Be careful who you trust.Even a supposedly close friend might be capable of betraying you. I found that out the hard way.

My name's Darren Shan. I'm a half-vampire. I was blooded when I was very young, and for eight years I toured the world with the Cirque Du Freak - a traveling circus of magically gifted performers. Then my mentor - Larten Crepsley - said I had to be presented to the Vampire Princes.

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Most of the Princes and Vampire Generals gather in the remote Vampire Mountain once every twelve years, for the Council of Vampires. After a long, tiring trek to the mountain with Mr. Crepsley, Harkat Mulds (a Little Person who'd been brought back from the dead by a powerful man called Mr. Tiny), Gavner Purl (a General), and four wolves (including a male I called Streak and a cub I nicknamed Rudi), I faced the Princes, who said I had to prove myself worthy of joining the ranks of the undead. They gave me a series of harsh tests known as the Trials of Initiation. If I passed all five tests, I'd be accepted as one of them. If I failed, I'd be killed.

I passed the first three Trials, but the fourth ended disastrously - I would have been gouged to death by a wild boar if not for Harkat, who leapt into the pit and killed the boar. The problem was, his intervention broke all the rules. While the vampires debated my fate, one sneaked into my cell and led me away to safety. He was a blond, slender, peaceful, highly intelligent vampire called Kurda Smahlt, and he was shortly due to become a Prince. I believed he was my friend.

While we were escaping, Gavner caught up with us and tried talking me into going back to face the verdict of the Princes. Kurda persuaded him to let me go. But as we were closing in on freedom, we ran into a bunch of vampaneze - purple-skinned enemies of the vampires, who kill humans when they drink from them - hiding in a cave.

That's when Kurda showed his true colors. He stabbed and killed Gavner, and I realized he was in league with the vampaneze. He tried taking me alive, but I ran and fell into a mountain stream. Kurda would have saved me, but I ignored his helping hand and surrendered myself to the vicious flow of the stream, which swiftly swept me away underground, into the belly of the mountain and certain death...

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