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Chapter TEN

Bursting free of the crowd, I stumbled on to the pitch. Those around me were staring at the fallen goalkeeper, paralyzed with shock. My first instinct was to run to Tommy. But then my training kicked in. Tommy had been killed. I could grieve for him later. Right now I had to focus on R.V. and Morgan James. If I hurried after them, I might catch up before they got away.

Tearing my gaze away from Tommy, I ducked down the tunnel, past the players, staff and stewards who had yet to recover their senses. I saw more shot-up bodies but didn't stop to check whether they were living or dead. I had to be a vampire, not a human. A killer, not a carer.

I raced down the tunnel until it branched off in two directions. Left or right? I stood, panting, scanning the corridors for clues. Nothing to my left, but there was a small red mark on the wall to my right - blood.

I picked up speed again. A voice at the back of my mind whispered, "You have no weapons. How will you defend yourself?" I ignored it.

The corridor led to a dressing room, where most members of the winning team had gathered. The players weren't aware of what had happened on the pitch. They were cheering and singing. The corridor branched again here. The path to the left led back towards the pitch, so I took another right turn, praying to the gods of the vampires that I'd chosen correctly.

A long sprint. The corridor was narrow and low-ceilinged. I was panting hard, not from exertion but sorrow. I kept thinking about Tommy, Mr Crepsley, Gavner Purl - friends I'd lost to the vampaneze. I had to fight the sorrow, or it would overwhelm me, so I thought about R.V. and Morgan James instead.

R.V. was once an eco-warrior. He'd tried to free the Wolf Man at the Cirque Du Freak. I'd stopped him but not before the Wolf Man had bitten his hands off. R.V. fled, survived, and blamed me for his misfortune. Some years later, he was discovered by Steve Leopard. Steve told the vampaneze to blood him, and the pair plotted my downfall. R.V. had been in the Cavern of Retribution when Mr Crepsley was killed. That was the last time I'd seen him.

Morgan James was an ex-police officer. A vampet, one of the humans the vampaneze had recruited. Like the other vampets, he dressed in a brown shirt and black trousers, shaved his head, painted circles of blood around his eyes, and had a "V" tattooed above either ear. Since he hadn't been blooded, he was free to use missile-firing weapons such as guns. Vampaneze, like vampires, swear an oath when they're blooded not to use such weapons. James had also been in the Cavern of Retribution. During the battle he was shot, and the left side of his face had been torn into fleshy strips by the bullet.

A treacherous, deadly pair. Again I found myself wondering what I'd do if I caught up with them - I hadn't any weapons! But again I ignored that problem and concentrated on the chase.

The end of the corridor. A door swinging ajar. Two police officers and a steward lying slumped against the wall - dead. I cursed R.V. and Morgan James, and swore revenge.

I kicked the door wide open and ducked out. I was at the rear of the stadium, the quietest part of the area, backing on to a housing estate. The police out here had been attracted to the sides of the stadium - there was some kind of a disturbance at the front, no doubt timed to tie in with the assault.

Ahead of me I saw R.V. and Morgan James enter the estate. By the time the police turned their attention this way, the killers would be gone. I started after them. Stopped. Hurried back inside the stadium and frisked the dead police officers. No guns, but both had been carrying truncheons. I took the clubs, one for each hand, then fled after my prey.

It was dark on the estate, especially after the brightness of the stadium. But I had the extra-sharp vision of a half-vampire, so I was able to negotiate my way without any problems. The road branched off at regular intervals, seven or eight houses per stretch. I paused briefly at each junction, looking left and right. No sign of R.V. and Morgan James. Forward again.

I wasn't sure if they knew I was following. I assumed they knew I was at the match, but they might not have counted on me being the first to break out of the stadium and pursue them. The element of surprisemight be on my side, but I warned myself not to count on it.

I came to the last junction. Left or right? I stood in the road, head twisting one way, then the other. I couldn't see anyone. I'd lost them.' Should I take a direction at random or backtrack and?

There was a soft screeching sound to my left - a blade scraping against a wall. Then someone hissed, "Quiet!"

I turned. There was a tiny alley between two houses, the source of the noise. The nearest street lights had been smashed. The only illumination came from across the road. I had a bad feeling about this - the screech and hiss had been far too convenient - but I couldn't back off now. I advanced.

I stopped a couple of metres shy of the alley and edged out into the middle of the road. My knuckles were white from gripping the truncheons. I came into gradual sight of the alley. Nobody near the dark mouth. The alley only ran back five or six metres, and even in the poor light I could see all the way to the rear wall. Nobody was there. I breathed out shakily. Maybe my ears had been playing tricks. Or else the sound had been a TV or radio. What should I do now? I was back where I'd been moments before, no idea which way to?

Something moved in the alley, low down on the floor. I stiffened and lowered my sights. And now I saw them, crouched where it was darkest, one hugging either wall, practically invisible in the shadows.

The figure to my left chuckled, then stood - R.V. I raised the truncheon in my left hand defensively. Then the figure to my right rose, and Morgan James stepped forward, bringing up his shotgun, pointing it at me. I began to raise the truncheon in my right hand against him, then realized how worthless it would be if he fired.

I took another step back, meaning to run, when a voice spoke from the darkness behind R.V. "No guns," it said softly. Morgan James immediately lowered the barrel of his shotgun.

I should have run, but I couldn't, not without putting a face to that voice. So I stood my ground, squinting, as a third shape formed and stepped out from behind R.V. It was Gannen Harst, the prime protector of the Lord of the Vampaneze.

Part of me had expected this, and instead of panicking, I experienced something close to relief. The waiting was over. Whatever destiny had in store for me, it started here. One final encounter with the Vampaneze Lord. At the end of it, I'd kill him - or he'd kill me. Either way was better than the waiting.

"Hello, Gannen," I said. "Still hanging out with madmen and scum, I see."

Gannen Harst bristled but didn't reply. "Lord," he said instead, and a fourth ambusher stepped out from behind Morgan James, more familiar than any of the others.

"Good to see you again, Steve," I said cynically as the grey-haired Steve Leopard slid into view. I was partly focused on Gannen Harst, R.V. and Morgan James - but mostly on Steve. I was judging the gap between us, wondering what sort of damage I could do if I hurled my truncheons at him. I didn't care about the other three - killing the Vampaneze Lord was my first priority.

"He doesn't look surprised to see us," Steve remarked. He hadn't stepped out as far as Gannen Harst, and was protected by the body of Morgan James. I might be able to hit him from this angle - but it was a very bigmight .

"Let me have him," R.V. snarled, taking a step towards me. The last time I'd seen him, he'd been wearing red contact lenses, and had painted his skin purple, to look more like a vampaneze. But his eyes and skin had changed naturally over the past two years, and though his colouring was slight in comparison to a mature vampaneze, it was genuine.

"Stay where you are," Steve said to R.V. "We can all have a slice of him later. Let's finish the introductions first. Darius."

From behind Steve, the boy called Darius stepped out. He was wearing green robes, like Steve. He was shivering, but his face was set sternly. He was holding a large arrow-gun, one of Steve's inventions. It was pointed at me.

"Have you started blooding children now?" I growled disgustedly, still waiting for Steve to move out a little more, ignoring the threat of the boy's arrow-gun.

"Darius is an exception," Steve said, smiling. "A most worthy ally and a valuable spy."

Steve took a half-step towards the boy. This was my chance! I began to draw my right hand back, careful not to give my intentions away, totally focused on Steve. Another second or two and I could make my play?

Then Darius spoke.

"Shall I shoot him now, Dad?"


"Yes, son," Steve replied.


While my brain spun and whirled like a dervish, Darius steadied his aim, gulped, pulled the trigger, and shot a steel-tipped arrow straight at me.

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