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PROLOGUE

IT 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 travelled 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 components of any vampire’s education, but now more so 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, but alien to us 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 burnt 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 learnt 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 wildfire: “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…

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