire had departed, I snagged about three hours of sleep, in a hammock that I’d strung up at the rear of the Hall. When I woke, I ate some half-cooked, salted boar meat, washed down with water and followed by a small mug of blood. Then it was back to my throne for more planning, plotting, and reports.
SNAPPED OUT OF SLEEP
to the sound of screaming.
Jerking awake, I fell out of my hammock, onto the hard, cold floor of my rocky cell. My hand automatically felt for the short sword that I kept strapped by my side at all times. Then the fog of sleep cleared and I realized it was only Harkat, having a nightmare.
Harkat Mulds was a Little Person, a short creature who wore blue robes and worked for Mr. Tiny. He’d been human once, though he didn’t remember who he used to be, or when or where he lived. When he died, his soul remained trapped on Earth, until Mr. Tiny brought him back to life in a new, stunted body.
“Harkat,” I mumbled, shaking him roughly. “Wake up. You’re dreaming again.”
Harkat had no eyelids, but his large green eyes dimmed when he was asleep. Now the light in them flared and he moaned loudly, rolling out of his hammock, as I had moments before. “Dragons!” he screamed, voice muffled by the mask he always wore — he wasn’t able to breathe normal air for more than ten or twelve hours, and without the mask he’d die. “Dragons!”
“No,” I sighed. “You’ve been dreaming.”
Harkat stared at me with his unnatural green eyes, then relaxed and tugged his mask down, revealing a wide, grey, jagged gash of a mouth. “Sorry, Darren. Did I wake . . . you?”
“No,” I lied. “I was up already.”
I swung back onto my hammock and sat gazing at Harkat. There was no denying he was an ugly creature. Short and squat, with dead, grey skin, no visible ears or a nose — he had ears stitched beneath the skin of his scalp, but was without a sense of smell or taste. He had no hair, round, green eyes, sharp little teeth, and a dark grey tongue. His face had been stitched together, like Frankenstein’s monster.
Of course, I was no model myself — few vampires were! My face, body, and limbs were laced with scars and burn marks, many picked up during my Trials of Initiation (which I’d passed at my second attempt, two years ago). I was also as bald as a baby, as a result of my first set of Trials, when I’d been badly burnt.
Harkat was one of my closest friends. He’d saved my life twice, when I was attacked by a wild bear on the trail to Vampire Mountain, then in a fight with savage boars during my first, failed Trials of Initiation. It bothered me to see him so disturbed by the nightmares that had been plaguing him for the last few years.
“Was this nightmare the same as the others?” I asked.
“Yes.” He nodded. “I was wandering in a vast wasteland. The sky was red. I was searching for something but I didn’t . . . know what. There were pits full of stakes. A dragon attacked. I fought it off but . . . another appeared. Then another. Then . . .” He sighed miserably.