WE KICKED our way through the wall at the back of the building and found ourselves on the second floor, above a deserted alley.

"Can you jump?" I asked Mr Crepsley.

"No," he said, "but I can climb."

While Mr Crepsley swung out over the edge of the hole in the wall and dug his nails into the bricks, Harkat and I dropped to the ground and crouched low, scanning the shadows for signs of life. When Mr Crepsley joined us, we hurried to the end of the alley, where we paused to scout the terrain.

Mr Crepsley glanced up at the sun. It wasn't very strong - a weak, autumnal, afternoon glow - but two hours of exposure could be fatal for the vampire. If he'd been wearing his cloak, he could have pulled it up over his head and sheltered beneath it, but he'd taken it off in the apartment and left it there.

"What do we do now?" Harkat asked, gazing around uncertainly.

"Find a manhole and get underground," I replied. "They won't be able to track us through the tunnels, and Mr Crepsley won't have to worry about the sun."

"A worthy plan," Mr Crepsley said, rubbing his sore right ankle and looking for a manhole cover. There weren't any in the immediate vicinity, so we pressed on, Harkat and I supporting the vampire, sticking close to the walls of the alley.

The alley forked at the end. The left turn led towards a busy main street, the right on to another dark alley. I'd turned right on impulse and was starting towards the alley when Harkat stopped me.

"Wait," he hissed. "I see a way down."

I looked back and saw a cat picking through a mound of rubbish which had spilt out of a toppled bin and half-obscured a round manhole cover. Hurrying over, we shooed the cat away - cats aren't great lovers of vampires, and it hissed angrily at us before fleeing - and kicked the rubbish from the cover. Then Harkat and I pulled the cover off and laid it to one side.

"I'll go first," I said, starting down the ladder into the welcome darkness. "Mr Crepsley next. Harkat last."

They didn't question my orders. As a Vampire Prince, it was my place to take control. Mr Crepsley would have objected if he disagreed with my decision, but in the normal run of things he was satisfied to follow my command.

I climbed down the ladder. The rungs were cold and my fingers tingled from the contact. As I neared the bottom, I stretched out my left leg to step off the ladder?

?then snatched it back quickly when a gun fired and a bullet tore a chunk out of the wall close to the side of my shin!

Heart pounding, I clung to the ladder, ears ringing from the echoes of the bullet, wondering how the police got down here so quickly, and how they knew which way we'd take.

Then someone chuckled in the darkness and said, "Greetings, vampire. We've been expecting you."

My eyes narrowed. That was no policeman - it was a vampet! Despite the danger, I squatted low on the ladder and peered up the tunnel. There was a large man standing in the shadows, too far away for me to identify.

"Who are you?" I snapped.

"One who follows the Lord of the Vampaneze," he answered.

"What are you doing here?"

"Blocking your passage," he chuckled.

"How did you know we'd come this way?"

"We didn't But we guessed you'd escape and make for the tunnels. Our Lord doesn't want you down here yet - the day is long, and it amuses him to think of you and your vampire friend struggling through it - so we've blocked off all entrances to the underworld. When night falls, we'll retreat, but until then these tunnels are off limits."

With that, he fired at me again. It was a warning shot, like the first, but I didn't stick around to test his aim any further. Climbing the ladder, I shot out of the manhole as though propelled, and cursed loudly as I kicked a large empty tin across the alley.

"Police?" Mr Crepsley asked sullenly.

"No - vampets. They've blocked off all entrances to the tunnels until nightfall. They want us to suffer."

"They can't have coveredevery - entrance, can they?" Harkat asked.

"Enough of them," Mr Crepsley responded. "The tunnels this close to the surface are carefully linked. By choosing the right spot, one man can block the paths of six or seven entrances. If we had time, we might find a way past, but we do not. We must abandon the tunnels."

"Where do we go instead?" I asked.

"We run," the vampire said simply. "Or hobble, as the case may be. We try to avoid the police, find somewhere to hole up, and wait for night."

"That won't be easy," I noted.

Mr Crepsley shrugged. "If you had held tight for sunset to make your break, it would have been easier. You did not, so we must make the best of things. Come," he said, turning his back on the manhole. "Let us make tracks."

I paused to spit bitterly down the hole, then took off after Mr Crepsley and Harkat, putting the disappointment of the blocked-off tunnels behind, focusing on the flight ahead.

Less than three minutes later, the police were hot on our trail.

We heard them spilling out of the station, shouting at each other, piling into cars, honking horns, turning blaring sirens on full. We'd been moving steadily but hadn't drifted far away from the station - we'd been avoiding main streets, sticking to back alleys, which had an annoying habit of doubling back on themselves. We'd have taken to the rooftops, except that would have meant exposing Mr Crepsley more fully to the rays of the sun.

"This is useless," the vampire said as we drew up beside a building overlooking a busy shopping street. "We are making no progress. We must ascend."

"But the sun ?" I said.

"Forget it," he snapped. "If I burn, I burn. It will not kill me immediately - but the police will if they catch up!"

Nodding, I looked for a way up to the roofs. Then a thought struck. I gazed at the teeming street, then studied my clothes. I was dishevelled and dirty, but didn't look a whole lot worse than any average teenager going through a grunge or heavy metal phase.

"Have we money?" I asked, rubbing the worst of the dirt from my face and slicking back my hair with a handful of spit. Then I tucked the chains of the cuffs in under my shirt ends and trouser legs, masking them from view.

"The time he picks to go shopping!" Harkat groaned.

"I know what I'm doing," I grinned. "Have we money or not?"

"I had some notes, but the police took them," Mr Crepsley said. "I am - how do the humans put it ?skinned ?"

"Skint," I laughed. "No matter. I'll do without."

"Wait!" Harkat said as I started forward. "Where are you going? We can't split up - now. We must stay together."

"I won't be long," I said. "And I won't take any stupid chances. Wait here for me. If I'm not back in five minutes, leave without me and I'll catch up with you later, in the tunnels."

"Where are you?" Mr Crepsley began, but I didn't have time for a debate, so I slid out of the alley before he finished and walked swiftly along the street, looking for a minimarket.

I kept one eye peeled for police or soldiers, but there were none about. After a few seconds, I spotted a shop across the street, waited for the light to turn green, then strolled across and entered. A middle-aged woman and a young man with long hair were serving behind the counter. The shop was quite busy - there were six or seven customers - which was good. It meant I wouldn't stick out. A TV on the left of the doorway was tuned to a news channel, but the sound was down low. There was a security camera above the TV, scanning and recording, but that didn't bother me - with all the crimes I'd been charged with, I wasn't going to sweat about being booked for petty theft!

I walked slowly up and down the aisles, looking for sun-wear items. It wasn't the right time of year for sunglasses and sun hats, but I was sure they'd have a few knick-knacks lying around somewhere.

Next to a row of baby-care products, I found them - several bottles of suntan lotion, standing forlornly on a battered old shelf. The choice wasn't great, but they'd do. I quickly read the labels, looking for the strongest sun block I could find. Factor ten - twelve - fifteen. I chose the bottle with the highest number (it was for fair-skinned babies, but I wouldn't tell Mr Crepsley that!), then stood uncertainly with it in my hand, wondering what to do next.

I wasn't an experienced shoplifter. I'd stolen a few sweets with friends when I was very young, and once swiped a load of golf balls with a cousin of mine, but I'd never enjoyed it and hadn't taken it any further. I was sure my face would give me away if I just pocketed the bottle and tried walking straight out of the shop.

I thought about it for a few seconds, then slyly slipped the bottle inside the waist of my trousers, draped the hem of my shirt over it, grabbed another bottle, turned and marched up to the counter.

"Excuse me," I said to the female assistant as she was serving one of the other customers, "but do you have any Sun Undone lotion?" I'd made the name up, and hoped there wasn't a real brand by that name available.

"Only what's on the shelves," the woman snapped irritably.

"Oh," I smiled. "That's OK. Thanks. I'll put this back."

I was turning when the young, long-haired man said, "Hey! Hold on!" Stomach sinking, I looked back questioningly, getting ready to run. "It wasn't Sunnydun you wanted, was it?" he asked. "We've got a crate of those somewhere in the back. I could get a bottle if you?"

"No," I interrupted, relaxing. "It was Sun Undone. My mum won't use anything else."

"Suit yourself," he shrugged, no longer interested, turning to deal with another customer.

I walked back to the shelf, laid the bottle on it, and made for the door as casually as I could. I nodded amiably at the young man as I was passing, and he half-waved at me in reply. I had one foot out the door, delighted with myself, when I caught sight of a familiar face on the TV and stopped, dumbstruck.

It wasme !

The photograph must have been taken this morning, while I was being arrested. I looked pale, haggard and frightened, my hands cuffed, eyes wary, policemen on either side of me.

Stepping back into the store, I reached up and turned up the volume.

"Hey!" the male attendant grunted. "You can't ?"

I ignored him and concentrated on what the newsreader was saying.

"?might look harmless, but police are urging the public not to be taken in by his appearance. Darren Shan - or Darren Horston, as he is also known - is a teenager, but he consorts with brutal killers, and may be a killer himself."

My photograph faded, to be replaced by a female newsreader with a grim expression. After a couple of seconds, my photo appeared again, smaller this time, in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Harkat's appeared to the left, and accurate artist's impressions of Mr Crepsley and Vancha March between us.

"To repeat our incredible breaking story," said the newsreader. "Four alleged members of the gang of killers known as the Vampires were cornered by the police this morning. One, Vancha March?" the lines around the drawing of Vancha flashed "?escaped, taking Chief Inspector Alice Burgess hostage. The other three were arrested and detained for questioning, but made a violent break for freedom less than twenty minutes ago, killing or seriously wounding an unspecified number of officers and nurses. They are considered armed and exceedingly dangerous. If spotted, they should not be approached. Instead, call one of the following numbers ?"

I turned away from the TV, stunned. I should have known the media would go into overdrive about a story this big, but I'd innocently assumed that we had only the police and army to worry about. I'd never stopped to think of city-wide alerts and how they'd affect us.

As I stood, digesting this new turn of events, brooding on the news that we'd been blamed for Steve's murders in the station, the middle-aged lady behind the counter pointed at me and gasped in a high voice, "It's him! The boy! Thekiller !"

Startled, I looked up and saw that every person in the shop was staring at me, their faces twisted with fear and horror.

"It's the one called Darren Shan!" a customer yelled. "They say he killed that girl, Tara Williams - that he drank her blood and ate her!"

"He's a vampire!" a wrinkly old man shrieked. "Someone get a stake! We have to kill him!"

That might have been funny if I'd seen it in a film - the thought of this little old man driving a stake through a vampire's hardened heart was ludicrous - but I hadn't time to see the funny side of things. Raising my hands to show I wasn't armed, I backed out of the door.

"Derek!" the female assistant shouted at the young man. "Grab the gun and shoot him!"

That was enough for me. Pivoting sharply, I dived out of the door and raced across the road, not stopping for traffic, darting out of the way of cars as they screeched to a halt, ignoring the drivers as they pounded on their horns and yelled abuse after me.

I came to a halt in the mouth of the alley, where a worried Harkat and Mr Crepsley were waiting. Digging out the bottle of suntan lotion, I tossed it to the vampire. "Spread that on yourself, quick," I gasped, bending over for breath.

"What?" he began to ask.

"Don't argue!" I shouted. "Do it!"

The vampire yanked the top off the bottle and poured half the contents out into his hands, then smeared it over his face and scalp and other exposed areas. He rubbed the lotion in, poured the rest out, rubbed that in too, then tossed the bottle away into the gutter.

"Done," he said.

"We certainly are," I muttered, standing up. "You're not going to believe?"

"There they are!" someone bellowed, cutting me short. "That's them - the Vampires!"

The three of us looked around and I saw the little old wrinkly man from the shop wrestling a large rifle from the long-haired attendant. "Give me that!" he shouted. "I hunted deer when I was younger!"

Tossing his walking stick to one side, the pensioner turned, lifted the rifle with remarkable speed, and fired.

We fell to the ground as the wall above our heads exploded into fragments. The old man fired again, even closer this time. But then he had to pause to reload. While he was doing that, we jumped to our feet, about-faced and fled, Mr Crepsley swinging his injured leg forward and backward like a demented Long John Silver.

The crowd behind us paused a moment, torn between fear and excitement. Then, with roars of rage, they grabbed sticks and iron bars and the lids off rubbish bins, and surged after us. No longer a mere crowd, but a bloodthirstymob .