AT THE last possible moment, when all seemed lost, someone on a rope swung from the ceiling, streaked through the air, grabbed Mr Crepsley around the waist, and rose with him to the safety of the platform, where they landed on their feet. As I stared, amazed, mouth hanging open, Mr Crepsley's rescuer turned - it was Mika Ver Leth, one of my fellow Vampire Princes!
"Now!" Mika roared, and at his cry an army of vampires climbed through the holes in the ceiling and dropped to the floor, landing among the flabbergasted vampaneze and vampets. Before our foes had a chance to defend themselves, our troops were upon them, swords swinging, knives darting, axes chopping.
On the platform, Gannen Harst howled miserably - "No!" - then threw himself at Mr Crepsley and Mika. As Harst lunged, Mika calmly stepped in front of Mr Crepsley, drew his sword, and swung it broadly at the advancing vampaneze, cutting his head clean off at the neck, sending it sailing through the air like a misdirected bowling ball.
As Gannen Harst's lifeless, headless body toppled over the side of the platform, Steve Leopard yelped, turned, and dashed for the safety of the tunnel. He'd made it almost to the end of the plank when Mr Crepsley borrowed one of Mika's knives, took careful aim, and sent it flashing through the air at the half-vampaneze.
The knife buried itself between Steve's shoulder blades. He gasped, stopped, spun around slowly, face white, eyes bulging, hands grasping for the hilt of the knife, unable to draw it out. Coughing up blood, he collapsed on to the plank, spasmed briefly and fell still.
Around us, the vampires were finishing off their opponents. Harkat and Vancha had joined the fighting and were cheerfully dispatching vampaneze and vampets. Behind them, Chief Inspector Alice Burgess was gazing upon the bloodshed, unsure of who these new warriors were. She sensed they were on our side, but she held on to her rifle, just in case.
Debbie was still sobbing into my chest - she hadn't looked up and realized what was happening! "It's OK," I told her, tilting her head up. "Mr Crepsley's safe. He's alive. The cavalry arrived."
"Cavalry?" she echoed, gazing around, wiping tears from her eyes. "I don't understand. What ?? How ??"
"I don't know!" I chortled, then grabbed Vancha's arm as he came within range. "What's going on?" I roared in his ear. "Where did this lot come from?"
"I fetched them!" he shouted gleefully. "When I left yesterday, I flitted to Vampire Mountain and told them what was going on. They flitted back with me. They had to tread cautiously - I told them not to interfere until we'd killed the Vampaneze Lord - but they've been here all along, waiting."
"But - I don't - its?"
I stopped before my babbling got the better of me. I couldn't understand how they'd crept up so quietly, or how Vancha had reached Vampire Mountain and got back so quickly - even flitting, it should have taken him a few nights - but what did that matter? They were here, they were kicking ass, Mr Crepsley was alive and Steve Leopard and the Lord of the Vampaneze were dead. Why question it?
As I spun around like a child on Christmas Day surrounded by a room full of the most amazing presents, I saw a fabulously familiar figure pushing through the fighting, orange hair flecked with blood, a few new scars to add to the long one which carved up the left side of his face, limping on his sore ankle, but otherwise unbowed.
"Mr Crepsley!" I roared, throwing myself into his arms.
"Master Shan!" he laughed, hugging me tight to his chest. "Did you think I was finished?"
"Yes!" I sobbed.
"Hah!" he chuckled. "You do not get rid of me that easily! You still have much to learn about our ways and customs. Who but I would have the patience to teach you?"
"Vain old git!" I snuffled.
"Rude young brat!" he retorted, then pushed me back to study my face. Raising a hand, he thumbed tears and dirt away from my cheeks and then - then - then ?