Marcel braced himself for Renfield's furious charge, raising his arms to block the usurper's crazed strikes whilst attempting to land a few of his own. Alex seized the opportunity this distraction gave him to dash over to the table in front of the fireplace, crouching himself down by Libby's side.
Mere moments ago, he had managed to enter the cellar below undetected. As Marlon had guessed from Alex's indications, magic had proven useless on the cell lock - but then again, that could have been due to his own failings.
Regardless, Renfield hadn't accounted for everyday tools. After poking the screwdriver he'd been given into the cell door keyhole, wriggling it repeatedly, Alex had managed to free the Prince and Princess - Marcel immediately rushing into the lounge like a literal bat out of hell.
Now, it seemed His Dark Highness had the Renfield situation well in hand, with Marlon and Cassandra both very eager to lend him their support. A weak fighter, he knew there was a better way he could assist them... and that was by helping Libby.
Grasping Libby's hand, he shook it gently, but repeatedly.
"Wake up, Libby!" he cried. "Please, wake up!"
It was no use. Libby was under a curse - and it would take even more magic to revive her. Alex turned towards Maven, but soon realised that her powers were still bound by Renfield's enchanted cuffs. Audric was dead, and Marcel was too busy battling to cast charms.
The only person who could help Libby now was him.
"Evigila! Evigila!" he muttered, waving his hands over her motionless form. She didn't react.
Alex knew that he couldn't give up. This was too important, and although they had just met... he cared for Libby very much. He hadn't had a true friend in a very long time, and the young ambitious maiden had shown him nothing but kindness. It meant a lot to him.
She meant a lot to him.
Perhaps, if he really focused, and let those feelings grow within his long-stilled heart...
"Liberty Miskin! Amica bona mea! Evigila! Evigila!"
As he saw Libby's eyelids flutter, Alex's chest swelled with joy. Reaching out his hands, he cried out one final time.
A green flash broke forth from his ice-blue eyes. On the table, Libby wriggled and groaned, and slowly opened her eyes - like someone who has awakened from a long and peaceful sleep.
"Where... where am I?"
Seeing a relieved and proud Alex kneeling beside her, she smiled, and tenderly reached for his hand.
"Hello, you," she whispered.
The blush on Alex's face was like a rose blossoming in a field of snow.
Their heartwarming reunion was suddenly brought to an abrupt end by a violent scream. Libby, terrified, sat bolt upright in shock - and wailed when she saw what had happened. Marlon, too, was horrified.
The cry had burst forth from Marcel's lips.
Renfield, wielding the stake, had struck him right between the ribs.
The passage of time became unbearably slow for the Miskins.They watched, aghast, as Marcel reeled backwards - crimson blood and vapours of dark energy flooding out from his horrific wound, Renfield backing away in shock before exploding into hysterical laughter. A few moments had dragged by before Maven found herself able to scream.
As Marcel plummeted to the floor like a lead brick, Marlon dashed forward, tears in his eyes, and cradled his grandfather in his arms. With great effort, Marcel rolled over, and looked him in the eyes.
"So... you are my grandson," he choked weakly. "My Mitch's boy."
Marlon nodded, sobbing.
"Tell him... I'm sorry," Marcel gasped. "That... that I lied to him. To everyone. I just... I just wanted them to be at peace."
Grimacing from the pain, Marcel reached up slowly, and cradled Marlon's face.
"I... I'm happy... that I got to meet you. I know you... and your sister... will make me proud."
Groaning, his head rolled back towards the floor, as he fought with all his strength to keep his eyes open.
"Don't let... that monster win..."
With these words, he fell silent, and grew still.
Witnessing this tragedy, Libby began to shake with grief... and then, with rage. With her eyes fixed on the cackling Renfield, she ran over to the broken table, picked up a long, pointed shard of wood, and within seconds, rammed it violently through Renfield's torso and through his back - his own blood and energy bursting forth as he screamed in anguish.
Libby stared him down as she witnessed his horrific end.
"You will never hurt my family again," she hissed flatly.
Tightening her grip on the makeshift stake, she pulled with all her might and wrenched it free.
Renfield, shrieking, exploded into a shower of dust.
The nightmare was over.
Alex beheld their enemy's slayer with a mix of awe and unease. Libby, drawing heavy breaths to calm herself following her heroic act, stood there confidently - covered head to toe in the scoundrel's blood.
The cuffs around Maven's hands evaporated into nothingness. Slowly, she approached her husband, dropping to her knees beside him. All was still bar Marlon's sobs. She herself was using every fibre and sinew of her being to stay composed. She was an Empress now. Besides, she had to be strong for the younger ones around her. Her body might have looked a similar age, but her brain was far older.
There would be time for her tears later.
Steadying her shaking hand, she reached for the stake lodged within Marcel's motionless body. Carefully and delicately, she removed it.
Darkness surrounded Marcel.
He had found himself in a vast, lonely chamber - cold and clammy, barely any light and stagnant, stifling air. As he apprehensively took in his bleak surroundings, he recalled his slaying by Renfield: the callous act that had finally brought his prolonged existence to an end. This, therefore, must be the afterlife.
Marcel knew he'd done a lot of bad things in his time. He'd toyed with and broken the hearts of several women, abandoning them - albeit unknowingly - whilst they were carrying his babies. Then, to make matters worse, he'd forsaken and lied to his children too in order to be with Maven: surrendering his very humanity in the process to assume a sinister, supernatural form.
Did he even have a soul left?
Marcel decided, then and there, that he had lost his place in Heaven long ago. This must be his fate - an unfeeling absence of... anything... for the rest of eternity. No company, no colourfulness, and no chance of redemption.
Suddenly, an object began to appear through the haze. Tall, and rectangular.
In an instant, Marcel scurried towards it - desperate to leave this terrifying place. He didn't even care what was on the other side. The flames of Hell would still be more welcoming than this ongoing emptiness.
As he tugged on the door handle in trepidation, he peered through the opening... and gasped, elated.
He was in a garden. A vast, beautiful place, covered in plants and blooms, all centred around a sky-blue lake. But it wasn't the wonderful surroundings that was making him so happy. His sudden, unmeasurable joy was due to seeing the two people waiting for him on a bridge over the lake waters - whom Marcel immediately ran up to, seeing them laugh as he did so.
"Well, you took your bloody time, didn't you?!"
As Maven solemnly gathered up her husband's remains, conjuring a golden urn to contain them, Marlon rose to his feet, wiping his eyes with his sleeve. Cassandra, who had witnessed the terrible event with great sadness, walked up beside him and cleared her throat softly, unsure what to say.
"I - I'm sorry. About your grandfather."
"Thank you," Marlon replied. "But this... this is my fault. If I'd slayed Renfield in the first place -"
"Don't blame yourself," Maven told him, firmly but kindly. "With or without the Gods' favour, Marcel wanted you and your sister to be safe above everything else. That's why he put himself in such danger for you without a moment's thought. You, your father and your aunts and uncles all meant the world to him. As great as our love was, he was plagued by guilt for leaving them behind all through his immortal years."
Sealing the urn, she rose, and stifled a sob.
"I... I just hope he is at peace now."
Libby walked up to her, reaching out her arms in a supportive gesture.
"Grandad Marcel gave his life for us," she said. "There is no greater sacrifice than that. If that has not redeemed him for anything bad he may have done, then nothing will. I'm sure he's in a better place, surrounded by those who loved him."
Smiling, Maven nodded - before lifting her head to look Libby in the eyes.
"Thank you," she whispered. "For saving us all. You are a true heroine."
Libby blushed and lowered her head, embarrassed - but her eyes darted over to Alex.
"It's him you should be thanking," she said. "If he hadn't revived me, I'd probably be a bride by now. Thank you so much, Alex."
Alex simply raised his hand in an appreciative gesture.
"Imperial Dark Majesty?" called Cassandra.
"Yes?" answered Maven after a moment, not yet fully familar with her new title.
"If I may... could I remain here with you? For the rest of my existence?"
Marlon turned to her, surprised.
"What?" he asked. "Don't you want to return to Oasis Springs?"
"What's the point?" Cassandra replied. "I'm hardly going to be successful as a model if I can't even appear in photographs. All that's in the past now. I might as well pretend that I'm dead, and hide away from society here."
Alex opened his mouth, as if he wished to speak. However, as Cassandra turned to him, he closed it again, and hung his head. He knew for himself just how hard her fate was going to be... but at the end of the day, what other choice did she have? What choice did any vampire have?
"Let's face facts," Cassandra added bluntly. "Renfield has ruined me, even in death. He has robbed me of my future."
Maven idly tucked her long red hair behind her ears as she contemplated the situation. Suddenly, a flash of inspiration sparked in her brain.
"If you really want to return to your mortal life," she told Cassandra, "then there might be a way. I can't make any promises, but... my father collected many books on magic and vampirism over the centuries. Perhaps, if we work together, we might find a solution to your dilemma within one of them. Come - we will search his study."
As the ensemble made their way up the stairs, Maven stopped Libby by tapping her on the shoulder... smiling weakly.
"No disrespect, my dear," she said, "but you might want to clean yourself up first. Books and blood aren't the best combination, you know."