I didn't go to watch Kurda being killed. Nor did I stick around for the trials of the vampaneze. Instead, I returned to my cell, where I remained until it was time, late the next night, for the funerals of Arra Sails, Gavner Purl, and the others who'd died fighting to protect Vampire Mountain. Gavner's body had been recovered after the battle. Kurda told his guards where to find it, and a search party soon located it, stuffed into a deep crack far down the mountain.
Streak and his fellow wolf had returned to the pack. They slipped away without a fuss, not long after the fighting had finished, leaving their dead companion behind. I never had a chance to say good-bye or thank them.
I wondered if I'd ever run with the pack again. It seemed unlikely, even if my life was spared by the Princes. Now that Council was coming to an end, the wolves would be dispersing, to return to their usual hunting grounds. I'd probably seen the last of Streak, Rudi, and the rest.
I spent the time between the trials and the funerals working on my diary. I hadn't touched it since coming to Vampire Mountain. I read back over my earlier entries, then described all that had happened to me since I left the Cirque Du Freak and set out for the mountain with Mr. Crepsley. I managed to lose myself in the diary, so time flew by. I normally didn't enjoy writing - too much like homework - but once I started telling the story, the words tumbled out with hardly any effort. My pen only paused a couple of times, when I slipped away to eat and caught an hour or two of sleep.
I hoped the writing would help me get things straight in my head, especially with regards to Kurda, but I was just as confused by the end as I'd been at the beginning. No matter how I looked at it, I couldn't help feeling that Kurda had been both a hero and a villain. Things would be simpler if he was one or the other, but I couldn't pigeonhole him. It was just too complicated.
Kurda had wanted to prevent the destruction of the vampires. To that end, he'd betrayed them. Was he evil for doing so? Or would it have been worse to act nobly and let his people perish? Should you stay true to your friends, whatever the consequences? I found it impossible to decide. Part of me hated Kurda and believed he deserved to be killed; another part remembered his good intentions and amiable manner and wished there'd been some other way of punishing him, short of execution.
Mr. Crepsley came to fetch Harkat and me before I finished writing. I'd gotten most of the story down, but there was a bit left, so I stuck my pen between a couple of pages to mark my place, set it aside, and accompanied the sorrowful vampire to the Hall of Cremation to bid farewell to our dear departed friends and allies.
Gavner Purl was the first to be cremated, since he was the first who'd fallen. He'd been dressed in a simple white robe and placed on a thin stretcher in the cremation pit. He looked peaceful lying there, eyes closed, short brown hair carefully combed, lips worked into a smile by the Guardians of the Blood who'd prepared his body. Though I knew the Guardians had removed all of Gavner's blood, along with most of his internal organs and brain, there were no visible signs of their handiwork.
I started to tell Mr. Crepsley what Gavner's final words had been, but as I did, I burst into tears. Mr. Crepsley wrapped his arms around me and let me sob into his chest, patting me comfortingly. "Do you want to leave?" he asked.
"No," I moaned. "I want to stay. It's just... hard, you know?"
"I know," Mr. Crepsley said, and by the tears in his own eyes, I knew he meant it.
A large crowd had gathered to see Gavner off. Usually, only someone's closest friends or colleagues attended a funeral. Vampires were different from humans - they didn't believe in showing up in large numbers to pay their condolences. But Gavner had been popular and had died to save others, so the cave was full. Even Paris Skyle and Arrow were present. Mika would have been there too, except someone had to stay behind to guard the Hall of Princes.
There was no such thing as a vampire priest. Though vampires had their own gods and beliefs, they had no organized religion. Paris, as the oldest vampire in the chamber, led the brief, simple ceremonies. "His name was Gavner Purl," he chanted, and everyone repeated the Prince's words. "He died with honor." Again we followed. "May his spirit find Paradise," he finished, and once we'd echoed his sentiments, the twigs and leaves beneath Gavner were lit by two Guardians, who made peculiar signs over his body, then moved back out of the way.
It didn't take the flames long to consume the General. The Guardians knew their business and had arranged things so the fire grew quickly and made short work of Gavner. I'd never been to a cremation before. To my surprise, I found it wasn't as upsetting as I'd thought it would be. There was something strangely comforting in watching the flames engulf Gavner, the smoke rising and slipping through the cracks in the ceiling, almost as if it were Gavner's spirit departing.
I was glad that I'd come, though I was grateful that we were ushered out of the Hall when it was time to extract Gavner's bones from the ashes and grind them to dust in the bowls that surrounded the pit. I don't think I could have stood by and watched the Guardians doing that.
Three more vampires were going to be cremated before it was Arra Sails's turn. While Mr. Crepsley, Harkat, and I waited outside during the ceremonies, Seba Nile and Vanez Blane appeared, the limping quartermaster leading the blind games master. The pair greeted us and stopped to chat. They apologized for missing Gavner's cremation, but Vanez had been undergoing treatment and couldn't leave until the dressing on his bad eye had been changed.
"How is the eye?" Mr. Crepsley asked.
"Ruined," Vanez said cheerfully, as though it was no big thing. "I'm blind as a bat now."
"I thought, since you were having it treated...?
"The treatment will stop infection from setting in and spreading to my brain," Vanez explained.
"You don't sound too upset," I noted, staring at the large patch over his right eye, thinking how awful it must be to lose one's sight.
Vanez shrugged. "I'd rather have kept it, but it's not the end of the world. I can still hear, smell, and feel my way around. It will take a while to get used to, but I learned to adapt when I lost the first eye. I'm sure I'll be able to cope without the second."
"Will you leave Vampire Mountain?" Mr. Crepsley asked.
"No," Vanez said. "Any other time, I'd have gone out into the world and stumbled around until I met with a noble end, as is a blind vampire's way. But the coming of the Vampaneze Lord has changed all that. Paris asked me to stay. I can make myself useful, even if it's only helping out in the stores or kitchens. Right now, every vampire's needed. My remaining will allow some younger, fitter vampire to focus his energies elsewhere and carry the fight to the vampaneze."
"I too shall be staying," Seba announced. "My retirement has been put on hold. The world and its adventures will have to wait. The old and infirm must play their part now, selflessly. This is no time for putting one's own best interests before those of the clan."
That phrase gave me a jolt. Kurda had expressed similar sentiments earlier during my stay. He thought it was wrong that crippled or old vampires were discarded by their colleagues. It was horribly ironic that his betrayal and death should serve as the spur to win over other vampires to his way of thinking.
"Does that mean the offer of a job no longer stands?" Mr. Crepsley asked Seba - he'd been earmarked to take over as quartermaster when Seba retired.
"It does," Seba said, "but I am sure the Princes will find some use for you." He smiled briefly. "A sweeper of floors, perhaps?"
"Perhaps." Mr. Crepsley also managed a fleeting smile. "Mika has already asked me about staying and perhaps resuming my official General duties, but I told him I did not wish to consider such things at the moment. I will decide later, when I have had time to mull the situation over."
"What about Darren?" Vanez asked. "Have the Princes declared his fate yet?"
"No," Mr. Crepsley said. "Mika promised to reopen the debate first thing after the funeral ceremonies. I am sure he will be pardoned."
"I hope so," Vanez said, but he sounded unsure. "You do know that a death penalty has never been revoked? The Princes would have to alter the laws in order to spare Darren's life."
"Then alter them they shall!" Mr. Crepsley growled, taking a step forward in anger.
"Peace, Larten," Seba interceded. "Vanez means no harm. This is an unusual case, and it will require much thought before a final decision can be made, one way or the other."
"There is no 'one way or the other," Mr. Crepsley insisted. "I promised Arra I would not let Darren be killed. She said he had earned the right to life, and anyone who would argue with her dying wish will have me to deal with. We have endured enough death. I will not stand for any more."
"Hopefully, there will be none," Seba sighed. "I believe the Princes will be sympathetic. They may not wish to bend the laws, but in this case I think they will."
"They had better," Mr. Crepsley said, and he would have said more, except at that moment Arra was brought forward on a stretcher and carried into the Hall of Cremation. Mr. Crepsley stiffened and stared after her longingly. I put an arm around him and so did Seba.
"Be brave, Larten," Seba said. "She would not have wanted emotional outbursts."
"I will conduct myself with all due decorum," Mr. Crepsley said pompously, then added beneath his breath, "but I miss her. With all my heart and soul, I miss her."
Once Arra's body had been placed, the doors were opened and we entered, Mr. Crepsley in front, Seba, Vanez, Harkat, and I just behind, to say our farewells. Mr. Crepsley was every bit as composed as he'd sworn he would be. He didn't even shed a tear when the funeral litter was set alight. It was only later, when he was alone in his cell, that he wept loudly, and his cries echoed through the corridors and tunnels of Vampire Mountain, far into the cold, lonely dawn.