I couldn't stand by and let Glalda kill Arra. Darting forward, I threw myself against the vampaneze and knocked him off-balance. He swore, fell heavily, and turned to deal with me. But I was quicker with my light dagger than he was with his heavy sword. Diving on top of him, I stuck it into his chest and by luck pierced his heart.

This vampaneze didn't die quietly like the first one I'd killed. He shook and babbled madly, then rolled over, dragging me with him. He tried clambering to his feet. It was hopeless - it must have been clear to him that he was going to die - but he made the effort anyway.

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When his legs gave out, he collapsed on top of me, almost spearing me with the handle of my own dagger. I gasped for breath beneath him as he convulsed and moaned, then managed to heave him off and slide out.

As I got to my knees, I saw his face relax and the life leave his body. I paused and studied him. His expression was much like Gavner's had been - surprised... annoyed... afraid.

Gently, I closed the dead warrior's eyelids, then made the death's touch sign by pressing my middle fingers to my forehead and eyes, and spreading my thumb and little finger wide. "Even in death, may you be triumphant," I whispered.

Then I went to check on Arra. She was in a bad way. She tried getting up, but I held her down and made her press her hands over the wound in her belly to stop the flow of blood.

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"Will I... die?" Arra gasped, her lips thin with pain.

"Of course not," I said, only for her to grab my hands and glare at me.

"Will I die?" she barked.

"I don't know," I answered honestly this time. "Maybe."

She sighed and lay back. "At least I will not die unavenged. You fight well, Darren Shan. You are a true vampire."

"Thanks," I said hollowly.

Mr. Crepsley reached us and examined Arra worriedly. He rubbed spit around the edges of the cut to stop the bleeding, but his efforts didn't make much of a difference. "Does it hurt?" he asked.

"Talk about asking... stupid questions!" she gurgled.

"You always said I had a talent for putting my foot in my mouth." He smiled, tenderly wiping blood away from the corners of her lips.

"I'd ask you to kiss me," she said, "only I'm not... in any shape... for it."

"There'll be plenty of time for kissing later," he vowed.

"Maybe," Arra sighed. "Maybe."

While Mr. Crepsley tended to Arra, I sat back and watched numbly as the battle drew to its bloody conclusion. No more than six or seven vampaneze were left on their feet, and each was encircled by several vampires. They should have surrendered, but I knew they wouldn't. Vampires and vampaneze only knew how to win and how to die. For the proud legions of the undead, there was no in-between.

As I watched, two vampaneze who'd been fighting back-to-back made a break for the exit tunnel. A pack of vampires moved to intercept them, Vanez Blane among them. They prevented the escape, but one of the vampaneze threw his dagger in spiteful desperation before the vampires captured and killed him. It flew through the air like a guided missile at its helpless target - Vanez!

The games master whipped his head backward and almost avoided the dagger, but it was too swift, and the tip of the blade caught his one good eye. Blood spurted, Vanez screamed and covered his face with his hands, and Seba Nile hurried forward to lead him away to safety.

By the way he'd screamed, I knew in my gut that if Vanez survived, he would never again see the light of the moon or the twinkle of the stars. The vampaneze had finished the job that a lion had started. Vanez was now completely blind.

Glancing around miserably, I saw Streak chewing on the head of a still-living vampaneze. One of the younger wolves was helping him. I searched for the other hot-blooded wolf and found it lying dead by a wall, belly ripped open, fangs bared in a vicious death snarl.

Paris Skyle arrived and took Mika's place. The ancient Prince wielded a thick staff, both ends of which had been sharpened to stakelike points. He showed less taste for the fight than his younger brethren, but still fell in with the bloodshed and latched on to one of the last vampaneze. He made no calls for peace, nor did he tell his men to take these final hardy fighters alive. Perhaps it was best that he didn't. Those vampaneze who'd been taken intact - there were several - had only the Hall of Death to look forward to, where they'd be impaled on stakes in front of a crowd of jeering vampires. Given the choice, I was sure they'd rather die on their feet, with honor.

Finally, painfully, the fighting drew to a close. The last vampaneze was killed - he roared as he died, "May the demons take you all!" - and the clearing away of the bodies began. The vampires acted with mechanical efficiency. Generals who'd been swinging axes and swords moments before now picked up wounded vampires and led them away to be nursed, chuckling as they did so, discussing the battle and making light of the injured party's wounds. Others collected the dead, first the fallen vampires, then the vampaneze. They made mounds of the bodies, which were collected by the ghoulish Guardians of the Blood (they must have been waiting outside the cave during the battle), who carried them away to be readied for cremation.

It was all done in good spirits. It didn't bother the Generals that we'd lost nine or ten of our own (the actual death toll, by the time those with fatal injuries succumbed, was twelve). The battle had been won, the vampaneze had been destroyed, and the mountain was secure. They thought they'd come out of "the scrap" rather well.

A stretcher had to be brought for Arra - there was no way she could walk. She'd grown quieter while waiting and stared at the roof of the cave as though studying a painting. "Darren," she whispered.

"Yes?"

"Do you remember... when I beat you... on the bars?"

"Of course." I smiled.

"You put up... a good fight."

"Not good enough," I chuckled weakly.

Coughing, she faced Mr. Crepsley. "Don't let them kill him, Larten!" she said. "I was one of those... who insisted on his... death when he failed... the Trials. But tell them I said he should... be spared. He's a... worthy vampire. He's earned a... reprieve. Tell them!"

"You can tell them yourself," Mr. Crepsley said, tears dripping down his cheeks, a display of emotion I never thought I'd see. "You will recover. I will take you to the Hall of Princes. You can speak up for him."

"Maybe," Arra sighed. "But if I don't... you'll do it for me? You'll tell them... what I said? You'll protect him?"

Mr. Crepsley nodded wordlessly.

The stretcher arrived, and Arra was loaded onto it by two vampires. Mr. Crepsley walked along beside her, holding her hand, trying to comfort her. She made a death's touch sign at me with her free hand as she left, then laughed - blood sprayed from her lips - and winked.

Later that day, shortly before the sun sank in the wintry sky, despite the best efforts of the medics, Arra Sails closed her eyes, made her peace with the gods of the vampires, breathed her last... and died.

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