As usual, his student was right on time for his lesson.
Thaddeus Ambrose Alexandrius Thorebourne had a long name, and a large heart. Joining the ranks of the undead in the mid 19th Century had done nothing to skewer his moral compass, which had always pointed firmly in the direction of righteousness.
Having been converted at the age of 20, in the midst of studying to become a doctor, Alex - as he was more commonly known - bore the burden of vampirism with a heavy heart and a troubled conscience. He never drank directly from humans, nor had he ever turned anyone - instead surviving on animals, and later, pre-packaged plasma. With all of his plans now permanently postponed, he had hidden away from the world for several decades... until he'd come to Forgotten Hollow thirty years ago, and discovered this safehaven for those like himself.
Having always been the bookish sort, Alex was very keen to spend his prolonged existence in pursuit of knowledge. After learning almost everything there was to know about science, magic became a second source of fascination. Having tutored his dear Maven successfully, Audric proudly took Alex on as his next pupil. As the years passed, he instructed the young vampire in both the powers he now bore in his undead state, and the more conventional magicks - practising spells and vampiric sparring several times each week.
Sadly, whilst Alex's powers of logic and knowledge of science were undeniable, it seems that his longing to learn sorcery far outweighed his skill. Here and now, after several decades of study, Alex was still barely able to cast even the most basic of charms... and he remained firmly on the lowest rung of the vampire social ladder. Still, he showed no signs of giving up - and if his student could stay determined despite the odds, his tutor knew he had to do the same.
Seeing that Alex was very much immersed in his reading, Audric cleared his throat - causing his protege to jump in alarm.
"Oh! Forgive me, Your Dark Imperial Majesty!" Alex cried, snapping the book shut. "I was merely revising those incantations we practised last week."
"And do you have them memorised?"
"Yes, my liege."
"Very good. Perhaps you would care to demonstrate?"
Alex clambered to his feet, and outstretched his hands in a focused but flaired pose. Concentrating intensely, he recited the Latin phrases he had committed to memory.. but soon stopped, worried, when nothing at all happened.
As he turned to Audric, he grew downhearted when he saw the ancient figure shaking his head.
"Your intonation is wrong," the elder explained. "This is how you should chant those phrases."
Audric began his own masterful recitation, and the results were immediate. As green sparks flew from Audric's fingertips and whirled around Alex's head, the student felt himself slowly falling into a trance... only to be brought back violently into reality by the snapping of his master's fingers, and soft, slow laughter.
"Practice makes perfect, Alex," Audric said reassuringly. "Come - let us leave the spellcasting for now. We'll move on to sparring."
Placing an arm around Alex's shoulder, he lead the young vampire down the grand staircase and towards the back door - stopping momentarily when he spotted the family servant, Jonathan Renfield, in the kitchen.
"My study is in disarray," he barked. "Clean it at once."
As he watched his master and that weak excuse for a vampire waltzing out into the garden together, Renfield, who was scrubbing the kitchen counters, threw down his sponge angrily.
For centuries, he had served the Mortan-Murdacs, and not once had they shown him the slightest bit of respect. All day, every day, he cleaned their palace from top to bottom, filled the blood cellars, and basically fulfilled the family's every whim - never receiving any thanks for all of his hard work.
Even the Dark Prince Marcel, whose fiery "death" he had staged in order to stop his family looking for him, showed no gratitude for this difficult deed he had achieved. As for this Thorebourne weakling... Renfield had far greater power and more potential than he did, but there was never any chance of him receiving the Emperor's tutelage.
Enough was enough. It was time to shake things up around here. The question was - how?
Turning sharply on his heels, Renfield charged up the stairs into Audric's study, muttering curses under his breath the entire way. Carelessly, he snatched books and papers up from various spots, and shoved them as one entity onto the bookcase - only pausing when he noticed an ancient, torn volume on a higher shelf. Intrigued, he took it down and examined the yellowed pages - its title glaring theateningly in blood red print.
The Tome of Malice.
As he skimmed the pages with a villainous glee, discovering all manner of vile enchantments, monsterous yet makeable maladies, and conjurable catalysts of destruction, Renfield chuckled in low tones.
It was time to have some fun.
At the Brown Sugar Café, Libby Miskin looked up from her camera view screen as she heard the clatter of a porcelain mug being placed before her at the table.
"There you are, darling," her father said sweetly. "Hot chocolate with whipped cream, just for you."
"That... that looks great, Dad," Libby replied cautiously, "but I asked for a latte."
"You can't have coffee. You're too young."
"Dad, I'm eighteen," Libby reminded him. "I start my Photography degree this Autumn."
"Don't you say that!" Mitch wailed.
He threw his arms around his daughter, hugging her tightly.
"You're still my baby girl," he whispered. "My little baby Libby. You can't be all grown up yet - you just can't be!"
Libby, laughing, returned his embrace. She knew how much her father loved her, and how hard her going to university was going to be for him. But she wasn't a little girl anymore. She on the verge of starting a life of her own.
In the café kitchen, Big Mo, wiping away a tear as he witnessed the scene, turned to his own daughter Daisy - who, now being his fellow employee, was finishing up washing dishes in the sink beside him.
"You won't ever leave me, will you, gel?" he asked - softly, and slightly nervously.
Daisy just chuckled, and shook her head bemusedly in response before going to man the coffee machine.
Honestly... fathers. What were they like? At least Libby only had one of them.
The doorbell jangled as a customer entered, and made their way to the counter, leaning upon it nonchalantly. As they looked up, Daisy, Mo and Mitch all smiled when they realised it was a familiar face.
"Morning, Loki!" Mo said warmly. "You here for Lucy's office drinks order?"
"Yep," Loki told her. "She would have come herself, but apparently she's got an important client visiting her and her uncle today."
Mo nodded understandingly. Lucy possessed Clyde's charisma and powers of persuasion. He'd offered her an intern position with Willow Appliances when she'd turned eighteen, and from there, her career had skyrocketed - meaning she now worked closely with her "uncle" as the regional manager. She was a very busy bee indeed.
"I'll get the drinks ready for you," Daisy told Loki. "Just give me five minutes."
"Want something while you're waiting?" Mo asked. "Your usual espresso?"
"Oh - no coffee, thanks," Loki replied, "but a glass of milk would be great."
Mo's eyebrows furrowed as he slowly processed this statement. A few moments later, when the light bulb came on, he burst into laughter.
"Oh God, Loki!" he cried. "You're not, are you?"
Blushing, Loki stepped away from the counter - revealing his prominent baby bump. Mo, grinning, rushed out and embraced him.
"Another grandchild!" he said, beaming.
"Two, actually," Loki told him. "I'm having twins."
Mitch, tutting, smiled at his nephew.
"I don't know how you and Lucy cope with all of those kids," he muttered. "What is this, your third pregnancy?"
"Fourth," Loki answered. "And these are babies five and six."
"Well, you did marry a Thacker," he said, placing his hand on Loki's bump. "We've one 'ell of a libido. It runs in the family."
"Dad!" Daisy cried, embarrassed.
"Look, love," Mo snapped back, "all I'm sayin' is that, if I were straight, and your Daddy Theo 'ad been a lady, we'd 'ave needed loads more nappies in our 'ouse."
Mitch joined in the ensuing laughter, but did so half-heartedly. Yes, the Thackers liked their moments of passion, all right. After all, Lucy's father - that is, her biological father - had almost destroyed Mitch's marriage. Still, best not to dwell on it: Lucy was not Clyde, and by all accounts, she'd been very faithful - and undoubtedly affectionate! - to her husband.
Loki and Lucy had been friends ever since their childhood, thanks to Theo's own friendship with the Lee Harkers. As they approached the end of their teen years, Lucy's beauty and charm were in full bloom, and Loki had mastered the arts of mischief.
No-one made Lucy laugh like Loki did, which won her over...
... whereas Lucy could melt the heart of any of her male peers with one look.
And boy, how Loki had melted.
Things came to a head on Lucy's 21st birthday. As part of her celebrations, she invited her dear friend on a camping trip to Granite Falls. Loki accepted happily - and it was there, away from the prying eyes of their parents, that the pair fully expressed their feelings for one another.
Two months later, Loki found himself in a spot of trouble.
When the terrified young man shared the news with his father Gabriel, the Lee Harker patriarch, outraged, had stormed over to the Thacker house - deaf to Minerva's protests - in order to see what the mother-to-be had to say for herself.
Days of violent arguments between the families followed: Gabriel demanding that Lucy be held to account for what she'd done to his son, with Mo countering that Loki, as an adult, knew full well what he'd gotten himself into. Theo and Minerva both stayed on the sidelines: wanting to avoid conflict, but hoping whatever was to come would bring the best possible result for everybody.
No-one thought to ask the future parents how they felt about the matter. As it happened, Lucy took the news extremely well. Within weeks of learning about the baby's existence, she asked Loki for his hand in marriage - knowing that, with her career on the rise and a plethora of prospects, she would be able to support him. Loki joyfully accepted her proposal: preserving his honour, and appeasing his emotional father.
Lucy moved in with the Lee Harkers, and planned a lavish wedding ceremony... something that proved to be a rather long and laborious process. As a result, the groom was nine months pregnant when he and his beloved finally exchanged their vows: his tuxedo barely fastening around his big, round belly.
Before the reception could get under way, it was discovered that Loki's stomach pains, which he'd attributed to pre-nuptial nerves, actually heralded the imminent arrival of a last-minute, but much anticipated, little wedding guest.
And so, the new Mr and Mrs. Lee Harker spent their wedding night in Willow Creek Hospital, where Loki delivered their beautiful daughter, Freya.
From then on, the stork made so many visits to the Lee Harker house, he might as well have built his nest there.
Loki's second pregnancy led him to bring twins into the world - Iduna and Raphael - with another daughter, Aurora, joining them a year later. The babies he was currently carrying were both boys, who would be named Samuel and Tyr upon their arrival.
Lucy was very much the breadwinner of the family, leaving Loki to be a stay-at-home dad - bar the odd open mic night where he could perform his comedy. However, he had no regrets about what had come to pass. He loved his bride and their brood with all of his heart, and after Lucy hired a nanny to help him out, he found the Herculean task of fatherhood much easier to handle... tempting him to consider the possibility of letting his family tree grow even more branches in the future.
As Mitch watched Mo chat away eagerly to Loki, he smiled as he saw his other pride and joy, Marlon, stepping into the cafe. However, as he beheld the two young men standing almost side by side, he couldn't help but feel a pang of worry.
Mitch's only son was now in his early thirties... and yet, unlike the very "productive" Loki, he was still a bachelor, with no sign of an heir to the family legacy coming along any time soon. Instead of pursuing love, Marlon had keenly chased his ambition of becoming a journalist... with great success. He was now the lead reporter for the local paper, The Willow Creek Chronicle, and his investigative exposés had brought him renown in the industry.
Besides, Marlon was still younger than Mitch was when Libby came along. Perhaps it was too soon to be overly concerned.
After greeting Mo and his relatives jovially, Marlon sat down with his sister and father at their table.
"Hey, Libby," he said. "All ready for the first big day of your summer job?"
"Sure am!" Libby replied, showing him her camera proudly. "Thanks again for the opportunity, Marlon. If I get some good shots, they'll really boost my portfolio."
"No problem," Marlon told her. "I'm glad to have you on board. I'm so busy taking notes for my reports, my photos are hardly in focus half the time."
"You look after my girl out there," Mitch warned sternly. "I've read your stories. Undercover work, going after criminals, and all that. I want her - and you, for that matter - to stay safe and sound, you hear me?"
"Yes, Dad," Marlon replied. "Don't worry - we'll be fine. Oh, and speaking of criminals, the editor's been whispering in my ear. Apparently, he'd pay good money for an exclusive interview with the infamous Midas..."
"Dream on, boy."
"Ah, well - it was worth a try."
As Libby drained the dregs of her drink, she and Marlon rose from the table, and headed towards the door.
"Bye, Dad!" Libby called. "Thanks for the hot chocolate!"
As Mitch stepped back behind the counter, he felt his heart swell with pride as he watched both of his children heading out in pursuit of their dreams. His fifteen years in long, lonely darkness were all made worthwhile when he saw the brightness of their future.
In his vast lounge, Audric sat alone in front of the log fire, reading a novel. Marcel had recommended it to him. Generally, he avoided these modern authors, given that he was a few centuries behind the times, but nevertheless, he was enjoying the work - even if he had to refer to the dictionary constantly to remember what in the Reaper's name an "Internet" was.
All at once, the book flew out of his hands and into the flames when a vast wind whirled through the room, filling it with a dark murky mist. As it cleared, Audric could just about make out the grinning figure of Renfield - stood near the stairwell with a air of utter arrogance.
"What is the meaning of this?" Audric demanded.
"I have had enough of being your skivy, you old fool!" Renfield roared back, pointing a dagger-like finger at the aged magus. "My powers are far greater than you, your daughter, that artist and that idiot student of yours could ever dream of! All the more now that I've been doing some... private research."
Carrying himself with amazing confidence, he squared up to Audric, hissing quietly.
"Perhaps you would care for a demonstration?"
As Audric prepared to cast a defense spell, Renfield beat him to the punch - waving a hand over him and coldly stating two fateful words.
Immediately, Audric froze - his joints stiffening, his entire body sharply seizing up. He sunk downwards as he felt his knees give way underneath him. As he desperately screamed Maven's name, everything went black before his eyes - with only one image shining through the darkness.
His beautiful Meryetamun.
Audric Mortan-Murdac's centuries-long existence was finally over. With a weak, mewish whimper, he closed his eyes, and fell flat out on the wooden floor.
As Renfield witnessed the aftermath of his malious act, he burst out into maniacal laughter, unable to control himself. The Emperor was dead. He had destroyed him: banished his very soul and consciousness out of his body and straight into the Netherworld. And it had all been so easy!
Still, it was always good to be on the safe side. With his laughter only growing greater, Renfield reached into his inside jacket pocket, produced a wooden stake, and stabbed it violently through Audric's heart.
As they heard the bloodcurdling cackles, Maven and Marcel both hastily flapped ino the room as bats - both breaking down when they transformed and beheld their respective father and master laid slain before them.
Meanwhile, Alex, who had been reposing upstairs in the guest chamber, raced out onto the landing - stopping sharply when he beheld the shocking scene below.
Desperate for vengeance, Maven charged screeching at Renfield - only to be hurled back across the room by an unseen force. As Marcel hurried over to help her to her feet, she noticed the bizarre, glowing green cuffs that had appeared on her wrists, and heard mysterious mutterings from Renfield as he concluded his second spell that evening.
"I wouldn't do anything stupid I were you," Renfield hissed. "Those binding cuffs will stop you from using any magic - and trust me, they won't come off unless I conjure them away. I would cuff that stupid husband of yours, too, but let's face facts. Unlike yours, his powers are nowhere near strong enough to match mine."
Marcel staggered forward, only to be pulled back by Maven. As hard as it was to admit at this moment, Renfield was right. Without Maven's magic, they were essentially sitting ducks.
As Marcel glanced up, he spotted the petrified Alex cowering away in a corner above them. Closing his eyes, he sent him a silent message - the student's eyes widening as the vision of a dark-skinned, confident-looking man appeared in his mind.
"This is my grandson Marlon," Marcel told him telepathically. "Find him. He can save us."
Looking down at Marcel, Alex swallowed, and nodded. Rising to his feet carefully, he sneaked along the landing and ducked into a side room, opening the window and flying out into the night.
"Hey!" Renfield snapped, noticing that Marcel was ignoring him. "Don't you turn away from me! Not anymore! I'm in charge now!"
As he started pacing around the lounge, Renfield looked at the now-dethroned royal couple, considering the situation carefully.
"I could just kill you both," he said, "but that would be too easy. One regal death is enough for one night. I want you two to really suffer - to see this cosy, entitled little existence of yours being slowly taken away from you... and you powerless to stop it."
Moving behind them as mist, he placed his arms around both of their shoulders, gripping them firmly - a wicked grin now fixed on his face.
"So... shall I show you to your quarters?"
Happy Halloween to all my readers!