HARKAT SAW him first. It was a quarter past eight. Richard and one of his brothers had left the house to go to a nearby shop and were returning with bags full of shopping. We'd shadowed them every step of the way. Richard was laughing at some joke his brother had cracked, when Harkat put a hand on my shoulder and pointed to the skyline. It took me no more than a second to spot the figure crossing the roof of a large apartment store, trailing the boys below.
"Is it Hooky?" Harkat asked.
"I don't know," I said, straining my eyes. "He's not close enough to the edge. I can't see."
The brothers were approaching the mouth of an alley that they had to walk through to get home. That was the logical place for the vampaneze to strike, so Harkat and I hurried after the boys, until we were only a few metres behind when they turned off the main street. We hung back as they started down the alley. Harkat produced his arrow gun (he'd removed the trigger-guard, to accommodate his large finger) and loaded it. I took a couple of throwing knives (courtesy of Vancha) from my belt, ready to back Harkat up if he missed.
Richard and his brother were halfway down the alley when the vampaneze appeared. I saw his gold and silver hooks first - it was Hooky! - then his head came into view, masked by a balaclava as it had been before. He would have seen us if he'd checked, but he had eyes only for the humans.
Hooky advanced to the edge of the wall, then skulked along after the brothers, stealthy as a cat. He presented a perfect target, and I was tempted to tell Harkat to shoot to kill. But there were other fish in the vampaneze sea, and if we didn't use this one as bait, we'd never catch them. "His left leg," I whispered. "Below the knee. That'll slow him down."
Harkat nodded without taking his eyes off the vampaneze. I could see Hooky preparing to leap. I wanted to ask Harkat what he was waiting for, but that would have distracted him. Then, as Hooky crouched low to jump, Harkat squeezed the trigger and sent his arrow flying through the darkness. It struck Hooky exactly where I'd suggested. The vampaneze howled with pain and toppled clumsily from the wall. Richard and his brother jumped and dropped their bags. They stared at the person writhing on the floor, not sure whether to flee or go to his aid.
"Get out of here!" I roared, stepping forward, covering my face with my hands so that Richard couldn't identify me.
"Run now if you want to live!" That decided them. Leaving the bags, they bolted. For a couple of humans, it was amazing how fast they could run.
Hooky, meanwhile, was back on his feet. "My leg!" he roared, tugging at the arrow. But Steve was a cunning designer and it wouldn't come loose. Hooky pulled again, harder, and it snapped off in his hand, leaving the head embedded in the muscles of his lower leg. "Aiiiieeee!" Hooky screamed, throwing the useless shaft at us.
"Move in," I said to Harkat, deliberately louder than necessary. "We'll trap him and finish him off."
Hooky stiffened when he heard that, the whimpers dying on his lips. Realizing the danger he was in, he tried leaping back up on to the wall. But his left leg was no good and he couldn't manage the jump. Cursing, he pulled a knife out of his belt and propelled it towards us. We had to duck sharply to avoid it, which gave Hooky the time he needed to turn and flee - exactly what we wanted!
As we started after the vampaneze, Harkat phoned the others and told them what was happening. It was his job to keep them informed of developments - I had to focus on Hooky and make sure we didn't lose him.
He'd disappeared from sight when I reached the end of the alley, and for an awful moment I thought he'd escaped. But then I saw drops of blood on the pavement and followed them to the mouth of another alley, where I found him scaling a low wall. I let him get up, and then on to the roof of a neighbouring house, before going after him. It suited my purposes far better to have him up above the streets for the duration of the chase, illuminated by the glow of street lamps, out of the way of police and soldiers.
Hooky was waiting for me on the roof. He'd torn tiles loose and launched them at me, howling like a rabid dog. I dodged one, but had to use my hands to protect myself from the other. It shattered over my knuckles, but caused no real damage. The hook-handed vampaneze advanced, snarling. I was momentarily confused when I noticed that one of his eyes no longer glowed red - it was an ordinary blue or green colour - but I'd no time to mull it over. Bringing my knives up, I prepared to meet the killer's challenge. I didn't want to kill him before he'd had a chance to lead us back to his companions, but if I had to, I would.
Before he could test me, Vancha and Steve appeared. Steve fired an arrow at the vampaneze - missing on purpose - and Vancha leapt on to the wall. Hooky howled again, sent another few tiles flying towards us, then scrambled up the roof and down the other side.
"Are you OK?" Vancha asked, stopping beside me.
"Yes. We got him in the leg. He's bleeding."
There was a small pool of blood nearby. I dipped a finger into it and sniffed. It smelt of vampaneze blood, but I still asked Vancha to test it. "It's vampaneze," he said, tasting it. "Why wouldn't it be?" I explained about Hooky's eyes. "Strange," he grunted, but said no more. Helping me to my feet, he scuttled to the top of the roof, checked to make sure Hooky wasn't lying in wait for us, then beckoned me to follow. The chase was on!
While Vancha and I trailed the vampaneze across the rooftops, Harkat and Steve kept abreast of us on the ground, slowing only to negotiate their way around roadblocks or police patrols. About five minutes into the chase, Mr. Crepsley and Debbie connected with us, Debbie joining those below, the vampire taking to the roofs.
We could have closed in on Hooky - he was having a hard time, slowed by his injured leg, the pain and loss of blood - but we allowed him to remain ahead of us. There was no way he could ditch us up here. If we'd wanted to kill him, it would have been a simple matter to reel him in. But we didn't want to kill him - yet!
"We mustn't let him grow suspicious," Vancha said after several minutes of silence. "If we hang back too long, he'll guess something's up. Time to drive him to earth." Vancha moved ahead of us, until he was within shuriken-throwing range of the vampaneze. He took a throwing star from the belts looped around his chest, aimed carefully and sent it skimming off a chimney just above Hooky's head.
Whirling, the vampaneze shouted something unintelligible back at us and angrily shook a golden hook. Vancha silenced him with another shuriken, which flew even closer to its mark than the first. Dropping to his belly, Hooky slid to the edge of the roof, where he grabbed on to the guttering with his hooks, halting his fall. He hung over open space a moment, checked the area underneath, jerked his hooks clear of the guttering and then dropped. It was a four-storey fall, but that was nothing to a vampaneze.
"Here we go," Mr. Crepsley muttered, making for a nearby fire escape. "Call the others and warn them - we do not want them running into him on the streets."
I did that while jogging down the steps of the fire escape. They were a block and a half behind us. I told them to hold position until further notice. While Mr. Crepsley and I followed the vampaneze on the ground, Vancha kept sight of him from the rooftops, making sure he couldn't take to the roofs again, narrowing his options so that he had to choose between the streets and the tunnels.
After three minutes of frenzied running, he chose the tunnels.
We found a discarded manhole cover and a trail of blood leading down into the darkness. "This is it," I sighed nervously as we stood waiting for Vancha. I hit the redial button on my mobile and summoned the others. When they arrived, we paired off into our regular teams, and climbed down into the tunnels. Each of us knew what we had to do and no words were exchanged.
Vancha and Steve led the pursuit. The rest of us trailed behind, covering adjacent tunnels, so Hooky couldn't double back. It wasn't easy tracking Hooky down here. The water in the tunnels had washed much of his blood away, and the darkness made it hard to see very far ahead. But we'd become accustomed to these tight, dark spaces, and we moved quickly and efficiently, keeping close, picking up on the slightest identifying marks.
Hooky led us deeper into the tunnels than we'd ever been. Even the mad vampaneze, Murlough, hadn't delved this deeply into the underbelly of the city. Was Hooky heading for his companions and help, or simply trying to lose us?
"We must be nearing the city limits," Harkat remarked as we rested a moment. "The tunnels must run out soon, or else..."
"What?" I asked when he didn't continue.
"They could open up," he said. "Perhaps he is making a break... for freedom. If he reaches open countryside and... has a clear run, he can flit to safety."
"Won't his wounds stop him doing that?" I asked.
"Perhaps. But if he is desperate enough... perhaps not."
We resumed the chase and caught up with Vancha and Steve. Harkat told Vancha what he thought Hooky was planning. Vancha replied that he'd already thought of that, and was gradually closing in on the fleeing vampaneze - if Hooky angled for the surface, Vancha would head him off and make an end of him.
But, to our surprise, instead of heading upwards, the vampaneze led us ever further down. I'd no idea the tunnels ran this deep, and couldn't imagine what they were for - they were modern in design, and showed no signs of having been used. As I was pondering it, Vancha came to a standstill and I almost walked into him.
"What is it?" I asked.
"He's stopped," Vancha whispered. "There's a room or cave up ahead and he's come to a halt."
"Waiting for us, to make a final stand?" I suggested.
"Perhaps," Vancha replied uneasily. "He's lost a lot of blood and the pace of the chase must be sapping his energy. But why stop now? Why here?" He shook his head. "I don't like it."
As Mr. Crepsley and Debbie arrived, Steve unstrapped his arrow gun and loaded it by torchlight.
"Careful!" I hissed. "He'll see the light."
Steve shrugged. "So? He knows we're here. We might as well operate by light as in darkness."
That made sense, so we all lit the torches we'd brought, keeping the lights dim so as not to create too many distracting shadows.
"Do we go after him," Steve asked, "or stay here and wait for him to attack?"
"We go in," Mr. Crepsley answered after the briefest of pauses.
"Aye," Vancha said. "In."
I studied Debbie. She was trembling and looked ready to collapse. "You can wait out here if you like," I told her.
"No," she said. "I'm coming." She stopped trembling. "For Tara."
"Steve and Debbie will keep to the back," Vancha said, loosening a few of his shurikens. "Larten and I will lead. Darren and Harkat in the middle." Everybody nodded obediently. "If he's alone, I'll take him," Vancha went on. "An even fight, one-on-one. If he has company-" he grinned humourlessly "-it's everyone for themselves."
One final check to make sure we were ready and he advanced, Mr. Crepsley to his right, Harkat and I close behind, Steve and Debbie bringing up the rear.
We found ourselves in a large, domed room, modern like the tunnels. A handful of candles jutted from the walls, casting a gloomy, flickering light. There was another way into the room directly across from us, but it was barred by a heavy, round, metal door, like those used for walk-in safes in banks. Hooky had squatted a few metres in front of the door. His knees were drawn up to cover his face, and his hands were busy trying to pry the arrow head from his leg.
We fanned out, Vancha in front, the rest of us forming a protective semi-circle behind him. "The game's over," Vancha said, holding back, examining the shadows for traces of other vampaneze.
"Think so?" Hooky snorted and looked up at us with his one red eye and one blue-green. "I think it's only beginning." The vampaneze clashed his hooks together. Once. Twice. Three times.
And someone dropped from the ceiling.
The someone landed beside Hooky. Stood and faced us. His face was purple and his eyes were blood-red - a vampaneze. Someone else dropped. Another. More. I felt sick inside as I watched vampaneze drop. There were human vampets among them too, dressed in brown shirts and black trousers, with skinned heads, a tattooed 'V above either ear, and red circles painted around their eyes, carrying rifles, pistols and crossbows.
I counted nine vampaneze and fourteen vampets, not including Hooky. We'd walked into a trap, and as I stared around at the armed, grim-faced warriors, I knew we'd need all the luck of the vampires just to scrape out of this alive.