THOUGH STEVE had sent Mr Crepsley plummeting to his doom, he also accidentally threw the vampire a slender life-line. Because as Mr Crepsley toppled, Steve leant over the railing, eager to watch the vampire hit the stakes and die. As he did, the length of chain he'd used as a weapon - which he still clutched in his right hand - unfurled and dropped beside Mr Crepsley like a rope.
Throwing out a desperate hand, the vampire grabbed the chain, once again ignoring the pain as spikes buried themselves deep in the flesh of his palm. The chain reached its limit and snapped taut, halting Mr Crepsley's fall.
On the platform, Steve wailed as the weight of Mr Crepsley caused the chain to tighten around the flesh of his right hand. He tried shaking it loose, but couldn't. As he stood, leaning half over the rail, struggling with the chain, Mr Crepsley reached up, grabbed the sleeve of Steve's shirt, and pulled him over further, caring nothing for his own life, intent only on taking Steve's.
As the pair fell - Steve screaming, Mr Crepsley laughing - Gannen Harst thrust a hand out and caught Steves flailing left hand. The vampaneze groaned painfully as the weight of the two men dragged on the muscles and tendons in his arm, but braced himself against an upright support post and held tight.
"Let go!" Steve screamed, kicking out at Mr Crepsley, trying to knock him off. "You'll kill us both!"
"That is what I mean to do!" Mr Crepsley roared. He didn't seem in the least bit bothered by the threat of death. Maybe it was the rush of adrenaline pumping through his veins, having killed the Lord of the Vampaneze - or perhaps he didn't care about his own life if it meant killing Steve. Either way, he'd accepted his fate and made no attempt to climb Steve's body to safety. In fact, he started tugging on the chain, trying to break Gannen Harst's hold.
"Stop!" Gannen Harst roared. "Stop and we'll let you go!"
"Too late!" Mr Crepsley howled. "I swore two things to myself when I came down here. One - I would kill the Lord of the Vampaneze. Two - I would kill Steve Leonard! I am not a man for leaving a job half done, so ?"
He tugged even harder than before. Above him, Gannen Harst gasped and shut his eyes against the pain. "I can't - hold on - much longer!" he moaned.
"Larten!" Vancha shouted. "Don't do it! Trade your life for his. We'll track him down later and finish him off!"
"By the black blood of Harnon Oan - no!" Mr Crepsley roared. "I have him now, so I will kill him. Let that be the end of it!"
"And what - about your - allies?" Gannen Harst shouted, and as the words penetrated Mr Crepsley's skull, he stopped struggling and gazed up warily at the ex-protector of the Vampaneze Lord.
"Asyou hold the life of Steve Leonard in your hands," Harst said quickly, "Ihold the lives of your friends. If you kill Steve, I'll order their deaths too!"
"No," Mr Crepsley said quietly. "Leonard is a madman. His life must not be spared. Let me?"
"No!" Gannen Harst yelled. "Spare Steve and I'll spare the others. That's the deal. Agree to it, quick, before I lose my grip and the bloodshed continues."
Mr Crepsley paused thoughtfully.
"His life too!" I shouted. "Spare Mr Crepsley, or?"
"No!" Steve snarled. "Creepy Crepsley dies. I won't let him go."
"Don't be stupid!" Gannen Harst bellowed. "You'll die too if we don't release him!"
"Then I'll die," Steve sneered.
"You don't know what you're saying!" Harst hissed.
"I do," Steve replied softly. "I'll let the others go, but Crepsley dies now, because he said I was evil." Steve glared down at the silent Mr Crepsley. "And if I have to die with him, I will - consequences be damned!"
While Gannen Harst stared at Steve, mouth agape, Mr Crepsley looked to where Vancha and I were standing. As our eyes locked in grim understanding, Debbie rushed up beside us. "Darren!" she shouted. "We have to save him! We can't let him die! We?"
"Shhh," I whispered, kissing her forehead, holding her close.
"But?" she sobbed.
"We can't do anything," I sighed.
While Debbie moaned and buried her face in my chest, Mr Crepsley addressed Vancha. "It seems our paths must part, Sire."
"Aye," Vancha croaked bitterly.
"We shared some good times," Mr Crepsley said.
"Great times," Vancha corrected him.
"Will you sing my praises in the Halls of Vampire Mountain when you return, and drink a toast to me, even if it is only a glass of water?"
"I'll drink a crate of ale to your name," Vancha vowed, "and sing death songs till my voice cracks."
"You always did take things to extremes," Mr Crepsley laughed. Then his gaze settled on me. "Darren," he said.
"Larten," I replied, smiling awkwardly. I felt like crying, but couldn't. There was an awful emptiness inside of me and my emotions wouldn't respond.
"Hurry!" Gannen Harst shouted. "My grip is slipping. A few more seconds and I'll?"
"A few seconds will suffice," Mr Crepsley said, not one to be rushed, even when death was beckoning. Smiling sadly at me, he said, "Do not let hatred rule your life. My death does not need to be avenged. Live as a free vampire, not as a twisted, revenge-driven creature of despair. Do not become like Steve Leonard or R.V. My spirit will not rest easy in Paradise if you do."
"You don't want me to kill Steve?" I asked uncertainly.
"By all means kill him!" Mr Crepsley boomed. "But do not devote yourself to the task. Do not?"
"I can't - hold - any longer!" Gannen Harst wheezed. He was trembling and sweating from the strain.
"Nor shall you have to," Mr Crepsley responded. His eyes passed from me to Vancha and back again, then up to the ceiling. He stared as though he could see through the layers of rock, concrete and earth above to the sky beyond. "Gods of the vampires!" he bellowed. "Even in death, may I be triumphant!"
Then, as the echoes of his final cry reverberated around the walls of the cavern, Mr Crepsley let go of the chain. He hung in the air an impossible moment, almost as though he could fly - then dropped like a stone towards the steel-tipped stakes beneath.