When Kurda stumbles across Darren's journal, he finds something interesting in the last entry.
As he neared the hall, he accidentally kicked something on the ground. He stopped and looked down to see what it was; it didn't feel like one of the rocks that were routinely found on the floor of the mountain. He cocked his head when his eyes took it in. There lay a tattered, dirty, leather-bound book. Scooping it up, Kurda wracked his brains to think which vampire in the mountain would have a book. There were very few who were literate. He was one of them, but English wasn't the language he had learned to read. He could read an English word here and there, but not enough to read a book. He very slowly opened the front cover, and immediately his confusion ceased. "THIS BOOK BELONGS TO DARREN SHAN," was scribbled on the first page. Kurda couldn't help but smile; this was not a story book but rather a journal. He tucked it into his pocket as he continued towards the Hall, making a mental note to return it to the young half-vampire...at some point. Kurda had always been a little nosey, he was dying to read an entry or two just for the sake of it. So, he would need to find someone else to read it to him.
As he stepped into the Hall of Khledon Lurt, his problem was partially solved, but now he quickly had another one. Arra Sails was sitting at a table finishing a bowl of bat broth, a swollen ankle propped up on the seat to her left. She knew how to read English, and though they didn't always see eye to eye, he was sure she wouldn't mind granting him this favor. His new problem was that sitting to her right was none other than Larten Crepsley, Darren's mentor, who Kurda was sure would insist that it was entirely impolite to read through his young pupil's private diary. Nonetheless, the curiosity was killing Kurda, and he figured this was probably the most agreeable mood in which he was going to catch Arra (that is, she wasn't likely to ask him to fight her first).
He casually sidled over to the table, grabbing a bowl of soup off a tray on the way. He put the bowl down across from Arra and sat, smiling.
"Hi," he said, sliding into his chair.
"Kurda," they nodded.
"You two are eating awfully late," he commented, beginning on his soup.
"Larten was assisting me in training several new Generals on the bars," Arra said. She cracked a small smile. "They took longer to beat than I thought they would."
"And as I awoke early this night, it is time for me to return to my coffin," Larten said, pushing his chair back and standing. "Good day, Arra, Kurda."
"Good day," they murmured back, Kurda unable to believe his luck.
As soon as Larten disappeared through the door to the hall, Kurda lifted the diary out of his pocket and placed it in front of himself on the table, opening it, and pretending to look at the page.
"What's that?" Arra asked curiously, leaning forward.
"Oh, nothing," Kurda said casually. "Just trying to read something."
"I thought you couldn't read English," she said pointedly, lifting her bowl of soup to her mouth to finish the last of it. Vampires weren't known for their manners.
"I can't read it that well," he replied nonchalantly. "Just trying to piece some words together."
He was sure she couldn't ignore the temptation to prove that reading was something she was yet again better than him at. He looked up very slightly expecting to see greedy glee on her face. Instead her arms were crossed and her eyebrows raised.
"Nice try, Smahlt," she said, smirking. "If you want me to read it to you, you should just ask."
"Will you read it to me?"
She grinned and snatched it away from him. "What is it?" She flipped through several middle pages, then shut it, frowning. "This isn't a story book, it's handwritten. This is someone's diary."
He had hoped she wouldn't care...or notice.
"Whose is it, and where'd it come from?"
"Darren's. It was on the ground in a tunnel near here."
She raised her dark eyebrows. "You want me to read entries from the private journal of a child?"
"A child who happens to be Larten's assistant."
"A journal you found by absolute chance, which clearly states on the front, 'Do not read!'."
She looked at him steadily for a second, then grinned, and said with a very un-Arra-like enthusiasm, "Okay!"
He smiled and scooted in closer, leaning across the table so he could hear better. "Not from the beginning," he said hurriedly, "just the last couple entries. I don't want to get caught."
"Spineless twit," she said, though not entirely unkindly. "All right, here's one from - Charna's guts, did he write this with his teeth? This handwriting is -."
"Relax, will you? Okay, this is the second-to-last entry, here goes: 'Mr. Crepsley, Gavner, Harkat, and me arrived at Vampire Mountain a couple weeks ago after a really long time travelling. I meant to write in here sooner, but I never really got around to it. It's good to sleep somewhere warm and dry. I've met a few vampires since I've been here. The first is Mr. Crepsley's mentor, Seba Nile. He wears all red like Mr. Crepsley, and he talks like him too. Please, please, please say I'm not going to end up like that. I also met Kurda Smahlt, who's going to be made a Prince soon! He's different than the other vampires; he wants to have peace with the vampaneze. I guess it's a pretty good idea, but everyone seems to think he's crazy. Either that or they just don't like him. But I do, he's friendly and fun. He took me on a tour of the mountain. There were lots of cool places, but I kind of forget a lot of them, because I ended up getting hit pretty hard in the head a few times. I'll get to that soon. About halfway through our tour, we got to the Hall of Sport. Kurda introduced me to the game's master, named Vanez Blane. He only has one eye; he lost the other in a fight with a lion! While we were there, I watched one of the few female vampires, a vampiress named Arra, take down a bunch of guys. It was pretty cool. Then I got to fight her (hence the head trauma.) I did get knocked out, and then I passed out again later, but I think I gave her a better fight then she let on. Maybe I'll take her on again after every inch of my body stops throbbing. Mr. Crepsley said I was an imbecile to fight her, but I heard him bragging to Gavner that I had come out of it without a single broken bone. I bet he couldn't do that. That's all I can write now, I have a blister on my thumb from holding a staff. I'll write more tomorrow.'
"He thinks he almost beat me and he's whining about a bloody blister on his thumb?" Arra spat. "He could no sooner beat me than..."
"Just read the next one," Kurda cut her off, looking nervously around. "I think I hear someone coming."
"Oh, for the love of the vampire gods...'Blister's feeling much better today! I went for a walk with Mr. Crepsley and Seba, and we stopped in Seba's room so he could get his cape. While we were there, I noticed he had a calendar, the first I've seen in months, if not years. After I asked him what today was, I realized that the day after tomorrow is the 14th of July...my birthday! I'm going to be twenty years old! I can't believe it. I used to dream about being in my twenties when I was a human, and now the day is here. At first, I was excited when I realized that, and I was going to tell Seba and Mr. Crepsley, but then I remembered that Mr. Crepsley doesn't believe in celebrating birthdays. He says it's human-like and frivolous. I guess I'll celebrate by myself.'"
"Where did you get that?"
Kurda jumped to his feet, startled. Larten was standing several feet away, totally unnoticed by Arra or Kurda as they read the journal, a frown on his face.
"Him," Arra said calmly, shutting the book and pointing at Kurda, who shuffled his feet.
Larten turned to Kurda, his eyebrows arched, arms folded across his chest.
"It was on the ground," Kurda said defensively. "If he wants things kept private at Vampire Mountain he should take better care of them."
"That is true," Larten agreed, nodding his head. "But perhaps as adults we could refrain from reading the contents of his very precious diary?"
"No problem, here," Arra said, handing the diary to Larten, who took it with a small smile, gave them each a nod, then began to leave the hall.
"Did you hear any of it?" Kurda piped up just before Larten disappeared around the corner.
"The last entry, yes."
"Well, what do you think?"
"About?" Larten looked at Kurda questioningly, then at Arra, who shrugged.
"Well," he said, a bit uncomfortably, "Darren has a birthday tomorrow. Maybe we should get him a present..."
"That is ridiculous, Kurda," Larten interrupted him. "You heard the rest of it, did you not? He recognizes how absurd it is to celebrate one's birth when one will live -."
"No," Kurda said, more strongly now, "He knows you'll think it's ridiculous. He wants to celebrate." Larten grimaced and opened his mouth, but Kurda held up a hand to silence him. "Larten," he said, walking up along side him and looking him right in the eye, "he never had a chance to grow up like a human. Let him be a boy for a day."
And with that, Kurda turned and left the hall, more for effect than anything else. He walked a few paces away, slowing down as he got farther. Wait for it. Wait for it. When Larten called, "Kurda, hold on," he couldn't help but grin to himself. He was a bloody genius. Larten had come after him, his face somber and rigid as always, but Kurda could see that some of the lines had softened.
Heaving a sigh, Larten looked at the ground. "Perhaps..." he said, "...perhaps it would not be such a bad idea. In these last eight years, Darren has sacrificed much with little complaint; I, for one, owe him a day of happiness and childishness."
Kurda beamed, elated. Nothing made him prouder than knowing he had made one of the other vampires come to sound reasoning...or, if not for sound reasoning, at least his reasoning. That was close enough. "Excellent!" he cried, almost hopping on the spot. "Let's get ready then! We can have his party in the storeroom off the kitchen, there's plenty of room there. I'll ask Seba to bring..."
"Party?" Arra interrupted, coming up behind Larten, a bemused smile on her face. "Don't be a jackass, Smahlt. Remember what happened last time you tried that crap? Seven drunken vampires trashed the kitchen, and you fell into the showers with your best cape on."
"I didn't fall, you pushed me," he said, though he blushed slightly.
She waved him off with her hand, rolling her eyes. "Whatever. If you have a party for him it'll end badly. I think we could each scrape up a gift for him though."
"I agree," Larten nodded.
"Of course you do," Kurda spat, but he wasn't entirely mad; this was better than nothing. "I suppose that will have to do if no one agrees to help me."
Darren sat in his room, idly throwing his pillow off his cot into the air. He was twenty. He had lived for twenty years. He tried to fathom that; it was hard to do. Upon hearing the knock at the door, he put his pillow down and sat up, calling, "Come in."
It was Seba Nile. "Hello, Darren Shan," he said, smiling and sitting down on a chair.
"Hi," Darren said, smiling back, but only half-heartedly. He figured there was some chore Seba wanted him to do, which he ordinarily didn't mind, but today it seemed unfair that he should have to clean a room or help in the kitchen.
"I understand that this is not a night like any other," Seba said, and Darren cocked his head suspiciously. "You know I am not one for wasting time on unnecessary human customs, but I am an old vampire, and I lose sight of the needs of the young every now and again. You are very young, and have seen a great deal fewer moons that I, but that does not mean that these years have gone by unnoticed. I also do not want you to think that they have gone by without consideration or appreciation. Do you see what I am getting at?"
Darren furrowed his brown, looking from side to side, embarrassed by his confusion. "Sort of," he lied, and Seba smiled and patted him on the knee.
"Perhaps I should make myself clearer," he said, reaching into his jacket pocket. He slid something long and thin out and held it out to Darren. It was a flute, carved out of a beautiful dark wood. "For you," he said, and Darren took it admiringly. "Happy birthday, Master Shan."
It was several hours later, and Darren could still hardly believe what had happened. After thanking Seba a hundred times, he had scrambled around the mountain, trying to find anyone who could explain how Seba had known it was his birthday. He hadn't been able to locate Mr. Crepsley, Gavner, Kurda, or anyone he knew well enough to ask, and so he had fetched Madam Octa, returned to his cell, and was now happily guiding the spider around on the wall in a figure eight.
By the luck of the vampires, it was after she was back in her cage, out from his control, that the second knock came.
"Come in," Darren called, and Vanez Blane and Kurda stepped into the room.
"Hi," he said to each of them, slightly surprised to see them together.
Kurda was grinning from ear to ear, and his right had was wrapped behind his back as though he were hiding something. Darren had a strange feeling that he knew what they were here about, but he wouldn't let himself believe it for fear of disappointment.
"I hear that today's a bit of a special day for you, Darren," Vanez said, his one eye twinkling, and Darren nearly shot out of his chair with excitement. "For a child, I'm sure twenty seems like a very long time to have lived, so it's with all my heart that I wish you a very happy birthday."
"Thanks!" Darren said, unconscious of the fact that his feet were tapping excitedly on the ground.
"This is from us!" Kurda said, unable to contain himself any longer. He reached out his hand and handed a very neatly wrapped - no doubt his work - box to Darren. "It was my idea, and Vanez's creation. Open it now!"
Darren ripped through the wrapping to reveal a plain, brown box. He carefully lifted the top of it and reached inside, extracting a bottle of ointment from the tissue paper. It had no writing on it, so he couldn't identify what it contained.
"It's a healing solution Vanez came up with several decades ago," Kurda said. "If you put it on those welts and gashes, they'll heal faster and with less scarring. It's a good thing to have handy as a young vampire."
Darren beamed at him. He knew Kurda was the only other vampire in the mountain who still cared about things like cuts and scars, and it had probably taken an awful lot of convincing to get Vanez to brew a bottle up for him.
"That's great! Thank you!" he said, immediately opening the bottle and dripping some of the thick potion onto his fingertips. He couldn't help but think that if the remainder of his time at the mountain was anything like his first couple weeks, he would be through this stuff in a month.
Later that night, Darren was sitting in the Hall of Khledon Lurt, finishing a mug of warm blood when two familiar faces sat on either side of him. This time, it was too obvious for Darren to doubt that this had something to do with his birthday. Gavner, sitting to his right, had a paper bag in his hands and was smiling warmly at him - like a father to his son. Arra, to his left, had a long, smooth staff resting against her shoulder.
"For you," she said, handing it to him with a rare smile.
"Thanks, Arra!" Darren said, taking the staff and examining it. It was heavy enough to do damage, but light enough to move quickly and be carried without trouble.
"And from me," Gavner said, grinning at Darren and handing him the bag. "Happy 20th, Darren!"
"Thanks a lot!" Darren said, reaching into the bag. His fingers closed around some soft fabric, and he pulled it out. Before he could even tell what his gift from Gavner was, Arra began to roar with laughter, clapping her hands in glee. Gavner was chuckling as well. When Darren held up his present to look at it, he didn't laugh as they were, but instead turned a bright red.
"Since you enjoyed mine so much!" Gavner hooted, pounding his fist on the table.
"Beautiful," Darren snarled, though he couldn't help but smile at the purple-and-pink spotted boxer short. Though he wasn't prepared to admit it, he would certainly wear them (that is, on the days when he was sure he would have no reason to show them to anyone), because many of his had been destroyed by thorns, or the weather in general on the way to the mountain.
As he lay the two gifts next to each other on the table and thanked Arra and Gavner again, he couldn't help but laugh as he admired how polar-opposite the gifts were.
Darren knocked on his mentor's door, hoping that he was there. He wanted to know how everyone seemed to know it was his birthday, and he had learned from experience that when he had questions, Mr. Crepsley usually had the answers.
Thankfully, the door swung open a few seconds later. For a minute, it looked as though Mr. Crepsley was going to shut the door in his face, but then he smiled and stepped back, motioning for Darren to come in.
"Good evening, Darren," he said, gesturing to a chair.
Darren sat. "Hi," he said hurriedly. "Mr. Crepsley, do you know why everyone knows-?"
"That it is your birthday?" he finished for him, and Darren nodded.
"It is a bit of a long story, one which I do not think you will particularly enjoy," he said. It was true, Darren would probably not enjoy knowing that three people had heard two entries out of his diary.
Mr. Crepsley shook his head, and Darren sighed, knowing he wasn't going to get an answer out of him. "Although," he continued, and Darren sat up a little straighter, "while we are on that subject, I do have something for you."
"You do?" Darren said, surprised. If he had been sure of anything, it was that his mentor was not one for celebrating birthdays or giving gifts.
Mr. Crepsley walked over to a trunk near the foot of his coffin. He opened it, pulled out a bundle of bright blue, and then stood. "Forgive me if I forgo the song," he said, giving Darren a wry smile as he walked over and handed the bundle to him. Darren took it and stood, letting it fall open. It was a long, flowing cape. The inside was a gentle blue, it's slick velvet soft to Darren's fingers. The outside was more stunningly blue, with a satin-like shine.
"I initially intended to give you a red one," Mr. Crepsley said, slightly uncomfortably. "But after some thought, I decided that, though red is to my liking, you may prefer something else. Blue seemed appropriate. If you do not like it -."
"Of course I like it, I love it, it's perfect!" Darren said, draping the cape across his elbow and pulling his mentor into a hug.
"Happy birthday, Darren," he said stiffly, patting Darren on the arm. "I am very proud to call you my assistant."
"Thanks. Thanks for everything, Mr. Crepsley. And I'm glad you're my teacher. I really am."
Mr. Crepsley smiled. "Thank you," he said, and for once he left it at that, perhaps because he was beginning to get choked up.
Darren lay on his cot, his eyes closed as he tried to fall asleep, thinking of the night about to end. He didn't know how, but somehow, someone had known it was his birthday, and he was glad they had. They had given him the best day he could have hoped for in Vampire Mountain.
As he rolled onto his side, his eyes cracked open, and what he saw caused him to yelp and dive off his cot in shock.
"I'm sorry," Harkat's voice said from somewhere beneath the big, green, glowing eyeballs that had startled Darren. "I was trying...to see if you were...asleep yet. I wanted to...wish you a happy...birthday, but I have...been in the Hall of Princes...all day and haven't...had the chance."
"That's okay," Darren said, climbing back onto his cot, his heartbeat slowing back to normal.
"I know the others...all gave you gifts," Harkat said, and Darren heard a bit of sadness in his voice. "But I don't own...anything to give you. I'm sorry."
"It's all right," Darren laughed. "I don't mind. It's the thought that counts."
"That is what...Kurda said," Harkat agreed. "I'm your friend..., and I'll always be there...for you. I can give you...that. It's not really...a present, but it's a...promise."
Darren didn't know if Harkat could see the smile that was on his face, but he hoped so. "Thanks, Harkat," he said softly, hoping his voice echoed the sincerity he felt. "Really, thanks. That's better than any present I could ask for."
When it came down to it, they had all given him the same gift, even if they gave it in different ways. It was beyond a flute, or an ointment, or a staff, or an article of clothing. They cared about him, and that meant everything in the world.