When he looked back on the years he had left behind, Vancha March would consider Larten Crepsley to be the reason everything had gone so completely topsy-turvy. It wasn't all Larten's fault, Darren had played his part in it as well after all. Vancha had been quite surprised as to the nature of Darren's death when Lady Evanna had seen fit to finally tell him the truth regarding his friends.
But there was nothing that could be done.
Larten was dead.
Darren-that sweet little Vampire boy-was also dead.
And it was Vancha who was left to pick up the pieces of a Vampire Clan devastated by loss and pain.
Together, the three remaining Princes had forced the Generals to pick up what was left of their weapons and their shields and convene on Vampire Mountain. The Mountain had never been so full outside of Council. However, they had managed to cram themselves into the Hall of Princes and together they had planned how the world of the Nightwalkers was going to look from then on.
He did not tell anyone what Lady Evanna told him. And decades later he could recall that conversation with such clarity that he was certain it would be the last thing he would ever hold on to in this life.
"I have to tell you something," she had said, her gaze firmly on the fire that warmed her tent. He had lifted himself into a sitting position from where he was laying on the ground preparing to sleep. She looked sad; he had never seen her sad before.
"What is it?"
"It is about Darren," she replied. She had his full attention. He could not have been distracted by anything in that moment. Not when she was discussing Darren. It had been Vancha who had found Darren's body washed up on the bank of the river.
He had washed up with the Lord of the Vampaneze at his side. Both were on their backs and Vancha saw that even in death Darren had managed to keep a tight grip on the Vampaneze's hand. And-to his surprise-it appeared that the Vampaneze had been gripping just as tightly. Vancha had been forced to push his way through a crowd of Vampaneze surrounding the body.
Nobody stepped forward to challenge him for it was painfully obvious that the war was over. Vancha's people had won. He saw his brother standing in the crowd. None of the purple-skinned nightwalkers had stepped forward to claim the body of their fallen leader. But Vancha was not them and he would not leave Darren lying in the cold grass to wither and turn to dust.
He unwrapped the entangled hands and gently lifted Darren into his arms as if he was simply a sleeping child. Darren's face was smooth, his eyes closed. He looked more peaceful than Vancha had ever seen. It was clear that Darren could no longer feel any of the pain he had carried around with him. But that thought did not stop the tears that came to his eyes. He had never before shed a tear for a dead Vampire.
There was honor in death, especially when you died in battle. He should have been proud that Darren had died the way he did. He should have been making hearty and joyful speeches about him over flasks of Blood. But instead there was nothing but sadness. His sadness.
A twig snapped and Vancha looked up from the dead Prince in his arms. His brother-long since lost to him-had stepped forward. Vancha thought he might make a move to comfort him, such was the look on his face. And then Vancha thought that maybe he was asking permission to take the body of the Lord of the Vampaneze. To dispose of it honorably.
But Gannen simply turned and walked away. The crowd followed him and soon it was just Vancha, Darren, and the Lord of the Vampaneze. And because Darren would not have wanted it any other way, Vancha had gently laid him down in the grass and had dug a grave for the fallen vampaneze left abandoned by his people.
This was not what Lady Evanna had wanted to talk about with him, however. She had wanted to say something quite different. Something he had not ever known before.
"What about Darren?" he had asked politely. He did wish to hurt her by venting his own anger on her. She did not deserve it.
"There was something he never told you," she said. "Something I have not told you either." And then she had told him the story of who Darren was. She spoke of Desmond Tiny and how he had fathered two boys. One to lead the Vampires and one to lead the Vampaneze. It was by design that they would lead two separate armies into battle against each other. However, there was supposed to have been a survivor. A survivor that would become the Lord of the Shadows and lead the Earth to its end.
It was supposed to be Desmond Tiny's last great artwork: the final massacre. And it had not come to pass.
"Why not?" Vancha asked. horrified at what he was being told. "What happened?"
"Desmond made a mistake," she told him. "He did not consider that Darren would always fight for humanity. He made sure that both he and Steve died in that river. They died together and that is why the humans, the Vampires, the Vampaneze, and everything in between will live on.
"He saved us all. He saved everything. And he paid dearly for it."
"What do you mean?" he asked knowing she was not talking about death. Darren did not fear death.
"Desmond punished him for embarrassing him," she said and he was horrified to see tears streaming down her ugly face. "Darren will never enter Paradise." The last part she mumbled as if she could barely get it out. And try as he might he could not get her to elaborate on what she had told him. She cried through the night and well into the day for the little brother she had lost. She grieved for him.
And Vancha grieved for Darren as well. He grieved every night when he sat in the Hall of Princes and looked over to where Darren's throne still stood. They had not removed it and it sat as a monument to him.
He wished that Lady Evanna had not told him about Darren's lost soul. He saw the boy everywhere he turned these nights. He saw him playfully peeking around corners and he saw him in the long shadows of dreary halls. And every now and then, if he concentrated on the silence of an emptied Hall of Princes, he could hear him laughing and saying a name.
It was always the same name.
This did not surprise Vancha. He was certain that Darren was not able to let go of teasing his mentor even in death and aimless entrapment. It even made him smile a bit, remembering when Darren stuffed a snake down the trousers of a sleeping Larten. Vancha had never laughed so hard. He could not breathe by the time Larten had dislodged the snake and had chased Darren up a tree in retaliation.
Darren was always picking on Larten and Larten was always pretending that it annoyed him. But Vancha knew better. He had known Larten too long to be fooled by clipped words and sour expressions. If Larten could have ever been a father it would have been to Darren Shan.
Vancha had not been made aware of this fact until one particular night just after they had met on the trail to hunt down the Lord of the Vampaneze. It had not been any big act on Larten's part. In fact, it was the smallest of acts that had led Vancha to the conclusion that Darren had managed to worm his way into a special place in Larten's heart.
He had met Larten a mile away from the road that led to the nearest town after several hours of hunting game. Larten had gone to get something-Vancha could not remember what. He had come back holding a bag of gummy worms and steadily eating his way through all the green ones. Vancha had given him a very strange look and then pointedly eyed the bag of candy in the man's hand.
"They are for Darren," Larten had said.
"Why?" Vancha had asked. "He doesn't need candy." He thought candy to be the worst thing to have ever been invented. They were nothing but pointless indulgences.
"To cheer him up," Larten had replied as if that should have been the most obvious answer from the start. And perhaps it was. "He is still going through the last stages of the Purge."
"Why would he need cheering up from that?"
Larten had not answered that question, knowing that Vancha would probably not like the answer. Vancha didn't wait long before moving on to another question as they walked through the woods back to the small cave they had decided to bunk down in for a few days while they hunted.
"Why are you eating all the green ones?"
He had been genuinely curious as to why Larten was eating part of Darren's gift.
"Darren does not like to eat the green ones."
"Why not? What's wrong with them?"
"Nothing," Larten replied, rolling his eyes. "They taste exactly the same as all the others but Darren insists they taste different. He always gives them to me to eat instead."
"He gives you all his funny tasting scraps?" Vancha had teased. Larten had smiled, seeing the humor behind the childish act on Darren's part.
"Yes," Larten said, in good humor for the first time in days. "Darren loves gummy worms. If I allowed it, they would be the only thing he ate."
Darren had been delighted to receive the bag of gummy worms. And when he had found the lone green one that Larten had missed he had shoved it in Larten's direction. The orange haired man had taken it and eaten it without blinking an eye. Darren had watched him intently as if making sure that Larten had swallowed it.
Vancha wondered if Darren had simply told Larten that he didn't like the green ones because he wanted to share them without being teased about it. In all the time that Vancha had known Darren the boy had never offered to share his green scraps with anyone but Larten. And when Vancha had brought him some of that candy after Larten died, Darren ate the green ones with the same gusto as he ate all the others.
"Vancha," Arrow said kindly placing a hand on his shoulder. "It's time."
Vancha nodded and two vampires came forward and lifted Darren's throne from its place beside his own. They carried it from the Hall of Princes and through the corridors to where it was going to rest in a newly made Hall. It had been decided that a statue of Darren would be made.
It would depict him, sitting in his actual throne, a sword in one hand, and his ever familiar journal in another. The Hall of Princes felt very different without Darren's throne. But it had been nearly a century since Darren had passed away. There were new Princes and new Vampires. It was time to start moving on. They were not a people that dwelled on a single death.
Months later when the final statue had been installed and the new Hall had been cleared for the celebration that would later take place, Vancha, Mika, and Arrow stood side by side.
"Michael did a very good job," Mika noted as they eyed the curve of Darren's jaw, the shape of his eyes, and the playful smirk on his lip. "He looks exactly like he did the night he kept calling Larten a grump."
Arrow barked with laughter.
"I remember that," he said. "Larten threw a bowl of bat broth at him for 'exhibiting extreme annoying behaviour'." The last he said in an imitation of the stern tone Larten had always used when chastising Darren for something. Everyone who knew the pair had heard that tone at one point or another.
"Was that the same week Darren put all those spiders in your coffin, Mika?" Vancha asked slyly and Arrow immediately began to giggle. A remarkable sight indeed. Vancha had not been there himself but had heard the story from a very pleased Darren.
"That wasn't funny," Mika snapped, good humor gone. "Those spiders are extremely poisonous. I could have been killed."
"Before or after your screaming brought the entire Mountain Guard to your door?" Arrow asked, still giggling. Vancha barked out his own laugh. He looked to the statue and could have sworn that the statue's blank eyes sparked with something. Laughter perhaps. Or perhaps the light was playing tricks on him.
"Oh please Arrow," Mika snapped. "It wasn't as if Darren never managed to get the best of you either. I remember quite well the month you spent with half your skinned dyed bright blue."
"That never would have happened if you hadn't taught him how to turn that flower into dye," Arrow retorted. "That one was all your fault, I know it was."
"Mm, hm," Mika hummed, perfectly smug. "What about you Vancha? Did he ever prank you?"
"No," Vancha replied honestly. "He seemed more interested in stuffing snakes down Larten's clothes than he was in me."
"Lucky," Mika huffed. They continued to trade stories throughout the next few hours until they were forced to open the ceremony that came with very commemorative statue in Vampire Mountain. They spoke of when they first met Darren, they spoke of his Trials, and they spoke of his bravery in risking everything to save the Clan. And they spoke of pranks and the childish wonder that went across Darren's face everytime Paris Skyle told him a story, for Paris Skyle's stories were always good.
Arrow spoke of weapons training and small gifts passed between them. Mika spoke of long conversations and friendship. Vancha spoke of their time traveling and the things Darren had told him about his human life and family. They did not speak of these things with the other Vampires. They would rarely speak of Darren this way to anyone but themselves.
To others Darren was a hero. A Vampiric Warrior of untold potential tragically ended too soon. But to them Darren was more than that and they guarded it fiercely. Vancha relished the memories of laughter and sarcastic remarks passed between a mentor and student. For he could not remember Darren without also remembering Larten.
And he hoped and prayed to the Vampire Gods that one night they would be reunited in Paradise. That they would all be reunited in Paradise. For that was the only thing Vancha had left to long for these days.