Tears started welling in her eyes, but they dried up when Key began to notice the scrapes on her knees healing, as if by magic. Next, the humming pain in her head dimmed. Then the bruises on her elbows stopped hurting, their black and blue color melted away, while the burn marks on her legs also restored to the healthy white color of vampire skin. After this, two new front teeth grew into Key’s mouth. It appeared that Key’s vampire power had healed her almost instantly.
Key thought this was amazing! And she wondered if she would always heal this way. Then she wondered if hurts on the inside healed as fast as hurts on the outside. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful,” Key said to herself.
Seeing that Key was no longer in much pain, Raithe stood up and kicked Crudgel until he stood, too. Together they approached Key, their arms around one another’s necks. They laughed in her face and it seemed to Key that they would never stop.
Raithe pointed her finger at the tip of Key’s nose. “What are you going to do now, Troll?” she crowed.
Crudgel shoved Key. “Try running away again, Dungeon Troll,” he snarled.
Key held up her chain and studied it in dismay. “There’s no way I can break it,” she told herself. For the first time in her life, Key had a feeling that she could not name. It was like being alone in a crowd, but worse. “Hopeless” seemed like a good word for the way she felt. Key had never felt hopeless before. She did not like the feeling. It was so completely different from the way she had always felt.
Key let go of her chain. Tears started welling in her eyes again. She put her face in her hands and she began to weep mournfully.
Seeing Key’s tears and hearing her sobs made Raithe and Crudgel laugh even harder now. They flashed their vampire fangs and they hissed in her ear, calling her more cruel names while they poked and prodded her, coaxing her to fight back.
But Key would not fight back. She would not respond to them. She could not. She did not know how to do so. No one had ever taught her. No one had ever been that mean to her, so she had no idea how to respond to meanness.
So she did what felt natural; she turned away from them. Facing the vast emptiness of Despair felt easier than confronting pitiless hate.
It did not take long for Raithe and Crudgel to grow bored. If Key would not fight back, then there was no entertainment for the night. And if there was no entertainment, then there was no reason for them to stay. So they took their torchlight and they returned to the upper castle, making rude gestures as they went. They returned to well-lit chambers, to warmth and friendship, to food and blood and death and life. They returned to the safety of the Necropolis – if anything can be called “safe” in the City of the Dead.
The good news was that they never came back down to the dungeon ever again. The bad news was that no one else did either, at least not for a long, long time.
— CHAPTER TEN —
Bedbugs, Castle Ghosts, & Warhag
Key had to sleep on the dungeon’s dirty ground. Creepy crawlies slept around her, things like Shadow Spiders and Wicked Worms and Macabre Maggots. It was all she had for warmth.
Key’s mom and dad used to tuck her into bed at night, lulling a little nursery rhyme to her before she fell asleep: “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
When she was a little girl, she used to imagine that bedbugs were real, but by the age of nine she stopped believing in them. Now that she was living in the dungeon of the Necropolis Castle, she soon learned that, in the same way vampires, ghosts, witches, and zombies were real, bedbugs were also very, very real.
Necropolis Bedbugs were all over the City of the Dead, causing nightly mischief wherever they lived – or died. Yet they were not tiny insects like some might imagine. Instead they were three feet tall, wore black undertaker suits with tall top hats, and they had pointy ears and wide smiles with precisely forty-two sharp teeth.
Two of them lived in the dungeon with Key. Because most Mystical Creatures are imprisoned in the dungeon for good behavior, the two bedbugs were not prisoners since they had never done anything right, but instead had done everything wrong, as they did wrongdoings exceedingly well. The two bedbugs actually lived in the dungeon freely because they enjoyed living in Despair.
They called themselves “The Grimbuggles.” One was named Bosh Grimbuggle and the other was named Mr. Humbug Grimbuggle.
If you ever encounter a Grimbuggle Bedbug, my only advice to you is
The last thing you want to see is the first thing they become. For instance, if you did not study for a test, they become your teacher. If you are late for work, they become your boss. If you do not want to read what comes next, they’ll show you.
The last thing Key wanted to do was laugh because she had no one to laugh with. So the Grimbuggle Bedbugs bothered Key all night long with evil knock-knock jokes from
Guy Bellock’s Black Book of Cackles, Hexes, and Other Perilous Party Tricks
This was pretty bad, sure, but worse creatures than Shadow Spiders and Grimbuggle Bedbugs lived in the dungeon, too. Key came to know them by their nickname –
Toags were one of the many castle servants. They were assigned the melancholy task of cleaning the dungeon, the hidden passageways, and the Perilous Nursery. And some nights they even had to clean Key, which was just a smidgen worse than having to hear another evil joke told by the two Grimbuggle Bedbugs, Bosh and Mr. Humbug.
There were two drawbacks to having Toags work in the Necropolis Castle. First: Toags were like dust bunnies, except that these dust bunnies were maniacal, homicidal, and the size of purple turkeys.
Second: Toags had no idea how to clean.
Ghost servants had to clean everything else, which mostly involved sprucing castle bedchambers, emptying chamber pots, sweeping chimneys, scouring cinders, cooking meals, polishing the silver, beating rugs, dusting cobwebs, washing clothes, scrubbing floors, among countless other tasks that the ghosts struggled to finish in a single night.
As Mr. Fuddlebee mentioned, the Necropolis Vampires forbade all ghost servants from appearing. Every ghost had to stay invisible. If a ghost appeared before a vampire, its punishment would be to receive the severe assignment of executing the most horrendous task in the entire Necropolis – which occasionally did involve executions. This punishment was far worse than cleaning the Tomb of the Tortured Tarantula, worse than cleaning the Grave of the Grim Goblin, and even worse than cleaning the Mausoleum of the Mostly Mutilated Mummies of Manchester. The punishment for any ghost servant who had the boldness to appear before a vampire would be to clean the Toag Cage.
That being said, there was one job that all servants had to do at least once in their undead lifetime, because it was the most important job in the entire Necropolis. It was more important than being President of the United States and the British Prime Minister rolled up into one. This highly important job was to feed the deadliest creature in the entire Necropolis – the castle cat, Warhag.
Ghost servants also lived in the dungeon with Key. She never saw them because they would not break the castle rule: They would not appear before a castle vampire, even if that vampire was only Key. It did not matter that the Necropolis Vampires rejected her; she was a vampire, too. They would not break the rule, partly because most ghosts were good, not wanting to break any rule, even if it were ridiculous, but mostly none of them broke castle rules because all of them feared cleaning the Toag cage. So every ghost servant stayed extra far away from Key.
Regardless of this, she could tell they were nearby whenever all sorts of odds and ends floated by, things like frying pans and buckets, needles and pincushions, forks and swords and crinoline, all floating through the air on their way to be cleaned in the Great Cauldron.
Key could also hear the ghosts whispering with one another. The whispers of the ghosts always echoed eerily in Despair. More than once Key tried speaking with them, but they would not speak with her either, since cleaning the Toag cage was an incredibly nasty business.
Key would have loved to talk with anyone other than the Shadow Spiders because they only wanted to talk on Tuesdays. So Key’s isolation, sadness, and loneliness were quickly becoming like sores – and she knew that sores can get very infected if left uncared for.
— CHAPTER ELEVEN —
Warhag & A Little History of the Necropolis
Key was not officially a prisoner of the castle because castle prisoners were usually sent to what the Necropolis Vampires called “The Torture Chamber,” although most people would have called it a
The final communication that Key received from the Necropolis vampires was a scroll written in blood from the Queen’s secretary, Galfridus Fish. On the scroll was a list of things Key was forbidden to do. She was forbidden to leave the dungeon. She was forbidden to talk with another vampire. She was forbidden to remove the chain shackling her ankle to the wall. She was forbidden to drink the same blood other vampires drank. In fact, there was only one thing she was allowed to do: Drink the blood of whatever she could find – which would have been Red Rodents, Shadow Spiders, Wicked Worms, Macabre Maggots, or even Grimbuggle Bedbugs, if she could catch one. But she refused to hurt any of those poor creatures, even if they were Bosh or Mr. Humbug. So she let herself starve in Despair.
Key spent many nights much more lonely than alone. Raithe and Crudgel had been her first visitors, and not many more came to visit Key for a long time after that. Yet to keep her imagination entertained, she listened to the eerie sounds of the Necropolis every night.
She loved the nights when she heard zombie horses charging across the castle drawbridge over Melancholy Moat. The chain shackling her ankle stretched far enough for her to climb up the wall and peek through a barred window. The window overlooked Melancholy Moat’s black water. Stretching as high up as she could go, so that she could just barely see out into the Necropolis, she would watch a band of castle vampires go charging off on their zombie steeds, out into Necropolis streets, seemingly on some important errand.
Ah, Key dreamed about going with them.
And in that dream, she also dreamed how someone else would come down into the dungeon to visit with her. She dreamed how they would say to her, “Come up from Despair! Come be our friend! Come be our family!” It didn’t matter to Key that the Necropolis Vampires had rejected her and had treated her so miserably. She still felt an urge to be their friend. She wouldn’t have even asked them for an apology.
Key had not seen much of the Necropolis, but from her carriage ride with Mr. Fuddlebee, she remembered that the City of the Dead was a grand gathering of tombs, graveyards, mausoleums, and many other kinds of burial places. And because of that brief memory, Key was becoming increasingly interested in knowing more about where she lived. But as the Shadow Spiders did not care about the goings-on outside Despair, and as the ghosts would not speak with her, Key grew very heavy hearted when she could not learn anything about the Necropolis’s history or about current events.
Then one night, when Key heard no noises coming from outside the dungeon, and when the Grimbuggle Bedbugs had stopped pestering her for a short spell, and when she had nothing else to do except think about all the things she had lost, and all the things she would never do again, Key’s heavy heart began to feel much heavier – perhaps the heaviest it had felt since the first night she came here, on her ninth birthday. So she lay on the ground and began to weep.
But her weeping stopped when, to her great surprise, she noticed that coming out of the darkness was a second visitor.
At first all she saw were those same beastly eyes shining with a violet glow. Through the darkness, the eyes crept closer and closer, and Key thought her end was coming. Then the beast came into view, and Key saw that it was none other than the castle cat, Warhag.
She had somehow managed to slip into Despair. Key had no idea how Warhag had gotten through the massumongous door to the dungeon, but she guessed that the cat no doubt knew all sorts of secrets about the Necropolis Castle.
Warhag now padded silently close to Key, like a lioness stalking prey. Then she sat just beyond reach, with the end of her tail twitching menacingly. Key took that as a warning that seemed to say: “Touch me and you’ll probably lose three fingers, if you’re lucky.”
Warhag’s fur was mostly orange. It had black swirls all over, black swirls around her eyes and mouth, black swirls around her legs and tail. Her coat looked as though it might have been soft a very long time ago, yet now it looked a little mangy, although Key would have never said so because she was not only polite, but also wise enough to avoid upsetting a Mystical Creature whose reputation had evidently given her the frightening name of “Warhag.”
The castle cat was also bedecked in jewelry. Her ears were pierced with gold rings. Her nostrils were pierced with diamond studs. And on the tips of her long saber teeth were silver caps that looked as sharp as daggers. It was clear to Key that all of Warhag’s jewelry had been booty from war.
But perhaps the cat’s most striking feature was her constant frown. It made her look untiringly miserable, even when she was happy.
Curiosity suddenly replaced Key’s fear when she observed that the cat had something clutched in her jaws. Is that a matchbox? Or some square creature? Key was greatly interested in knowing what it was, so she tried calling the cat over, holding out her hand in a friendly gesture. She was not only eager to know what the cat had, but she was also hopeful to befriend anyone, or anything – as Despair can make anyone desperate enough to attempt befriending even a fearsome beast such as Warhag the cat.
For a very tense moment it seemed as if Key’s gesture had somehow offended the cat because, without warning, her natural scowl worsened. She stared at Key without blinking, the slits of her feline eyes increasing her frightening glower. Warhag then licked her lips, which, as several slain creatures had glimpsed right before the end, was a sign that it was time for one of three things: battle, dinner, or petting.