PART ONE Chapter NINE
Even before the echoes of the report of my third shot faded, the air outside the stadium filled with answering gunfire, as Alice and her band of vampirites opened fire on the police standing guard. She'd summoned the homeless people before Vancha and I entered the tunnel, and positioned them around the barrier outside the stadium. After years of surviving on the scraps other people threw away, this was their time to rise. They had only a small amount of training and basic weapons, but they had passion and anger on their side, and the desire to prove themselves. So now, at my signal, they leapt the barriers around the stadium and attacked as a unified force, throwing themselves upon the startled police, sacrificing themselves where necessary, fighting and dying not just for their own lives, but for the lives of those who considered them trash. We weren't sure of the intentions of the police. Steve might have told them to remain outside regardless of what happened within, in which case the attack by the vampirites would serve no purpose at all. But if they were there to support the vampaneze and vampets, to come to their aid if summoned, the vampirites could pert them and buy those of us inside the stadium a bit more space and time. Most of the vampaneze guarding Steve moved to stop Vancha when he charged, but two lunged at me as I fired the pistol. They tackled me to the ground, knocking the gun from my hand. I struck out at them but they simply lay on top of me, pinning me down. They would have held me there, helpless, while their colleagues dealt with Vancha. Except... The stars and crew of the Cirque Du Freak had also rallied to my signal. At the same time that the vampirites attacked the police, the prisoners inside the stadium turned on the vampets holding them captive. They attacked with their bare hands, driving the vampets back by sheer force of numbers. The vampets fired into the crowd and hacked wildly with their swords and axes. Several people fell, dead or wounded. But the group pushed on regardless, screaming, punching, kicking, biting ¨C no force on Earth could hold them back. While the bulk of the Cirque Du Freak troupe grappled with the vampets, Harkat led a small band towards the gallows. He'd grabbed an axe from a dead vampet and with one smooth swing he cut down a vampaneze who tried to intercept them, rushing past without breaking his stride. Vancha was still locked in a struggle with Steve's guards, doing his best to break through to their Lord. He'd downed two of them but the others were standing firm. He was cut in many places, knife and spear wounds, but none fatal. Looking around, I saw Gannen Harst push Steve away from the threat. Steve was arguing with him ¨C he wanted to take Vancha on. Behind Steve and Gannen Harst, R.V. had let go of Debbie's rope and was backing away from her, shaking his head, hooks crossed behind his back, wanting no part of this. Debbie was tugging at her bonds, trying to wriggle free. The two vampaneze holding me down saw Harkat and the others racing towards them. Cursing, they abandoned me and lashed out at their attackers. They were too swift for the ordinary circus folk ¨C three died quickly ¨C but Truska was part of the group, and she wasn't so easily despatched. She'd let her beard grow while she'd been waiting to fight ¨C the unnatural blonde hair now trailed down past her feet. Standing back, she made the beard rise ¨C she could control the hairs as though they were snakes ¨C then directed the twisting strands towards one of the vampaneze. The beard parted into two prongs, then curled around the startled vampaneze's throat and tightened. He sliced at the hair and at Truska, but she had him too firmly in her grip. He fell to his knees, purple features darkening even further as he choked. Harkat took on the other vampaneze, chopping at him with his axe. The Little Person lacked the speed of a vampaneze, but he was very powerful and his round green eyes were alert to his opponent's swift moves. He could fight as an equal, as he had many times in the past. I circled around the vampaneze struggling with Vancha. I meant to go after Steve, but he and Gannen had linked up with three of the vampaneze who'd been roaming the grounds of the stadium. I didn't fancy the five-to-one odds, so I went to cut Debbie free instead. "They surrounded the stadium shortly after Harkat and I arrived," she cried as I sliced through the ropes binding her arms. "I tried phoning, but it wouldn't work. It was Mr Tiny. He blocked my signal. I saw his watch glowing, and he was laughing." "It's OK," I said. "We'd have come anyway. We had to." "Is that Alice outside?" Debbie asked ¨C the gunfire was deafening now. "Yes," I said. "The vampirites seem to be enjoying their first taste of action." Vancha lurched over to us, streaming blood. The vampaneze had given up on him and retreated, teaming up with the vampets and picking fights with the circus folk. "Where's Leonard?" Vancha bellowed. I peered around the stadium but it was almost impossible to pick out any inpiduals in the press of bodies. "I had him in my sights a minute ago," I said. "He must be here somewhere." "Not if Gannen flitted with him!" Vancha roared. He wiped blood clear of his eyes and looked for Steve and Gannen again. "Are you badly wounded?" Debbie asked him. "Scratches!" Vancha grunted. Then he shouted, "There.' Behind the fat man!" He rushed forward, bellowing madly. Squinting, I caught a glimpse of Steve. He was close to the enormous Rhamus Twobellies, warily backing away from him. Rhamus was literally falling on his opponents, squashing them lifeless. Debbie darted away from me, picked the bodies of the dead vampaneze clean of their weapons, and returned with an array of knives and two swords. She gave one of the swords to me and hefted the other herself. It was too large for her, but she held it steady, face set. "You go get Steve," she said. "I'll help the others." "Be-" I began, but she'd already raced out of earshot, "-careful," I finished softly. I shook my head, smiled briefly, then set off after Steve. Around me the battle was raging. The circus folk were locked in bloody combat with the vampets and vampaneze, fighting clumsily but effectively, blind fury compensating for lack of military training. The gifted freaks were a huge help. Truska was causing havoc with her beard. Rhamus was an immovable foe. Gertha Teeth was biting off fingers, noses, sword tips. Hans Hands had tucked his legs behind his neck and was dodging between the enemy forces on his hands, too low for them to easily strike, tripping them up and piding them. Vancha had come to a halt, held up by the fighting. He started firing shurikens at those enemies ahead of him, to clear a path. Jekkus Flang stepped up beside him and added his throwing knives to Vancha's stars. A deadly, efficient combination. I couldn't help thinking what a great show they could have put on if we'd been playing to an audience tonight instead of fighting for our lives. Mr Tiny was picking his way through the mass of warring bodies, beaming merrily, admiring the corpses of the dead, studying the dying with polite interest, applauding those locked in especially vicious duels. Evanna was edging towards her father, disinterested in the carnage, bare feet and lower ropes stained with blood. Gannen and Steve were still backing away from the massive Rhamus Twobellies, using him as a shield ¨C it was hard for anybody else to get at them with Rhamus in the way. I tracked them like a hound, closing in. I was almost at the mouth of the tunnel through which we'd entered the stadium when fresh bodies burst through it. My insides tightened ¨C I thought the police had come to the aid of their companions, meaning almost certain defeat for us. But then, to my astonished delight, I realized it was Alice Burgess and a dozen or so vampirites. Declan and Little Kenny ¨C the pair who'd rescued me from the street when Darius shot me ¨C were among them. "Still alive?" Alice shouted as her troops laid into the vampaneze and vampets, faces twisted with excitement and battle lust. "How'd you get in?" I yelled in reply. The plan had been for her to cause a persion outside the stadium, to hold up the police ¨C not invade with a force of her own. "We attacked at the front, as planned," she said. "The police rushed to that point, to battle en masse ¨C they lack discipline. Most of my troops fled with the crowd after a few minutes ¨C you should have seen the chaos! ¨C but I slipped around the back with a few volunteers. The entrance to the tunnel is completely unguarded now. We-" A vampet attacked her and she had to wheel aside to deal with him. I did a very quick head count. With the addition of the vampirites, we seriously outnumbered the vampaneze and vampets. Although the fighting was brutal and disorganized, we had the upper hand. Unless the police outside recovered swiftly and rushed in, we'd win this battle! But that would mean nothing if Steve escaped, so I put all thoughts of victory on hold and went in pursuit of him again. I didn't get very far. R.V. had backed away from the fighting. He was heading for the tunnel, but I was standing almost directly in his path. When he saw me, he stopped. I wasn't sure what to do ¨C fight or let him escape so that I could go after Steve? While I was making up my mind, Cormac Limbs stepped in between us. "Come on, hairy!" he roared at R.V., slapping his face with his left hand, jabbing at him with a knife held in his right. "Let's be having you!" "No!" R.V. moaned. "I don't want to fight." "The devil you don't, you big, bearded, bug-eyed baboon!" Cormac shouted, slapping R.V. again. This time R.V. lashed out at Cormac's hand with his hooks. He cut two of the fingers off, but they immediately grew back. "You'll have to do better than that, stink-breath!" Cormac taunted him. "Then I will!" R.V. shouted, losing his cool. Jumping forwards, he knocked Cormac over, knelt on his chest, and before I could do anything, he struck at Cormac's neck with his hooks. He didn't cut it clean off, but sliced about halfway through. Then, with a grunt, he hacked through the rest of it, and tossed Cormac's head aside like a ball. "You shouldn't have messed with me, man!" R.V. groaned, rising shakily. I was about to attack him, to avenge Cormac's death, but then I saw that he was sobbing. "I didn't want to kill you!" R.V. howled. "I didn't want to kill anybody! I wanted to help people. I wanted to save the world. I..." He ground to a halt, eyes widening with disbelief. Glancing down, I also came to a stunned stop. Where Cormac's head had been, two new heads were growing, shooting out on a pair of thin necks. They were slightly smaller than his old head, but otherwise identical. When they stopped growing, there was a short pause. Then Cormac's eyes fluttered open and he spat blood out of both mouths. His eyes came into focus. He looked at R.V. with one set and at me with the other. Then his heads turned and he stared at himself. "So that's what happens when I cut my head off!" he exclaimed through both mouths at the same time. "I always wondered about that!" "Madness!" R.V. screamed. "The world's gone mad! Mad !" Spinning crazily, he rushed past Cormac, then past me, gibbering insanely, drooling and falling over. I could have killed him easily ¨C but I chose not to. Standing aside, I let the wretch pass, and watched sadly as he staggered down the tunnel, out of sight. R.V. had never been right in the head since losing his hands, and now he'd lost his senses completely. I couldn't bring myself to punish this pathetic shadow of a man. And now, at last ¨C Steve. He and Gannen were part of a small band of vampaneze and vampets. They'd been forced towards the centre of the stadium by the freaks, circus helpers and vampirites. Lots of smaller fights were still being waged around the stadium, but this was their last big stand. If this unit fell, they were all doomed. Vancha was closing in on the group. I joined him. There was no sign of Jekkus Flang ¨C I didn't know whether he'd fallen to the enemy or run out of knives, and this wasn't the time to make enquiries. Vancha paused when he saw me. "Ready?" he asked. "Ready," I said. "I don't care which of us kills him," Vancha said, "but let me go first. If-" He stopped, face twisting with fear. "No!" he roared. Following the direction of his eyes, I saw that Steve had tripped. Evra stood over him, a long knife held in both hands, determined to take the life of the man who'd killed his son. If he struck, the Lord of the Vampaneze would die by the hand of one who wasn't destined to kill him. If Mr Tiny's prophecy was true, that would have dire results for the vampire clan. As we watched, unable to prevent it, Evra stopped abruptly. He shook his head, blinked dumbly ¨C then stepped over Steve and left him lying on the ground, unharmed. Steve sat up, bleary-eyed, not sure what had happened. Gannen Harst stooped and helped him to his feet. The two men stood, alone in the crush, totally ignored by everyone around them. "Over there," I whispered, touching Vancha's shoulder. Far off to our right, Mr Tiny stood, eyes on Steve and Gannen. He was holding his heart-shaped watch in his right hand. It was glowing redly. Evanna was standing beside him, her face illuminated by the glow of her father's watch. I don't know if Steve and Gannen saw Mr Tiny and realized that he was protecting them. But they were alert enough to seize their chance and run for the freedom of the tunnel. Mr Tiny watched the pair race free of danger. Then he looked at Vancha and me, and smiled. The glow of his watch faded and his lips moved softly. Even though we were a long way off, we heard him clearly, as if he was standing next to us. "It's time, boys!" "Harkat!" I shouted, wanting him to come with us, to be there at the end, as he'd been by my side for so much of the hunt. But he didn't hear me. Nobody did. I glanced around the stadium at Harkat, Alice, Evra, Debbie. All of my friends were locked in battle with the vampaneze and vampets. None of them knew what was happening with Steve and Gannen Harst. They weren't part of this. It was just me and Vancha now. "To the death, Sire?" Vancha murmured. "To the death," I agreed miserably. I ran my eyes over the faces of my friends for what might be the final time, bidding silent farewells to the scaly Evra Von, the grey-skinned Harkat Mulds, the steely Alice Burgess and my beloved Debbie Hemlock, more beautiful than ever as she tore into her foes like an Amazonian warrior of old. Perhaps it was for the best that I couldn't bid them a proper farewell. There was so much to say, I don't know where I would have begun. Then Vancha and I jogged after Steve and Gannen Harst, not rushing, sure that they wouldn't flit, not this time, not until we'd satisfied the terms of Mr Tiny's prophecy and Steve or one of us lay dead. Behind us, Mr Tiny and Evanna followed like ghosts. They alone would bear witness to the final battle, the death of one of the hunters or Steve ¨C and the birth of the Lord of the Shadows, destroyer of the present and all-ruling monster of the future.