Key the Steampunk Vampire Girl and the Dungeon of Despair (9780989878531) (5 page)

BOOK: Key the Steampunk Vampire Girl and the Dungeon of Despair (9780989878531)
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Now Old Queen Crinkle looked really worried and irritated. She had been checkmated into a corner and she had nowhere else to go, except into the truth – which was a place she visited about as often as she visited the Labyrinth Library – that is to say, about once every hundred years or so, give or take a decade. So, very slowly, she shifted in her throne; and at long length spoke only one word, a word which made the eyes of every vampire in her court go wide with fear…

“Deborah.”

Mr. Fuddlebee leaned a little bit forward, cupping his ghostly hand to his ghostly ear. “Excuse me,” he said, “I’m sorry I didn’t catch that. Did you say
‘fibber’?
Because I’ve never heard of a ‘fibber’ telling the news before, except maybe poorly.”

“Deborah,” the Queen said again, only slightly louder, and with a lot more concern in her voice. “I said, Deborah.”

All the vampires in the court shifted their gaze from the Queen to Mr. Fuddlebee, to see what he would do.

Even Key looked up at him inquisitively, yet wondering in a soft voice, “Who’s Deborah?”

“Deborah,” Mr. Fuddlebee said flatly, “the Diabolical Unicorn.”

Old Queen Crinkle harrumphed and looked away, clutching her scepter tighter and muttering to herself about “plans to take over the underworld.”

“Who’s Deborah,” Key whispered up at Mr. Fuddlebee.

The elderly ghost winked at her. “Aside from the mention of her being your ticket into the Necropolis,” he explained to her, “she has the ability to channel through her horn current events throughout the world.” Mr. Fuddlebee returned his attention to the Queen and spoke in a more commanding voice. “Under SPOOK regulation 2B-M1, Deborah, like the Optomechs, is also forbidden to use her powers here in the Necropolis, as well as in other major cities like Paris and New Orleans. Yet somehow, someone has disregarded that regulation, awoken Deborah from her partially dead slumber, and coerced her into using her power; for, although she is Diabolical, she is not a fool. Only a fool would think that she could break SPOOK regulation and get away with it.”

Mr. Fuddlebee glided a little closer to the throne.

“Is Deborah a fool?” he asked the Queen.

Old Queen Crinkle’s eyes smoldered with rage at the elderly ghost. “What do you want?” she growled.

Mr. Fuddlebee gestured for Key to come forward. She did, and stood by his side, yet she still cautiously eyed the Queen’s sharp scepter. Mr. Fuddlebee looked intently at Old Queen Crinkle. “This child needs a new home,” he told her.

The Queen tapped her scepter on the floor. She studied Key with scorn. “This is Margrave’s child,” she said. “Let the dead raise the dead.”

Several brown-nosing vampires in the court began clapping instantly because they thought the Queen had made a joke. But as the Queen was not in a joking mood, she ordered them to be thrown into the Toag cage for being a public nuisance. Key looked on helplessly as those brown-nosing vampires were dragged away by Snooty Suits of Armor, who were saying to them, “Come on now, it’s not all that bad,” while the brown-nosing vampires were wailing pitifully, “No, not the Toag cage, anything but the Toags!”

Mr. Fuddlebee shook his head as he addressed the Queen. “Margrave Snick cannot take care of this child for a number of reasons,” he said. “For one, never before has there been a more unfit guardian for taking care of children. Another reason is that Margrave is no longer a vampire; his power was taken by the Hand of DIOS.”

The news report had evidently not covered Margrave Snick’s fate because, at the mention of the Hand of DIOS, every vampire in the court gasped and took a step back in fright. Even Old Queen Crinkle flinched and stared with wide eyes at Mr. Fuddlebee. “Margrave Snick,” she said a little doubtfully, “is mortal again?”

“Quite so,” Mr. Fuddlebee said solemnly.

Just then a frail, pale vampire girl stepped in front of Key. She looked a little older than her, but age is difficult to tell with immortals. She could have been a century old vampire in the body of a thirteen-year-old girl. She had short blonde hair and dark rings around her eyes. She wore a tight black jacket, black pants, and tall black boots. Her clothes were made of tiny dragon scales that twinkled in the torchlight.

She sneered and snickered at Key’s birthday dress.

“Hello, my dear Raithe,” Mr. Fuddlebee greeted the frail, pale vampire girl. “I certainly hope that we’re staying out of trouble tonight. I hope you weren’t involved in this Deborah debacle. You no doubt recall our previous conversation. You do recall it, don’t you? How important it is to avoid thinking of ourselves as Deadlings? It’s the best way to avoid breaking any further SPOOK regulations. We don’t want to end up frozen in Coppertine, do we?”

Raithe’s sneering snicker quickly vanished at the mention of this. She backed away from Key and Mr. Fuddlebee, but said defiantly, “I’m not afraid of you or Margrave Snick. And I for one don’t think his orphan should stay here with us – for one simple reason.” Raithe paused dramatically to make her words sound more important. Then she added, “Margrave’s child looks like a troll.”

Key thought Raithe was beautiful on the outside. But the inside of this frail, pale vampire girl seemed like a cellar – empty and dark.

Raithe pointed in Key’s face and shouted with cruel laughter, “Troll!”

A gang of vampires nearby erupted into laughter also. The laughter contagiously spread to other vampires, and soon the whole court was filled with vampires laughing at Key and mocking her. Even the Queen’s scowl turned into a malicious sneer when everyone started calling Key a “troll.”

Key had never been called a troll before. She had never been laughed at either. Being called a troll and being mocked hurt the way Margrave’s bite had hurt. But this new kind of pain seemed to sink in a little deeper.

“Crudgel,” shouted Raithe all of a sudden, and Key instantly feared that this Crudgel was some kind of weapon, as if she could be hurt any more that night. But she was both relieved and alarmed when a tall, thick vampire boy stepped from the crowd. His black hair hung in his face. He had a silver ring in his nose like a bull. He wore wide black breeches, tall black boots, a white shirt, and a black jerkin. Crudgel looked like he was maybe fifteen, although he could have been fifty, yet he acted like a two-year-old, snorting in Key’s face and pointing at her with his thick fingers.

“If this Troll stays here,” Raithe said to Crudgel, “what do you think we should do with her?”

Crudgel licked his lips hungrily at Key. “Can we eat her?” he asked, laughing like an ape.

Key drew closer to Mr. Fuddlebee. She did not know the elderly ghost very well, but she felt more comfortable with him than she did with these other vampires. She tried wrapping her arms around him but she passed right through his waistcoat.

Raithe shouted in mockery at Key, “Troll!”

The vampire gang behind her started jeering also. “Troll!” they shouted together. “Dungeon Troll!” they shouted some more. Then they began dancing around her, pointing in her face, and making ugly faces at her.

With a sudden surge of confidence and determination, Key decided that she was not going to stand for this rude behavior any longer. She had never experienced so much hate before, and she could not understand why these other vampires would not like her, wondering at the same time if they even liked themselves. So in a loud voice she shouted, “KEY!”

In an instant the minstrel ghosts stopped playing, and the vampires stopped dancing and laughing, and the ribbons stopped knotting, and everyone in the Royal Court fell as silent as the grave, utterly shocked and amazed at Key’s sudden outburst – even Key – everyone, that is, except Mr. Fuddlebee, who seemed to be smiling on her with fatherly pride. Rarely had one so young spoken with such power and magic in her voice.

“Key,” she said again, yet more gently this time. “My name is Key.” She was trying to keep up her confidence and her determination, but by the faltering tone in her voice, she doubted she was succeeding.

Mr. Fuddlebee glided uncomfortably close to the Queen’s throne. “SPOOK law authorizes me to place this child where I believe she will best thrive.”

The Queen raised her eyebrows doubtfully at Mr. Fuddlebee. “You believe she will thrive in the City of the Dead?”

“Not at all,” Mr. Fuddlebee replied. “But my hands are tied presently.”

“What can bind a ghost’s hands,” the Queen asked, subtly studying Mr. Fuddlebee’s wrists, perhaps hoping that they were literally bound in ghostly shackles.

“Time, unfortunately, binds me,” Mr. Fuddlebee responded in a tone of great regret.

“That is not a good enough reason,” the Queen retorted.

“Perhaps not,” Mr. Fuddlebee replied, looking around the court, “but regulation 2B-M1 has been violated, and I can count about twelve more violations in this very room. Now, if you prefer SPOOK not to come down on you like the Hammer of Hades, then I highly recommend you accept this child into your home, my dear Crinkle. And,” he added almost as an afterthought, “this does not mean throwing her to the Toags.”

Old Queen Crinkle stared at Mr. Fuddlebee with burning ferocity. She looked as if she were ready to shout out her hate, shout about how unfair it was of SPOOK and Mr. Fuddlebee and the Society of Mystical Creatures to place this burden upon her, as if Key was a burden. But to Key’s relief, the Queen did not shout. Instead she whispered, which, to Key’s dismay, sounded much more threatening than if she had shouted her lungs out. “Fine,” the Queen spat. “The child can live with us amongst the dead.”

Key’s new home had been decided for her.

Crudgel laughed sinisterly at her and his gang of vampires laughed with him. They all watched Raithe to see if she would laugh too, but Raithe wasn’t even smiling. Instead she was giving Key the blackest look one might receive. So, without Raithe’s support, Crudgel and the vampire gang stopped laughing as well, nudging each other in the side to quiet down, for fear of being as disliked as Key.

At that moment, Key realized that the Queen might be in charge of the Castle and the Necropolis, but Raithe seemed most definitely in charge of the vampires. Key also realized that Raithe was someone who would not show her anger immediately, but let it churn inside her like bubbles in a bottle, ready to burst at any moment. Key decided that Raithe would make an excellent queen of the Necropolis, and she hoped that would never ever happen.

Mr. Fuddlebee now lowered to the floor, kneeling on one knee before Key. From behind his ghostly spectacles, his green eyes stared kindly at her. “Now, my dear,” he said softly, “I must leave you. But you and I will see one another again. I can assure you of that.”

“Don’t leave me,” Key whispered to him. Tears began pooling in her eyes. “I don’t like it here.”

Mr. Fuddlebee nodded sympathetically. “In time you will explain to me the reason you must stay.”

Key wiped away her tears. “I don’t understand that.” She sniffled. “Please, stay here with me,” she begged.

“No matter what happens remember this,” Mr. Fuddlebee whispered. “You’re stronger than you realize. Everything will be all right in the end. There is a great plan at work for you.”

He kissed her forehead. The kiss felt like ice. Key would have preferred a kiss from her mom and dad; she wished she’d had a chance to tell them goodbye. Yet she didn’t want to say goodbye to Mr. Fuddlebee. Although she knew him very little, she had seen enough of the Necropolis to know that she did not want to be left alone with creatures whose hearts were the deadest thing around.

But in the end, Mr. Fuddlebee had to go. There was no convincing him otherwise. Yet he did not tell Key goodbye, but instead said, “Until the next time we meet,” and it made Key feel a little better, knowing that Mr. Fuddlebee would come back for her.

The elderly ghost then glided high up into the air, with ghost dust swirling behind him in trails of pale green light.

— CHAPTER SEVEN —

The Dungeon of Despair

 

Old Queen Crinkle watched Mr. Fuddlebee float up and away and disappear through the vaulted ceiling, high above the heads of the Royal Court.

A few tense moments passed, until it became clear to all that Mr. Fuddlebee, Minister of SPOOK, Keeper of the Hand of DIOS, was not returning. Not long after that, Old Queen Crinkle’s malevolent grin widened, and she turned her gaze down from the ceiling upon Key. Her expression then slowly melted from delight (that Mr. Fuddlebee had gone) to utter disgust (that he had left Key “the troll” behind). With an impatient tone, Old Queen Crinkle snapped a command to her court of vampires. “Throw this troll in the dungeon!”

Now, the instant before Key heard those horrid words, when she realized that Mr. Fuddlebee was most definitely not returning, she tried to prepare herself for anything bad that might happen – anything at all. But upon hearing the word “dungeon,” Key’s heart sank because no matter how many bad things she imagined, she never guessed that she would be thrown into the dungeon of a castle in the City of the Dead.

Raithe’s face twisted into a mixed expression of happiness and hate as she heard the Queen’s order. Then she repeated it with even more vigor. “Throw the Troll in the dungeon!”

The other vampires moved at her command and the whole vampire court instantly became festive again. Cheering began all around. Crudgel raised his fists over his head like an ape as he shouted, “Let’s get on with the Queen’s birth-night party!” Then his whole gang of vampires cheered with him, “Happy four hundred twenty seven crinkly years!”

Several red ribbons swooped down from the wrought iron chandeliers and bound Key’s hands in doubled knots. Enchanted tapestries began moving as if dancing for joy. The minstrel ghosts started playing an ironically lively funeral dirge on Key’s behalf.

Crudgel and his vampire gang swarmed past Raithe and surrounded Key like bees. They grabbed her, picked her up off the ground, and held her up high in the air. While they carried her around the court, they pulled her long red hair, struck her, called her horrible names, and laughed in her face.

As if things could not get any worse for Key, now several Snooty Suits of Armor returned to the court, followed by some of the Living Gargoyles that Key had met on the drawbridge. The two groups joined the vampire gang and together the whole malicious party carried Key to the dungeon – despite the fact that she was the smallest vampire in the castle.

BOOK: Key the Steampunk Vampire Girl and the Dungeon of Despair (9780989878531)
8.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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