Chapter I

Disclaimer: All characters besides Ariel belong to Darren Shan, as well as the names of locations.


Chapter Song: Ready To Fall – Rise Against

Hope for the best, expect the worst, somebody once told me. And that's exactly what I did. The massive Hall of Khledon Lurt was almost empty, aside from those who sat at the table with me- Gavner, Kurda, and Harkat- and a guard who sat by himself with a mug of beer.

Four hours had slipped by slowly and painfully for me since my visit in the Hall of Princes. From what had been said there, and the looks of grief on the faces of my companions… I think I'm staring death right in the face.

Hold on slow down
Again from the top now and tell me everything.
I know I've been gone for
What seems like forever
But I'm here now waiting

Unable to listen to Gavner and Kurda discuss my Trials at an almost inaudible volume, my eyes scanned the room before falling on Harkat's face. He had his hood down, so I could see his gray, scarred, skin.

"Have you… seen… much of… the Halls?" He asked, after catching my eye and lowering his mask.

"A bit," I shrugged.

"You must… Take me… on a tour." He pleaded.

To convince you that I'm not
A ghost or a stranger
But closer than you think
She said, "just go on to what you
Pretend is your life but
Please don't die on me"

"Darren won't have time for the halls… Or much of anything other than the trials." Kurda sighed.

"Okay well, since I wasn't even informed about the rules of the trials before, can you enlighten me now?" I asked.

"Well, the trials were restructured about a thousand years ago. Before that, they were held every council, and every vampire had to take them every time. They're a part of our vampiric heritage and were held for as long as any vampire can remember." Gavner explained. "Now, only those who train to become a General are required take the trials. However, a lot of normal vampires who aren't aiming for that take them, just to earn the respect of their peers."

Wings won't take me
Heights don't phase me
So take a step
But don't look down, take a step

"I'm confused- I thought that once you took the trials, you automatically became a General."

"That's not true," Kurda answered with a frail smile, running a hand through his blonde hair. "The Trials are only the first test for those preparing to become a General. There are other tests that follow. Passing the trials just means you're a vampire of good standing."

"Oh," I nodded slowly. "So what happens in the Trails? I mean, what do I have to do?"

Now I'm standing on the rooftop ready to fall (ready to fall)
I think I'm at the edge now but I could be wrong
I'm standing on the rooftop ready to fall

"There are many different tests, but you have to take only five of them, and they're picked at random." Gavner clarified. "You'll have to face each challenge at a time. They range from fighting wild boars to climbing perilous mountains. Each test takes place one night after another, so you're only allowed a day's rest in between. You have to be extremely cautious at the start, because if you get injured early, you won't have much time to heal for later on."

"Actually, Darren might have some luck on his side." Kurda said, which was the first optimistic statement I've heard in a while. "The Festival of The Undead is almost here."

Perpetual motion the image wont focus
A blur is all that's seen
But here in this moment like the eye of the storm
It all came clear to me
I found a shoulder to lean on
An infallible reason to live all by itself
I took one last look from the heights that I once loved
And then I ran like hell

"What's that?" I asked, to muster up a small ray of hope.

"Once every vampire has arrived to the Council- and using the Stone of Blood we found only three more latecomers, we hold a huge celebration. Once the last vampire arrives, the Festival will begin, and no official business can take place." He explained.

"If the Festival starts during your trials, you'll get a three night break." Gavner boomed.

"If the latecomers arrive on time," Kurda added gloomily.

Wings won't take me
Heights don't phase me
So take a step
But don't look down take a step

"Well you're just a ray of fucking sunshine!" I snapped. He just gave me a puzzled look. "Why are you so certain I'll fail?"

"Look, Darren, it's not that I think poorly of you, but I'm not going to lie. Clearly, the odds are stacked against you. You're young, so not only are you physically unprepared, but you haven't had any time to train. I just think that you're being thrown in the deep end and it's not fair."

"Nobody ever said that life was fair." I heard Ariel say.

We turned around to see that Seba and Mr. Crepsley, who had his hand on the glassy eyed princess' shoulder, stood behind us.

Now I'm standing on the rooftop ready to fall (ready to fall)
I think I'm at the edge now but I could be wrong
I'm standing on the rooftop ready to fall

They joined us at our table and greeted us with silent nods.

Ariel had sat close next to me, and it was alarming how much more confidence I had mustered up just by the feel of her shoulder against me.

"You were very quick to agree to the trials, Larten." Kurda said disapprovingly. "Darren didn't realize that failure to complete the test was death, if he was not already killed in attempt."

I count the times that I've been sorry (I know I know)
Now my compassion slowly drowns (I know I know)
If there's a time these walls could guard you (I know I know)
Then let that time be right now

"Is this true, Darren?"

I nodded. "I thought that if things really got bad, I could just quit."

Mr. Crepsley shook his head. "My apologies Darren, I should have made things clearer. However, I still stand by my decision. I was at fault when I blooded Darren, and I wish I could take the trails in his stead. That is not an option though, and this is the only way."

Now I'm standing on the rooftop
I think I'm at the edge now but I could be wrong
I'm standing on the rooftop ready to fall
Now I'm standing on the rooftop(ready to fall)