The arrow struck me high in my right shoulder, knocking me backwards. I roared with agony, grabbed the shaft of the arrow and pulled. The shaft broke off in my hand, leaving the head stuck deep in my flesh.
For a moment the world around me turned red. I thought I was going to pass out. But then the crimson haze faded and the road and houses swam back into focus. Over the sound of my pained panting, I heard footsteps coming towards me. Sitting up - grinding my teeth together to fight back a wave of fresh pain - I saw Steve leading his small band in for the kill.
I'd let go of the truncheons when I fell. One had rolled away, but the other was close by. I snatched for it and for the shaft of the arrow - the splintered end could be used as a crude dagger. When Gannen Harst saw this, he stepped in front of Steve. "Fan out!" he commanded R.V. and Morgan James. They swiftly obeyed. The boy, Darius, was behind Steve. He looked sick. I don't think he'd ever shot anyone before.
"Keep back!" I hissed, waving my pitiful weapons at them.
"Make us," R.V. giggled.
"Uhr'd luhk tuh shee im truhy!" said Morgan James, who could only speak in a slur since his accident.
"We won't let him try anything," Gannen Harst said quietly. He hadn't drawn his sword yet, but his right hand was hanging purposefully by his scabbard. "He's a dangerous foe, even injured - don't forget that."
"You think too much of the boy," Steve purred, looking at me over his protector's shoulder. "He won't even be able to get up with a wound like that."
"Won't I?" I snorted, and pushed myself to my feet just to spite him. A red curtain descended for the second time, but again it passed after a couple of seconds. When my sight cleared, I saw Steve grinning wickedly - he'd goaded me to my feet on purpose, to string more entertainment out of me.
Waving the arrow shaft around at the four men, I backed away. Each step was torture, the pain in my right shoulder flaring up at the slightest movement. It was clear I couldn't get very far, but Gannen was taking no chances. He sent R.V. to my left and James to my right, blocking my route in both directions.
I stopped, weaving heavily on my feet, woozily trying to formulate a plan. I knew only Steve could kill me - Des Tiny had predicted doom for the vampaneze if anybody other than their Lord killed any of the vampire hunters - but the others could hold me down for him.
"Lets finish him off quickly," Gannen Harst said, finally drawing his sword. "He is at our mercy. Let's not waste time."
"Take it easy," Steve chuckled. "I want to see him bleed a bit more."
"And if he bleeds to death from your son's arrow?" Gannen snapped.
"He won't," Steve said. "Darius shot exactly where I trained him to." Steve glanced back at the boy and caught his troubled look. "Are you OK?"
"Yes," Darius croaked. "I just didn't think it would be so? so?"
"Bloody," Steve said. He nodded understandingly. "You did good work tonight. You don't have to watch the rest if you don't want to."
"How did?you end up with? a son?" I gasped, playing for time, hoping an escape would present itself.
"A long, twisted story," Steve said, facing me again. "One I'll delight in telling you before I drive a stake through your heart."
"You got that? the wrong way round." I laughed bleakly. "I'llbe the one doing? the killing tonight."
"Optimistic to the last," Steve smirked. He cocked a devilish eyebrow at me. "How did Tommy die - with dignity, or like that squealing pig Crepsley?"
At that, something snapped inside me. I screamed a foul insult at Steve and, without thinking, hurled my truncheon at him. With blind luck, it struck his forehead and he dropped with a startled grunt.
Gannen Harst instinctively swung away from me, to check on his Lord. As soon as he made his move, I made mine. Jumping at Morgan James, I lashed out with the arrow shaft. He took a quick step back to avoid being speared. As he did, I smashed into him with my wounded right shoulder. I howled with pain as the arrow head was forced deeper into my flesh, but my ploy worked - James toppled over.
The path ahead was momentarily clear. I stumbled forward, grasping my right shoulder with my left hand, pressing hard around the hole where the arrow head was buried, trying to stem the flow of blood, weeping with agony. Behind me I heard Steve shout, "I'm OK! Chase him! Don't let him get away!"
If I hadn't been injured, I might have had enough of a head start on them. But I could manage nothing faster than a slow jog. It was only a matter of seconds before they'd catch up with me.
As I lurched away, my pursuers hot on my heels, a door to one of the houses on my left opened and a large man stuck his head out. "What's all the noise about?" he shouted angrily. "Some of us are trying to?"
"Help!" I screamed on impulse. "Murder!"
The man threw the door all the way open and stepped out. "What's going on?" he yelled.
I looked back at Steve and the others. They'd come to a halt. I had to make the most of their confusion.
"Help!" I screamed at the top of my lungs. "Killers! They've shot me! Help!"
Lights began flicking on in the neighbouring houses, and curtains were swished back. The man who'd come out started towards me. Steve sneered, reached over his shoulder, produced an arrow-gun and fired at the man. Gannen Harst knocked the arrow-gun aside just before Steve fired, so the arrow whizzed wide of its mark. But the man had seen Steve's intent and he ran back inside his house before he could be fired upon again.
"What are you doing?" Steve furiously challenged Gannen Harst.
"We must get out of here!" Gannen shouted.
"Not without killing him!" Steve yelled, jerking his arrow-gun at me.
"Then kill him, quick, and let's go!" Gannen responded.
Steve stared at me, eyes filled with hatred. Behind him, R.V. and Morgan James were looking on with hungry longing, eager to see me die. Darius was further removed from the gang - I couldn't tell if he was watching or not.
Steve raised his arrow-gun, took a couple of steps closer, trained his sights on me, then?
?lowered it, unfired. "No," he said sullenly. "This is too easy. Too fast."
"Don't be foolish!" Gannen roared. "You have to kill him! This is the predicted fourth encounter. You must do it now, before?"
"I'll do what I please!" Steve yelled, turning on his mentor. For a moment I thought he meant to attack his closest ally. But then he got hold of himself and smiled tightly. "I know what I'm doing, Gannen. I can't kill him this way."
"If not now, then when?" Gannen snarled.
"Later," Steve said. "When the time is right. When I can torment him at my leisure and make him feel the pain I felt when he betrayed me and pledged himself to Creepy Crepsley."
"And Mr Tiny's prophecy?" Gannen hissed.
"Stuff it!" Steve smirked. "I'll create my own destiny. That mug in the wellies doesn't rule my life."
Gannen's red eyes were ablaze with rage. This was madness. He wanted Steve to kill me, to settle the War of the Scars once and for all. He would have argued the point, but more doors were opening and people were poking their heads out. Gannen realized they were in danger of attracting too much unwanted attention. He shook his head, then grabbed Steve, spun him away from me and pushed him back the way they'd come, ordering R.V. and Morgan James to retreat.
"Catch you later, vampire-gator!" Steve laughed, waving at me as Gannen shepherded him away.
I wanted to respond with a suitable insult, but I lacked the strength. Besides, I had to get out of there as sharply as Steve and his gang. If the people came out and found me, I'd be in major trouble. It would mean the police, hospital, recognition and arrest - I was still a wanted fugitive. The general public here might not know about the alleged killer, Darren Shan, but I was sure the police did.
Turning my back on the emerging humans, I staggered to the end of the block, where I rested a moment, leaning against a wall. I wiped sweat from my forehead and tears from my eyes, then checked the hole in my shoulder - still bleeding. There was no time to examine it further. People were spilling out on to the street. It wouldn't be long before news of the killings at the stadium trickled through. Then they'd be on their phones to the police, telling them all about the disturbance.
Pushing myself away from the wall, I stumbled left and started down a path which would hopefully lead me away from the housing estate. I tried to jog but it was too painful. I slowed to the fastest walk I could manage, bleeding with every step I took, head ringing, desperately wondering how far I could struggle on before I collapsed from loss of blood or shock.