"BASE" WAS the fifth floor of an ancient, largely abandoned block of apartments. It was where Steve had set up camp. We'd moved in when we teamed up with him. We occupied three apartments on the floor. While Mr Crepsley, Harkat and I bundled Steve into the middle apartment, Vancha grabbed the vampet by his ears and hauled him off to the apartment on the right.

"Will he torture him?" I asked Mr Crepsley, pausing at the door.


"Yes," the vampire answered bluntly.

I didn't like the thought of that, but the circumstances called for swift, true answers. Vancha was only doing what had to be done. In war there's sometimes no room for compassion or humanity.

Entering our apartment, I hurried to the fridge. It didn't work - the apartment had no electricity - but we stored our drinks and food there.

"Anyone hungry or thirsty?" I asked.

"I'll have asteak - extra bloody - fries and a Coke to go," Steve quipped. He'd made himself comfortable on the couch, and was smiling around at us as though we were one big happy family.

I ignored him. "Mr Crepsley? Harkat?"

"Water, please," Mr Crepsley said, shrugging off his tattered red cloak, so he could examine his wounds. "And bandages," he added.

"Are you hurt?" Harkat asked.

"Not really. But the tunnels we crawled through were unhygienic. We should all clean out our wounds to prevent infection."

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I washed my hands, then threw some food together. I wasn't hungry but I felt I should eat - my body was working solely on excess adrenaline; it needed feeding. Harkat and Mr Crepsley also tucked into the food and soon we were finishing off the last of the crumbs.

We offered none to Steve.

While we were tending to our wounds, I stared hatefully at Steve, who grinned back mockingly. "How long did it take to set this up?" I asked. "Getting us here, arranging those false papers for me and sending me to school, luring us down the tunnels - how long?"

"Years," Steve replied proudly. "It wasn't easy. You don't know the half of it. That cavern where the trap was set - we built that from scratch, along with the tunnels leading in and out of it. We built other caverns too. There's one I'm especially proud of. I hope I have the chance to show it to you some time."

"You went to all this trouble just for us?" Mr Crepsley asked, startled.

"Yes," Steve replied smugly.

"Why?" I asked. "Wouldn't it have been easier to fight us in the old, existing tunnels?"

"Easier," Steve agreed, "but not as much fun. I've developed a love of the dramatic over the years - a bit like Mr Tiny. You should appreciate that, having worked for a circus for so long."

"WhatI don't understand," Harkat mused, "is what the - Vampaneze Lord was doing there, or why the other vampaneze - aided you in your insane plans."

"Not as insane as you might think," Steve retorted. "The Vampaneze Lord knew you'd be coming. Mr Tiny told him all about the hunters who would dog his footsteps. He also said that running away or hiding wasn't an option - if our Lord didn't make a stand and face those who hunted him, the War of the Scars would be lost.

"When he learnt of my interest in you - and R.V.'s - he consulted us and together we hatched this plan. Gannen Harst cautioned against it - he's old school and would have preferred a direct confrontation - but the Vampaneze Lord shares my theatrical tastes."

"This Lord of yours," Mr Crepsley said. "What does he look like?"

Steve laughed and shook a finger at the vampire. "Now, now, Larten. You don't honestly expect me to describe him, do you? He's been very careful not to show his face, even to most of those who follow him."

"We could torture it out of you," I growled.

"I doubt it," Steve smirked. "I'm half-vampaneze. I can take anything you can dish out. I'd let you kill me before I betrayed the clan." He shrugged off the heavy jacket he'd been wearing since we met. Strong chemical odours wafted off him.

"He's not shivering any more," Harkat said suddenly. Steve had told us he suffered from colds, which was why he had to wear lots of clothes and smear on lotions to protect himself.

"Of course not," Steve said. "That was all for show."

"You have the slyness of a demon," Mr Crepsley grunted. "By claiming to be susceptible to colds, you were able to wear gloves to hide your fingertip scars, and douse yourself in sickly-smelling lotions to mask your vampaneze stench."

"The smell was the difficult bit," Steve laughed. "I knew your sensitive noses would sniff my blood out, so I had to distract them." He pulled a face. "But it hasn't been easy. My sense of smell is also highly developed, so the fumes have played havoc with my sinuses. The headaches are awful."

"My heart bleeds for you," I snarled sarcastically, and Steve laughed with delight. He was having a great time, even though he was our prisoner. His eyes were alight with evil glee.

"You won't be grinning if R.V. refuses to trade Debbie for you," I told him.

"True enough," he admitted. "But I live only to see you and Creepy Crepsley suffer. I could die happy knowing the torment you'll endure if R.V. carves up your darling teacher girlfriend."

I shook my head, appalled. "How did you get so twisted?" I asked. "We were friends, almost like brothers. You weren't evil then. What happened to you?"

Steve's face darkened. "I was betrayed," he said quietly.

"That isn't true," I replied. "I saved your life. I gave up everything so that you could live. I didn't want to become a half-vampire. I?"

"Shut it!" Steve snapped. "Torture me if you wish, but don't insult me with lies. I know you plotted with Creepy Crepsley to spite me. I could have been a vampire, powerful, long-living, majestic. But you left me as a human, to shuffle through a pitifully short life, weak and afraid like everybody else. Well, guess what? I outsmarted you! I tracked down those in the other camp and gained my rightful powers and privileges anyway!"

"For all the good it has done you," Mr Crepsley snorted.

"What do you mean?" Steve snapped.

"You have wasted your life on hatred and revenge," Mr Crepsley said. "What good is life if there is no joy or creative purpose? You would have been better off living five years as a human than five hundred as a monster."

"I'm no monster!" Steve snarled. "I'm ?" He stopped and growled something to himself. "Enough of this crap," he declared aloud. "You're boring me. If you haven't anything more intelligent to say, keep your mouths shut."

"Impudent cur!" Mr Crepsley roared, and swung the back of his hand across Steve's cheek, drawing blood. Steve sneered at the vampire, wiped the blood off with his fingers, then put them to his lips.

"One night soon, it'll beyour blood I dine on," he whispered, then lapsed into silence.

Exasperated and weary, Mr Crepsley, Harkat and I also fell silent. We finished cleaning our wounds, then lay back and relaxed. If we'd been alone, we'd have dozed off - but none of us dared shut our eyes with a destructive beast like Steve Leopard in the room.

More than an hour after Vancha had taken his captive vampet aside, he returned. His face was dark and although he'd washed his hands before coming in, he hadn't been able to remove all the traces of blood. Some of it was his own, from wounds received in the tunnels, but most had come from the vampet.

Vancha found a bottle of warm beer in the out-of-order fridge, yanked the top off and downed it hungrily. He normally never drank anything other than fresh water, milk and blood - but these were hardly normal times.

He wiped around his mouth with the back of a hand when he was done, then stared at the faint red stains on his flesh. "He was a brave man," Vancha said quietly. "He resisted longer than I thought possible. I had to do bad things to make him talk. I ?" He shivered and opened another bottle. There were bitter tears in his eyes as he drank.

"Is he dead?" I asked, my voice trembling.

Vancha sighed and looked away. "We're at war. We cannot afford to spare our enemies' lives. Besides, by the time I'd finished, it seemed cruel to let him live. Killing him was a mercy in the end."

"Praise the gods of the vampires for small mercies," Steve laughed, then flinched as Vancha spun, drew a shuriken and sent it flying at him. The sharp throwing star buried itself in the material of the couch, less than a centimetre beneath Steve's right ear.

"I won't miss with the next," Vancha swore, and at last the smile slipped from Steve's face, as he realized how serious the Prince was.

Mr Crepsley got up and laid a calming hand on Vancha's shoulder, directing him to a chair. "Was the interrogation worthwhile?" he asked. "Had the vampet anything new to reveal?"

Vancha didn't answer immediately. He was still glaring at Steve. Then the question sunk in and he wiped around his large eyes with the ends of one of his animal hides. "He'd plenty to say," Vancha grunted, then lapsed into silence and stared down at the bottle of beer in his hands, as though he didn't know how it got there.

"The vampet!" he said loudly after a minute of quiet, head snapping up, eyes clicking into focus. "Yes. I found out, for starters, why Gannen didn't kill us, and why the others fought so cagily." Leaning forward, he lobbed the empty beer bottle at Steve, who swatted it aside, then stared arrogantly back at the Prince. "Only the Vampaneze Lord can kill us," Vancha said softly.

"What do you mean?" I frowned.

"He's bound by Mr Tiny's rules, the same as us," Vancha explained. "Just aswe can't call upon others for help in tracking and fighting him,he can't ask his underlings to kill us. Mr Tiny said he had to kill us himself to ensure victory. He can call upon all the vampaneze he likes to fight us, but if one should strike too deeply and inflict a fatal wound, they're destined to lose the war."

That was exciting news and we discussed it eagerly. Until now, we thought we stood no chance against the Vampaneze Lord's minions - there were simply too many of them for us to cut a path through. But if they weren't allowed to kill us ?

"Let's not get carried away," Harkat cautioned. "Even if they can't kill us, they can - stall and subdue us. If they capture us and give us to - their Lord, it will be a simple matter for him to - drive a stake through our hearts."

"How come they didn't killyou !" I asked Harkat. "You're not one of the three hunters."

"Maybe they don't know that," Harkat said.

Steve muttered something beneath his breath.

"What was that?" Vancha shouted, prodding him sharply with his left foot.

"I said we didn't know before, but we do now!" Steve jeered. "At least," he added sulkily, "Iknow."

"You did not know who the hunters were?" Mr Crepsley asked.

Steve shook his head. "We knew there were three of you, and Mr Tiny told us that one would be a child, so we had Darren pegged straight off. But when five of you turned up - you three, Harkat and Debbie - we weren't sure about the others. We guessed the hunters would be vampires, but we didn't want to take unnecessary chances."

"Is that why you pretended to be our ally?" I asked. "You wanted to get close to us, to figure out who the hunters were?"

"That was part of it," Steve nodded, "although mostly I just wanted to toy with you. It was fun, getting so close that I could kill you whenever I wished, delaying the fatal blow until the time was right."

"He's a fool," Vancha snorted. "Anyone who wouldn't strike his foe dead at the first opportunity is asking for trouble."

"Steve Leonard is many things," Mr Crepsley said, "but not foolish." He rubbed the long scar on the left side of his face, thinking deeply. "You thought this plan through most thoroughly, did you not?" he asked Steve.

"I sure did," Steve smirked.

"You accounted for every possible twist and turn?"

"As many as I could imagine."

Mr Crepsley stopped stroking his scar and his eyes narrowed. "Then you must have considered what would happen if we escaped."

Steve's smile widened but he said nothing.

"What was the back-up plan?" Mr Crepsley asked, his voice strained.

'"Back-up plan'?" Steve echoed innocently.

"Do not play games with me!" Mr Crepsley hissed. "You must have discussed alternate plans with R.V. and Gannen Harst. Once you had revealed your location to us, you could not afford to sit back and wait. Time is precious now that we know where your Lord is hiding, and how those with him cannot take our lives."

Mr Crepsley stopped speaking and snapped to his feet. Vancha was only a second behind him. Their eyes locked and, as one, they exclaimed, "A trap!"

"I knew he came too quietly up the tunnels," Vancha growled, hurrying to the apartment door, opening it and checking the corridor outside. "Deserted."

"I will try the window," Mr Crepsley said, starting towards it.

"No point," Vancha said. "Vampaneze wouldn't attack in the open by day."

"No," Mr Crepsley agreed, "but vampets would." He reached the window and drew back the heavy blind which was blocking the harmful rays of the sun. His breath caught in his throat. "Charna's guts!" he gasped.

Vancha, Harkat and I rushed over to see what had upset him (Vancha grabbed hold of Steve on the way). What we saw caused us all to curse, except Steve, who laughed deliriously.

The street outside was teeming with police cars, army vans, policemen and soldiers. They were lined up in front of the building, and stretched around the sides. Many carried rifles. In the building opposite, we glimpsed figures in the windows, also armed. As we watched, a helicopter buzzed down from overhead and hung in the air a couple of floors above us. There was a soldier in the helicopter with a rifle so big it could have been used to shoot elephants.

But the marksman wasn't interested in elephants. He was aiming at the same target as those in the building and on the ground ?us !

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