Instinctively they crouched, the Doctor clutching protectively to him the fragile glass cylinder around the oil lamp's open flame, and the scrawny, leechlike thing hurtled over the heads to smack into the wall.
Alison whirled, expecting to see it fall down to the floor, but it stuck there on the wallpaper, the tips of its toes and fingers spreading into suckers, and the next instant it was scampering away like a lizard, crashing noisily across the doors which lined the passageway, making high speed towards the staircase.
"Don't let it get away!" the Doctor ordered.
The glass phial of liquid was already leaving Alison's hand. A wild throw, but the missile shattered in the stairway and its thick purple miasma billowed out into the space just as the creature tore past and out of sight around the corner.
The Doctor and Alison clamped their treated handkerchiefs over their mouths and noses.
"Hold your breath," he advised Jenny, and the three of them dashed off in pursuit.
Down the stairs, along the hall, through the door into the servants' quarters and to the kitchen. The back door stood firmly shut, its lock broken but a chair pushed up under the handle.
"You did this?" the Doctor asked Jenny.
"Er, yes." She looked nervous. "Was that right?"
"Yes," he said, to her visible relief. "Means it's still in here with us somewhere."
"Great," said Alison with heavy irony, earning herself a frown.
"All right, back the way we came. Split up and search."
The Doctor looked studiedly patient.
"I doubt it's dangerous as long as we're awake. Apparently unless there's a whole pack of them they only attack sleeping victims."
"I'll take the coal cellar!" Jenny volunteered brightly. "I know my way around down there."
She was already snatching up a candle from a cabinet shelf, and once she had lit it from the Doctor's lantern she disappeared without a backward glance down a narrow curving staircase into the stygian black cellar beyond. The Doctor and Alison exchanged glances.
"She's keen isn't she?" Alison remarked.
She retrieved a candle of her own, and they walked shoulder to shoulder back to the hall, where they separated and she found herself pushing forward into the drawing room alone, her candle illuminating little beyond the hand which grasped it, every nerve taut for the least sound of movement. She went through the whole room inch by inch, checking behind every piece of furniture which might have concealed the vile little creature. Nothing. She was on the point of closing up the room and moving on to the next one when she heard the faintest whisper of sound, a scraping, shifting, sucking noise, and all the muscles in her neck and shoulders contracted rigidly because now she knew exactly where the thing was.
It plummetted down from the ceiling, its skinny little frame carrying more than enough bulk to crush her to the floor, its outsize flat feet slamming into the back of her head. She twisted frantically, in time to see its suppurating, puckered black hole of a mouth lunging towards her, its hands clutching at her face, and she called the Doctor's name, losing the consonants in an incoherent sound which she would never admit had been a scream.
Its mouth, gripping like a muscle with a chitinous edge, dragged at the flesh of her cheek and she shoved it desperately away, gripping it about the throat with her left hand while with her right she smashed into its face the glass phial. It shattered, there was a dizzying purple swirl of smoke, and then blackness.
The next thing Alison knew she was cold and wet and she found herself instinctively spitting out water. She opened her eyes to see Jenny kneeling concernedly over her, an empty china jug in one hand.
"Feel better?" the maid inquired.
"Of course I don't feel better, you just emptied a jug of water over me, you stupid..."
She got a grip on herself and swallowed the rest of that sentence. Lifting her head, she looked instinctively towards the main light source in the room and found the Doctor crouched in the glow of the lantern by the recumbent form of the parasitic little monster that had jumped her, as far as she knew, just seconds ago. He spared her a glance.
"Well done, Alison. You got him."
"Yeah, I'm a huntress," she muttered, levering herself up on her elbows. Then a thunderous hammering of clumsy, hurried footsteps came charging down the stairs.
"Ah." The Doctor stood. "Look who's up."
Carstairs blundered into the room, shotgun clutched in both fists, looked wildly about him, and his eyes widened at the sight of the creature on the floor. The weapon swung around as if of its own volition and one barrel discharged in a deafening explosion.
A chunk was blasted out of the floor a foot and a half from the creature's body. Carstairs stared uncomprehendingly for a second, then lurched back, trying to tear the gun's muzzle free from the Doctor's fist, which had spoiled his aim at the last instant. The two men stood and grappled for control, Carstairs tugging and tugging and falling back a pace each time.
"Come on," the Doctor said coldly, never relaxing his grip. "Don't make me punch in you in the mouth, it hurts my knuckles."
Carstairs struggled on briefly but then sullenly accepted the threat and allowed the shotgun to be taken away from him. He stewed resentfully for a moment before bursting out:
"Those things killed my son!"
"Actually..." The Doctor grasped him by the collar and dragged him like a recalcitrant child across the room towards the creature. "No."
He flung Carstairs down onto his knees and seized his hand, turning it over to display the crest intricately cut into the gold of his signet ring. He took the limp hand of the vampire and turned it over to reveal an identical ring, with an identical crest.
"I think you'll find this is your son."