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|The gripping conclusion of yet another unbelievable adventure. 'How did this girl ever pass High School English?' you cry. We may never know. There are many questions left in this mysterious conclusion, as you'll see.|
Oh, and has anyone spotted the Stupidest Pun Ever yet? I'm waiting to see if anyone does ... :P
“You want your stake medium, or well done?”
“Hissss. WHOOSH! LEAP! CRASH!”
“This party’s totally dead – and it’s gonna get deader.”
“Hissss. CRASH! CLATTER! Hissss. WHOOSH! PARRY! Hissss.”
“So long, bloodsucker.”
Once again Caius and Sadarion shared a long, puzzled look in front of closed doors – in this case, the mahogany doors of the harem – as curious sounds echoed dimly beyond.
Morgant shuffled a little closer to join them. “Um … who’s shouting sound effects?”
“Who’s abusing comparative adjectives?” muttered Caius, seeing the more pressing issue.
“Those are vampires, not adjectives,” Kaliana replied impatiently. “Open the doors already – someone’s fighting our undead in there!”
“CRASH! BANG! DODGE!”
“Oops, you’re in grave trouble!”
“Another one bites the dust …”
Kaliana made an anxious sound and hurried forward to the doors herself, pulling and twisting and finally freeing the chair she’d jammed under the doorhandles. Ham and Mellie both retreated behind Caius as Kali threw the doors open wide on the chaotic scene of the vampyre’s harem.
Crimson silk sheets and curtains poured sinuously over every chaise lounge and lectulus (actual beds appeared to be in short supply), scattered liberally with the ‘puffy cushions’ Kaliana had described. It seemed literally rather than figuratively possible to drown in them, or perhaps in the vast piles of dust that were starting to collect in the deepest folds of the silks – vampire-dust.
A blonde young lady was currently running around the room, shouting and chasing down a pale gaggle of slightly older women with ample cleavage; evidently the remnants of Kali’s ‘toothy girls’. The blonde seemed quite good at it, all in all. She jumped and flipped and bounced off furniture with impressive ease, and was definitely the arty type, in a martial kind of way. But for some reason or other, she punctuated every movement with a hearty, shouted description, and paused for a few hasty seconds every now and then for some unusual commentary …
“Ouch, that must’ve ‘heart’! CRASH! Hiss!” bawled the blonde girl as she dusted another toothy girl, oblivious to the entry of the three curious Acarthians, Morgant, Kaliana and Sadarion. Their intrigued circling put Caius in mind of a trio of sharks swimming around and muttering ‘Hey, you smell that too?’
“Ahem,” said Morgant, also voicing his own sound-effects.
The blonde girl punched another toothy girl in the face, to the cry of ‘PUNCH!’, but otherwise failed to respond.
“Oi,” said Sadarion creatively. “Blondie.”
“DODGE! JUMP! … Uh-oh, think you’ve picked up a splinter! Hissss! CRASH! THWACK! CR – hey! Hey! What are you – hey! Quit it!”
The Acarthians’ hail of pillows paused momentarily as the blonde girl put her fighting on auto-pilot and turned to glare at the three elves. “What’s your deal? I’m doing vamps today, not imps, all right?”
“It’s just that those are our vampires,” Morgant explained. “Kaliana locked them up in here, so –“
“So what? I snuck in here as a distressed damsel hours ago. Go find another castle.”
Once again the blonde girl turned her attention to ‘DODGE’ing and ‘CRASH’ing. Once again an insistent shower of quite solidly lobbed cushions interrupted her.
“Look, guys, I’m a professional,” she said irritably, still dusting toothy girls. There really weren’t many left now. “You can’t handle this – or the vampyre who’s creeping around. He’s seriously tough. I’m wondering how I’ll deal, actually. But that’s just my job.”
“Your job should be watching Mrs. Anders’ kids next door, teenie,” returned Morgant impatiently. “Give us our vampires and go finish your homework.”
“You’re starting to annoy me, imps, so stop throwing those pillows if you want to get out of here unbruised.” She turned back with finality to the fighting, throwing a few more lightning punches and whipping out a few more kicks with their attendant noises. “WHOOSH! BANG! DODGE! CR –”
“What?” grunted Kali, watching the dazed young superheroine totter off to one side as the ornate footstool bounced off her head. “She told us to stop throwing pillows. And those are my vampires.” So saying, she hurried forward to fill the void of KICKs and DODGEs.
Caius groaned and hurried forward himself to help the mildly concussed blonde girl ease down on a chaise lounge. “I’m sorry about that, miss. I’m afraid those aren’t imps. My name is Caius Chetienne – what’s yours?”
The girl squinted up at him. “Um … I’m not really sure now,” she mumbled. “Fluffy, I think. Or Puffy.”
“No, I think that would be the cushion you’re sitting on.”
“Oh. Um, I dunno then. Sorry.”
“Don’t worry, Miss …” Caius paused, then selected the more acceptable alternative – “Miss Puffy. The concussion usually passes within an afternoon. Why don’t you rest on the chaise lounge until you get a little clarity back?”
“If you don’t mind, I think I’m gonna just sit here on this couch until my head clears.”
The Lestite twitched. “In that case, I am going to leave you to it. Be careful of vampires and imps.”
Actually, the vampires no longer proved to be a danger by the time Caius moved back across the room through the billowing clouds of dust. Kaliana, Sadarion and Morgant had all happily claimed the last of the toothy girls, and were now busy wiping off their dusty faces.
“Come on, let’s go get the vampyre before the snotty teenager decides to bounce in!” urged Kali, and took off for a (naturally velvet-carpeted) staircase winding up towards a definite Topmost Tower. Before Caius could say anything, like encourage them to go faster, all three Acarthians had disappeared into the stairwell, their footsteps echoing in jealous haste.
Ham and Mellie were looking at him.
“Well, let’s go,” Caius said. “One small detour past the castle treasury, and then let’s get back to your village to name my street, shall we?”
“What about your … um … them?” Ham asked, looking towards the stairwell after the vanished Acarthians. His tone strongly suggested that the question was a formality, and he was desperate to hear Caius say that they really should be getting back anyway.
Caius did not disappoint. “If those three aren’t enough to get rid of your vampyre, we’ll have to go and come back with some kind of portable natural disaster in any case. Let’s just save a little time and go now.”
“Yay!” said Mellie.
“Moo!” said Bessie.
* * * * *
Caius was damned if he knew how the cow had got into the castle in the first place, much less how she knew how to find the castle treasury, but had shrugged it off as narrative privilege by the time Bessie led the way out again, looking happy and benevolent in her bovine way with young Mellie riding on her splotchy back. Not only was Caius’s backpack now jingling with heavy coinage and a few halfway tasteful pieces of jewellery, he was on his way to his very first commemorative street. He had always felt that commemorative streets lay somewhere in his future, and even though the village was a humble start, it was a start.
Slowly they wound their way down to the two-dozen houses nestled near the base of the jagged mountain road. The villagers – defensive torches, pitchforks and mops still at hand – raised a ragged cheer at the sight of their beaming burgher and little Mellie. Caius was showered with more positive adjectives than he’d ever experienced before, forced to discreetly clean his hand on his breeches after forty-odd farmer handshakes as the accolades flew.
“Hoorah for our hero!”
“Three cheers for our noble saviour!”
(“That’s for vampire-hunting, you idiot!”)
Everything was just as Caius had always imagined it from boyhood. Grizzled old men rushed to fetch him a chair as he strode into the tavern, setting him up by the fireplace and pushing mugs of beer into his hand as they clapped his shoulder. Wide-eyed young children horded around his feet and little Mellie climbed up onto his lap, all begging him to tell and retell the dramatic tale of his heroism. Grateful village girls hurried up, showered him with (slightly garlicky) kisses and hurried away again, while Bessie pushed her head through the front window and lovingly munched on his sideburns in gratitude.
Well, perhaps it wasn’t all exactly as he’d imagined it, but it was damn close, and he was loving it.
As such, the interruption hardly surprised him.
Dawn was approaching, Mellie and the kiddies had been ushered away to bed, and the beer was still flowing freely (literally rather than literarily speaking), all of which suited Caius beautifully. He was just about to launch into a full, blow-by-blow account of his harrowing undead battles in the castle dungeon when suddenly the door burst open, slammed into the wall and rattled a few glasses from the shelves.
“Oh, you made it,” Caius observed as the three Acarthians swooped in, sighing a little. At least the better part of the evening had passed peacefully. “Well, come and make yourselves comfortable – and Kali, remember not to let Dari get at any beer this ti-”
“Where is it?” demanded Morgant, staring around the room. Kaliana was peering under tables in the background, while Sadarion pushed a nearby patron off a stool to check beneath.
“Where is – what?” Caius jumped off his chair, incredulous, as the villagers gasped and Hamlin paled. “The vampyre? You’re looking for the vampyre?”
“No, our keys,” the Acarthian returned waspishly. “Come on, Caius, don’t just stand there! Which way did it swoop?”
“I’ve no idea! I wasn’t one of the mighty undead hunters who assigned themselves to deal with it!” The Lestite looked out of the window that Bessie had previously peered in through, then looked back at white-faced Ham. “Your house. Mellie. Let’s go.”
“My Mellie again?”
“Of course again! Vampyres have no imagination! Now quickly!”
Ham bolted through the door, would-be village heroes on his heels. Caius glared afresh at the three Acarthians as they ran down the dusty street for a thatched house that looked very much like the rest (ie. a tidy haystack). “How could you let the damn thing escape?”
“We couldn’t help it! It was talking about its childhood!”
As they reached Ham’s house, Sadarion banged open the front door much as he had the tavern door, pushing Ham aside to slip in and dart upstairs. The others followed him and the sound of Mellie’s frightened wailing, bursting breathlessly into Mellie’s room to see what had happened.
It was complicated, from the initial looks of things. The vampyre was there, resplendent in his midnight-black cloak, and had just seized shrieking Mellie from her bed. Sadarion, for his part, had seized the shrieking vampire, or more accurately the sword still embedded in the vampyre, and was coming close to shrieking himself as he demanded the return of his weapon. The window still stood open where the vampyre had forced his way in, curtains fluttering, but dawn still seemed several minutes away.
“You! Mortal creature blessed to have a heart, use it for but a moment!” howled the vampyre, trying to wrench away from Sadarion. “How can you deny me the simple companionship of a child in my loneliness, I who never knew the love of my own –“
“Alas!” shouted Caius. The vampyre broke off for a moment. For another moment, so did Caius – whining was not his specialty, and he was briefly stumped for a continuation. But inspiration was quick to jump up as the vampyre opened its mouth to whine again.
“Alas! Would that I had the strength to prevent this terrible tragedy, save this innocent, blameless child – but I have not! I am mortal, mortal and weak! Why did the Gods and Goddesses of the Pantheon curse us so with this fragile penalty of life?”
The vampyre tilted its head in a mixture of bewilderment, fascination and the indignation of a stolen stage, his clear, brilliant blue eyes fixed on Caius’s face. In the background, Kaliana drew back a hand to smack Caius across the head, but stopped as Morgant caught her arm.
“Callous, unjust deities of this worthless world! How can I stand to bear it all, and watch as a tiny girl – still ignorant of the pain of living – takes my proper place before Death’s cold, cold scythe? Ah, universe, if you have ears to hear, hear as I curse you, doom you to know the same bitter fate as I! …”
“The pain of the immortals is eternal,” ventured the vampyre, but uncertainly, eyes still fixed on Caius and Caius’s ‘alas-poor-Yorick’ pose. Slowly, Ham began to inch less-than-subtly around to one side, but luckily the vampyre was a vampyre and quite failed to notice Narrative Stealth.
“Is it? Do you even know the meaning of pain? You are beyond life, blessed with a freedom from the mortal curse, while we drink the sour wine of living every moment of every blighted day and hopeless night, wallowing in our – take that, you interminably whingeing corpse-in-a-cloak!”
Caius’s triumphant crow came as Ham snatched Mellie from the vampyre’s manicured hands, retreating post-haste behind Kaliana and Morgant. The vampyre snarled, baring his gleaming fangs, and made a late grab for the retreating burgher, but both Sadarion’s firm grip on his sword and the beer-mug Kaliana smacked down on the vampyre’s knuckles put an end to that.
“Yay, we win,” said Sadarion contentedly. “Let’s chop its head off.”
“Win?” snarled the vampyre, tossing back his glossy dark hair. “You fools!”
There was a sudden puff of swirling black smoke. As it cleared, a small bat went flapping away from Sadarion’s sword into the rafters of Mellie’s room, settling in a dark cranny and glaring down at them malevolently with its still crystal-blue eyes.
"You fools!” the bat squeaked again. “I am not so easily defeated! Here I shall wait until the power of my voice has made you weary, and then – then, fragile ones, you shall join me in my eternal pain, companions throughout eternity as I hopelessly search for a way to make my spirit whole once more …”
Behind them, the door to Mellie’s room slammed ominously shut (if not as ominously as an oaken castle door might have), the open window slammed ominously with it, and the open curtains whisked ominously closed. The grey half-light of approaching dawn disappeared, leaving the room dark and shadowy.
A wooden hobby-horse crashed into the wall beside the bat, followed by a dolly, a ball and a music-box, as Morgant raided Mellie’s toybox. But the bat, laughing like a mouse on helium, flapped easily away from them all, mocking their efforts to find better projectiles by continuing its maddening soliloquy.
“…What colour, I wonder, would my own child’s eyes have been, had I not drank out its unformed life from my sweet love’s own veins? Would they have been mine? Or would they have been hers, so bright and gentle ..?”
“It’s too fast,” muttered Morgant, dropping a fluffy teddy helplessly back into the toybox.
“It’s too annoying,” groaned Kaliana, thumping her head against the door. “Make it stop!”
But they were all at a loss. Mellie cowered in Ham’s arms, wailing about the fate of them all, and that of her former favourite doll. Caius grit his teeth and tried to maintain a single cohesive train of thought while the vampyre groaned about never going to its kid’s graduation. Sadarion, sword now sheathed, kept both hands firmly clasped to his ears, oblivious to all conversation.
“Ka-POW! Ching (sparkly stars of heroine approaching)! Time for your dental check-up, toothy!”
Muffled footsteps came pounding up the steps outside, evidently leaping and vaulting off the walls a few times as they came. Caius could swear he saw the bat roll its eyes up in the rafters, but had no time to confirm. “In here! We’re in here, Miss Puffy! Quickly!”
The footsteps stopped, abruptly. “Oh, it’s you,” someone observed sourly, just outside.
“Oh, it’s her,” snorted Kaliana.
Caius spared a glare for the Acarthian. “Open the door, Miss Puffy! It’s urgent!”
“Well,” said Miss Puffy’s voice, drawn-out and cool. “Not so easy, you know? It’s sealed by an Undefined Narrative Force – double-proof. Besides, aren’t you bunch of heroes capable on your own? It’s your vampyre.”
“She’s right, you know.”
“No, she’s not, Kali! Leave all the application of logic to me, please!”
“But it is our vampyre, Caius. We started it. Didn’t we, Dari?”
“Take your hands off your ears, or you won’t hear me, idiot.”
“I can’t hear you, Kali. I’ve got my hands over my ears.”
“Wait!” cried Caius desperately as Miss Puffy’s footsteps retreated back down the stairs, accompanied by a few sullen ‘pow’s.
“Too late,” the vampyre-bat gloated. “Too late, too late – indeed, like all the fruitless efforts of life, like your every thought and action before the merciless onslaught of Time –“
In a mighty crashing of glass, Bessie the cow burst through the window and the curtains, thundering into the room with her great black-and-white bulk. The vampyre-bat took flight with a shrill shriek of fury, startled from the rafters – Morgant and Kaliana instantly began to shower it with alphabet blocks as Bessie stamped around, lunging relentlessly for the flapping undead.
The grey light outside began to yellow, like an opening buttercup.
“Ah, I am done, I am done!” screeched the bat, dropping abruptly to the floor. Black smoke swirled again, and when it cleared, the vampyre crouched on the floor with his porcelain face contorted in a vicious snarl. “But I shall not go alone!”
The others watched, helpless to intercede, as the vampyre whirled and sank his long, white fangs into Bessie’s large, splotchy throat, clinging tight in spite of her frantic struggles. Mellie beat furiously at the undead with her teddy, Ham pulled hard on the vampyre’s cloak – all to no avail. Bessie’s fate was sealed.
With her last strength, as the dawn-light grew even yellower and started creeping across the floor, Bessie hauled herself and the vampyre to the open window. For a moment she paused, casting a soulful look back at the burgher and his daughter.
“Moo …” she managed, softly – and threw herself out into the first real sunlight.
* * * * *
“Wow. That was pretty sad.”
“Yeah. I’ve decided I’m not going to eat beef.”
“At least until we get to the next roadhouse.”
Caius maintained a thin-lipped silence as he and the three musing Acarthians finally began to walk away from the village tavern and the solemn, sad-eyed villagers waving goodbye. Morgant nudged him for some input, but the Lestite kept his stony gaze on the dirt road, saying nothing.
Morgant gave up. “That was some final battle, that.”
“Yeah,” said Kali. “Wonder how that cow jumped through a second-storey window?”
“Pretty amazing, really.”
“A wonder none of us got trampled. How big was that room, exactly?”
“Hard to say. Great stuff, though. A real triumph of humanity.”
“It was a cow,” said Caius.
“So? We’re elves.”
Caius returned his flinty gaze to the road.
“What’s your beef this morning, Caius?”
“Dari, that wasn’t very sensitive.”
The Acarthians attempted to maintain a respectful silence, or at least a silence, as they gave the villagers a last wave and walked on with finality down Bessie’s Boulevard.
* * * * *
… But this sad and chilling tale does not end here, alas. Perhaps it will never end, for it is said that on dark, moonlight nights, a dark figure haunts that mountain village still, wrapped in a black and crimson cloak, and its cry haunts the mountain peak in its eternal, accursed search for blood …
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