WE TOOK to the rooftops. There were no helicopters nearby, and the shadows of the gloomy afternoon masked us from general view, so it seemed safer to carry on up high, where we could make good time.
Moving carefully but quickly, we aimed for areas far beyond the chaos behind us, where we could hole up until night. For fifteen minutes we leapt and slid from one rooftop to another, unseen by anyone, getting further and further away from the humans who were hunting us.
Finally, we came to a crumbling old silo - a building in which grain was once stored. A spiral staircase still ran up the outside, though the lowest section had rotted and crumbled away. Leaping on to the upper half of the stairs from a roof, we climbed to the top, kicked down the locked door and let ourselves in.
Closing the door, we edged further into the silo along a narrow ledge, until we reached a semi-circular platform, where we lay down. There were holes and cracks in the roof overhead and the dim light was strong enough for us to see by.
"Do you think we'll be - safe here?" Harkat asked, lowering his mask. Streams of green sweat were flooding the scars and stitches of his grey face.
"Yes," Mr Crepsley said confidently. "They will have to organize a complete search. They dare leave no stone unturned. That will slow them down. It will be morning or later before they make it this far across the city." The vampire shut his eyes and massaged his eyelids. Even doused in suntan lotion, his skin had turned a dark pink colour.
"How are you bearing up?" I asked.
"Better than I dared hope," he said, still rubbing his eyelids. "I have the start of an excruciating headache, but now that I am out of the sunlight, perhaps it will subside." He lowered his fingers, opened his eyes, stretched his right leg out and stared grimly at the swollen flesh rising from his ankle to his knee. He'd taken his shoes off earlier, which was a good thing, as I doubt he'd have been able to pry the right shoe loose now. "I only hopethat subsides too," he muttered.
"Do you think it will?" I asked, studying the ugly bruise.
"Hopefully," he said, rubbing his lower leg gingerly. "If not, we may have to bleed it."
"You mean cut into it to let the blood out?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "Desperate times call for desperate measures. But we will wait and see - with luck it will improve of its own accord."
While Mr Crepsley was tending to his ankle, I unwrapped the chains around my wrists and legs and tried picking the locks. Mr Crepsley had taught me the fundamentals of lock-picking, but I'd never quite got the knack of it.
"Here," he said after a couple of minutes, when he saw I wasn't getting anywhere.
The vampire made quick work of the locks, and seconds later the cuffs and chains were lying in heaps on the floor. I rubbed my freed flesh gratefully, then glanced at Harkat, who was using the hem of his robes to wipe green sweat from his face. "How come they didn't put handcuffs on you?" I asked.
"They did," he replied, "but they took them off - once I was inside my cell."
The Little Person's wide mouth split into a hideous smirk. "They didn't know what I was or - what to make of me. They asked if I was in - pain, so I said I was. They asked if the handcuffs - hurt, so I said they did. So they took them off."
"Just like that?" I asked.
"Yes," he chuckled.
"Lucky beggar," I sniffed.
"Looking like something Dr Frankenstein - threw together has its advantages sometimes," Harkat informed me. "That's also why I was - alone. I could see they were uneasy - around me, so shortly after they began interviewing - me, I told them not to touch me - said I had an - infectious disease. You should have seen them - run!
All three of us laughed aloud.
"You should've told them you were a resurrected corpse," I chuckled. "That would have put their minds at rest!"
We relaxed after that and lay back against the wall of the silo, saying little, eyes half-closed, ruminating on the day's events and the night to come. I was thirsty, so after a while I climbed down the interior stairs and went looking for water. I didn't find any, but I did find a few cans of beans on a shelf in one of the front offices. Carrying them up, I cut them open with my nails and Mr Crepsley and I tucked in. Harkat wasn't hungry - he could go for days on end without food if he had to.
The beans settled nicely in my stomach - cold as they were - and I lay back for an hour, quiet and thoughtful. We weren't in any rush. We had until midnight to rendezvous with Vancha (assuming he made it) and it would take us no more than a couple of hours to march through the tunnels to the cavern where we'd fought the vampaneze.
"Do you think Steve escaped?" I asked eventually.
"I am sure of it," Mr Crepsley replied. "That one has the luck of a demon, and the cunning to match."
"He killed people - police and nurses - while he was escaping," I said.
Mr Crepsley sighed. "I did not think he would attack those who helped him. I would have killed him before we were taken into custody if I had known what he was planning."
"How do you think he got to be so vicious?" I asked. "He wasn't like this when I knew him."
"Yes, he was," Mr Crepsley disagreed. "He just had not grown into his true evil self yet. He was born bad, as certain people are. Humans will tell you that everybody can be helped, that everyone has a choice. In my experience, that is not so. Good people can sometimes choose badness, but bad people cannot choose good."
"I don't believe that," Harkat said softly. "I think good and evil exist - in all of us. We might be born leaning more towards - one than the other, but the choice is there. Ithas to be. Otherwise, we're mere - puppets of fate."
"Perhaps," Mr Crepsley grunted. "Many see it as you do. But I do not think so. Most are born with the freedom of choice. But there are those who defy the rules, who are wicked from the beginning. Maybe theyare puppets of fate, born that way for a reason, to test the rest of us. I do not know. But natural monsters do exist. On that point, nothing you say can shake me. And Steve Leonard is one of them."
"But then it isn't his fault," I said, frowning. "If he was born bad, he isn't to blame for growing up evil."
"No more than a lion is to blame for being a predator," Mr Crepsley agreed.
I thought about that. "If that's the case, we shouldn't hate him - we should pity him."
Mr Crepsley shook his head. "No, Darren. You should neither hate nor pity a monster - merely fear it, and do all in your power to make an end of it before it destroys you." Leaning forward, he rapped on the hard platform with his knuckles. "But remember," he said sternly. "When we venture down the tunnels tonight, Steve Leonard is not our primary enemy - the Lord of the Vampaneze is. If the chance to kill Leonard arises, by all means seize it. But if you have to choose between him and the Lord he serves, strike first for the latter. We must put our personal feelings aside and focus on our mission."
Harkat and I nodded in agreement with the vampire, but he wasn't finished. Pointing at me with a long, bony finger, he said, "That also applies to Miss Hemlock."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"The vampaneze might taunt you with her," he said. "We know they cannot kill us - only their Lord dare cut us down. So they may try to split us up, making it easier for them to capture us. It will hurt, but you must put all thoughts of Debbie aside until the quest to kill the Vampaneze Lord has been settled."
"I don't know if I can do that," I said, eyes downcast.
Mr Crepsley stared hard at me, then dropped his gaze. "You are a Prince," he said quietly. "I cannot command you. If your heart leads you to Debbie, and it proves impossible to resist its call, you must follow. But I ask you to remember the vampires you serve, and what will happen to our clan if we fail."
I nodded soberly. "I haven't forgotten. I'm just not sure, in the heat of the moment, if I'll be able to abandon her."
"But you know that you should?" he pressed. "You understand how important your choice is?"
"Yes," I whispered.
"That is enough," he said. "I trust you to make the right choice."
I cocked an eyebrow. "You sound more like Seba Nile with every passing year," I commented dryly. Seba was the vampire who'd taught Mr Crepsley the ways of the clan.
"I will take that as a compliment," he smiled, then lay back, closed his eyes, and rested in silence, leaving me to think about Debbie and the Lord of the Vampaneze, and contemplate the desperate choice I might be called upon to make.