The Brownies thought it was rather rude the way Key was being treated by the Necropolis Vampires, as the Brownies were, if not a little insane, then quite polite, for they were made of an odd mixture of goodness, mischief, and an air of business professionalism. So they decided to make Key their official taste tester, giving her several boxes of Snuckle Truffles each night, most filled with new and exciting flavors, although some were filled with rather questionable taste sensations. Thus, Key would never go hungry again in Despair, as the Snuckle Truffles business was always providing her with several boxes of chocolate-covered blood flavors to taste and test.
Inside each box was an assortment of blood-flavored chocolate. Some treats were flavored with the blood of the Not Quite Dead Dragons of Duluth. Others were flavored with the blood of the Sort of Dismembered Skeletons of Seattle. Others were flavored with the Mostly Mangled Mummies of Manchester. Key quite enjoyed one flavor of Snuckle Truffle in particular, filled with the blood of the Somewhat Snuffed-Out Fairies of the Cinnamon Tree Forest. She did not at all enjoy the blood of the Nearly Nixed Bogeypeople of Bogalusa, which tasted like old shoes and lobster.
Some nights the Brownies became so caught up in their business (or in search of the Great Fizzy Wonder-Bang) that they forgot about Key. But that was not often, and she never complained. Not eating chocolate-covered blood gave her more time to think and read her little book. Key often thought about the night she lost her mom and dad. She could not forget how Margrave Snick had sunk his teeth into her neck. “Who is Margrave Snick?” Key would often ask herself. Wanda Wickery’s little book did not have much information on him. And the Brownies did not care much about him, or about many other goings-on, as they were usually greedier more for chocolate than for the news.
— CHAPTER THIRTEEN —
New Vampire Powers
Key’s vampire senses gave her distraction from Despair.
Her sense of taste was the most enjoyable of her new powers. As the Brownies surprised her almost every night with new flavors of Snuckle Truffles, and as the flavors were a delightful treat to her powerful taste buds, Key could taste the process by which a Snuckle Truffle was made. She could taste that ghost cooks in the castle kitchen had handled the cacao beans with great honor, as if the beans kept magic locked inside. She could taste next that the Brownies had ground the beans into cocoa powder using the ancient stones of the Arken Tribe. Without any Brownie telling her, and without ever reading the tiny labels on the little boxes, Key’s marvelous sense of taste told her how the blood for one Bloody Bonbon had been kindly donated by Pixies from the Purplewood Pumpkin Patch, which tasted like sugar butter; and how the blood for another Snuckle Truffle had been stolen from the Mead Bees of the Bubble Tree, which tasted like peppermint and honey; and Key also tasted how the blood for another Snuckle Truffle had been given by the Tree People of the Perpetually Burning Forest, which tasted like Brussels sprouts and ashes, which was another unfortunate consequence of being an official taste tester.
Also, Key’s powerful vampire eyes could see much more than her human eyes could ever see. She could study the threads of her tattered birthday dress all night. The sight would keep her utterly entertained. She could see entirely new patterns. She could count the number of fibers in one thread of linen, as each fiber had a unique story to tell that only Key’s eyes could see. Yet she also noticed that, while her dress had felt a little too big on her ninth birthday, now it seemed to feel too small, and Key wondered how that could be. Had she grown, even though she was supposed to look like a nine-year-old girl forever? She doubted that were so, but she could not explain how she felt so much bigger, even though it was impossible for a vampire to grow. “Is there,” she was curious to know, “a difference between growing up and being grown-up?” It was all a mystery to her.
Key’s sense of smell was also very powerful. She could identify every strange scent in the dungeon walls and in the floor. Her sense of smell was so powerful that she could inhale and tell how a dandelion seed had struck the stone against her back one hundred years ago. The scent was as fresh as if it had happened yesterday. Key could smell that the dandelion had come from a field of lilies. An old man had plucked it, had pinned it to the lapel of his suit, and had made a wish on the dandelion before blowing on the seeds, scattering them to the wind. Key could smell that one seed had sailed on the current of the wind, over land, over sea, all the way to Morrow Mountain, and drifted eventually into the dungeon. That little seed had come such a long way – just like Key. “Where’s the seed now?” she wondered. She felt she could use all the good wishes she could get.
Her sense of touch was also very sharp. Her eyelash could feel the tiniest mote of dust tumbling down. The hairs on the back of her neck could feel the wind blustering against the Perilous Peak of Morrow Mountain. Her fingertips could feel the whole story of a single cobblestone.
Now Key ran her fingers gently over the cobblestone by her chained ankle. She could feel its tiny lines telling her the story of the cobblestone’s life. It had been born in the fiery depths of Morrow Mountain. Pressure beneath the mountain gave it shape. An age later it came to the surface. A hobgoblin peddler found it and sold it to blind craftsman. Key’s fingertips felt how, still by touching the tiny lines of the cobblestone, the craftsman had been left-handed, how his fingers had been heavily callused, and how he had wept over them when unbearable arthritis took away his work. His story made Key weep, too. Often she would touch the cobblestones and feel how each came from a different place. Each cobblestone had a unique story to tell her, and all their stories combined together and helped her forget for a time about the sadness she never failed to feel in Despair.
Key’s vampire hearing was so excellent that she could hear Red Rodents scurrying a mile away, and ghosts whispering in hidden passageways, and Mostly Mangled Gnomes in the dungeon’s southern quarter, who’d started a new haberdashery selling gentlemen’s suits bedecked with the latest gizmos developed by the GadgetTronic Brothers. Key liked to hear all these wonderful gizmos whizzing and whirring.
The more Key heard of the strange and wonderful world all around her, the more she wished she weren’t shackled to the wall, for she wished to roam about the dungeon, exploring the depths of its darkness, and visiting with all the interesting creatures she could hear, yet never see, because the Gnomes, the Trolls, the Ghosts, even the Red Rodents, all seemed more interesting than the loneliness of Despair.
Key’s hearing was so good that she could hear other vampires talking in other parts of the castle. Vampires in towers were too far away for Key to hear, but those in the common room she could hear quite easily, although the vampires trapped in the Wandering Scullery could be heard only on Wednesdays, when the scullery went scampering by the dungeon. Yet, for as much as Key enjoyed her supernatural powers, she did not enjoy listening in on the conversations of others because she had never forgotten her mom and dad teaching her that eavesdropping is rude.
But one night she couldn’t help herself. She just had to eavesdrop when she heard two vampires coming down to the castle’s lowest level. She could not tell who they were at first, but the lower they came, the more she knew, and the closer they drew, the more she feared, for she had met these two vampires twice already, once in Old Queen Crinkle’s court, and another time when they chained her to the wall.
It was Raithe and Crudgel.
— CHAPTER FOURTEEN —
Diabolically Doubtful Plotting
Necropolis Vampires thrived on treachery, duplicity, and all out cruelty, as Key had already learned – the hard way. Some vampires schemed better than others while others were far crueler than some. A few vampires conspired openly in castle common rooms while many hatched plots in the secret shadows of broom cupboards. For all that, Raithe and Crudgel were two Necropolis Vampires who ate trickery and drank duplicity. They, as Key had also already learned – the
hard way – were selfish, thoughtless, and unbelievably mean.
And as Key could now hear them coming down to the lowest parts of the castle, she began to worry that they might come into the dungeon again and do something worse to her, such as burn the rest of her birthday dress, which had become much more worn and filthy with all her time in Despair. She sat on pins and needles hearing Raithe stop just outside the dungeon door, then Crudgel stopping after her, seeming more like her pet than her peer. As both stayed outside the door for so long, it became clear to Key that they had no intention of entering the dungeon, and perhaps they weren’t even thinking of Key, which brought her every inch of gladness. No, it seemed that Raithe and Crudgel had come down to the lowest parts of the castle to secretly hatch a diabolically doubtful plot.
Yes, Raithe was clearly the leader of the two, but it was Crudgel who was speaking more, at least at the outset of this mutinous meeting, jabbering on and on about his fears of Margrave Snick, Mr. Fuddlebee, and the Hand of DIOS. The worried tone of his voice surprised Key; she never would have guessed that a bully could be so afraid.
Crudgel began biting his fingernails. “I don’t want to be mortal again,” he moaned.
Raithe paced nervously back and forth. “I won’t be mortal again, that’s certain,” she said. “I’ll escape Mr. Fuddlebee. I’ll escape the Hand of DIOS. I’ll do whatever it takes, but I won’t be mortal again.”
Crudgel paced back and forth, too. But he bumped into Raithe and she smacked him upside his head. To avoid having this problem again, Raithe began pacing up one wall. “I’m going to destroy the Five Houses,” she muttered as she walked.
“All Five,” Crudgel asked in surprise and confusion. “Even ours?”
“Of course,” Raithe said, spitting it out matter-of-factly, “all Five Houses, even ours. If a house is infected, then it must be destroyed and remade. All Five Houses are infected with the idea that we immortals must become mortal again. So all five must be completely, totally, and utterly destroyed.”
Key had read in her little book about the Five Mystical Houses, begun by the first five Mystical Creatures, who were now buried in the Old Catacombs. There was the House of the Witch, the House of the Zombie, the House of the Werewolf, the House of the Ghost, and the House of the Vampire.
Is Raithe really going to destroy them all?
How would she do it?
Raithe gave a dastardly laugh. “In the end,” she said, “when I have destroyed all Five Houses, I will rebuild them all and then there will only be one house – House Raithe. Why settle for being simply queen of the Necropolis? I will be Queen of all Mystical Creatures.”
Crudgel tried to walk up the wall too, but Raithe had powers he didn’t have; he could follow her about halfway up before he flopped back down to the floor like a fish. Grunting in pain he said, “Wasn’t that Margrave Snick’s plan, except he wanted to be King?”
“Finders, keepers,” was Raithe’s snide reply.
“Look,” Crudgel stated, “the Law of Mortality states that all of us must become mortal again. How will you break the law? Even if you did destroy all Five Houses and remade them into one, you couldn’t keep it. I mean, the Hand of DIOS will find you, as it did Margrave, and it will change you back into a mortal the way it changed him back into one. As powerful as he was, he couldn’t escape it. How do you think you can?”
Raithe walked up to the ceiling and began pacing. “I’ll do more than break the law,” she snapped. “I’ll break the Hand of DIOS.”
Crudgel oohed. “That’ll mean,” he said in awe, “no more Fuddlebee.”
Raithe smiled wickedly. “No more becoming mortal again, either,” she scoffed.
Key remembered how Mr. Fuddlebee had used the Hand of DIOS on Margrave Snick the night that villainous vampire turned her into a vampire too. She remembered how Mr. Fuddlebee had come into her home, how he had taken a grain of light from his jacket pocket, how he had held it up into the air, how bright the light had shone, and how he had said, “Margrave Snick, you are no longer a vampire! You are no longer immortal! Your power is taken back by the Hand of DIOS!”
Key believed she now understood this power. “The Hand of DIOS changes immortals into mortals,” she told herself.
This was a new idea to her, and it quickly became quite appealing, because, you see, she’d never wanted to be immortal in the first place, she did not like being a vampire, and she did not want to be one anymore. She wanted to be nine-years-old again, for she had it in her mind that, if Mr. Fuddlebee would change her back into a mortal by working on her also the trick of the Hand of DIOS, then perhaps she could go back to her old life on the farm in the valley, living in a simple home with her mom and dad, herding sheep and harvesting wheat. She hoped and prayed that Mr. Fuddlebee would do this for her, would change her back into a mortal. Yet, she began to wonder, why hadn’t he done so before?
Raithe stopped pacing suddenly. She stood perfectly still on the ceiling for a long moment as she thought. Then, when she had come to a decision about something seemingly very important, she declared in a voice brimming with eagerness and excitement, “I know what to do!”
Crudgel’s voice, however, was quite doubtful as he said, “What’s your plan? I don’t have to dress as a goat again, do I? Because I remember your last plan and, look, I’ll be honest, I still don’t get what a ‘scapegoat’ is or why ‘scaping’ – whatever that means – has anything to do with ‘goats’.”
Raithe, ignoring his last remark yet responding to his question, uttered only one word: “Silas.”
Key did not know who this Silas was or what he did, for there was still so much more about the Necropolis that was a total mystery to her. But one thing was perfectly clear: As Key listened to Crudgel blink in deep thought, she understood that he knew this Silas creature.
At length Crudgel asked simply, “Silas the Cyclops?”