It was 9pm. As Libby looked around the front room of the small, tumble-down cottage in Forgotten Hollow that Mr. Stirling had rented for her and her brother, she wrinkled her nose and groaned.
"This place is a mess," she muttered. "Look - there's actually spiders in the cobwebs in the corners. I'd have thought your boss would have arranged for us to stay somewhere a bit more upmarket."
"We print newspapers, not money," Marlon replied matter-of-factly. "Besides, we hopefully won't be here for too long: all being well, Ms. Karahalios will be found safe and sound and we can go home. If not, well... at least we've got somewhere to rest our heads, huh?"
"I guess so," Libby answered. "I just hope the bedrooms are clean."
Before she had a chance to check them, the pair were interrupted by a knock at the door. Confused, they exchanged nervous glances.
"Does anyone know we're here?" Libby asked Marlon. "You know, aside from Mr. Sterling?"
"I phoned Dad and told him," Marlon said. "Only because he would have been worried sick if I didn't."
"You don't think he came out here to check on us, do you?"
"I doubt it... as much as he molly-coddles you. Besides, it's too soon. I only called him an hour ago."
Another knock. Louder this time. Cautiously and carefully, Marlon ventured over, and opened the door.
Stood outside on the porch was a young, pale man in an old-fashioned suit, with a mass of blond curls atop his head.
"Good evening," he said warmly. "Marlon Miskin, I presume?"
"Thank goodness," the man replied. "I've been looking for you everywhere. I went to Willow Creek first, but I was told you'd come out here for an investigation. Your help is urgently needed. May I come in?"
As Marlon moved aside, the figure crossed the threshold, and stood before him on the carpet.
"How I can help you?" Marlon asked the stranger.
"My name is Thaddeus Ambrose Alexandrius Thorebourne," came the response. "Until very recently, I was a student of the ruling member of the Dark Imperial Family."
"Please - let me continue. Alas, one of their servants has staged a coup d'etat, slain my tutor, and placed the remaining members of the family in great peril. I was sent by His Dark Highness, the Prince of the Damned -"
"Please, sir - to find you specifically. He believes you are the best man to assist them... because you are his kin."
"'Kin'?" Marlon asked quizzically. "How can that be? I'm not related to royalty. Well, my ancestor Myron was of noble birth, but he - "
"Pardon me, Mr. Miskin, but it is my understanding that your grandfather married into the family."
Marlon's eyebrows shot upwards.
"Excuse me?" he said, slowly. "My what married into the family?"
"Your grandfather," the man repeated. "Marcel Rhodes Miskin."
Silence followed. As Marlon slowly processed what the bizarre visitor had just said, he shook his head, and chuckled in a bemused fashion.
"Get out," he muttered.
"I said 'get out'!" Marlon roared in far angrier tones, pointing to the door. "I happen to have come here to investigate a very important story, and you try and waste my time with some fairy tale about dark royals and revolting servants!
"Sir, I - "
"Shut up!" Marlon snapped back. "And, as I suspect you know, my grandfather died when my father was still a teenager! You have no idea that painful that was for him! How dare you disgrace Marcel's memory with some cock-and-bull story! It is an insult to my family... one that I will not bear! Leave now - and don't come back!"
Unable to control his rage, Marlon flung open the door, pushed the stranger out violently, and slammed it shut - exhaling deeply as he fell against it.
"Bloody timewaster," he groaned. "Probably drunk. I thought he might have some information about that supermodel."
"You OK, bro?" Libby asked.
"Yes... I'll be fine. Look - I'm going to head to bed. Don't stay up too late."
"You're molly-coddling me now."
"Fine. Do what you want. I'm not in the mood to argue. But I'm warning you - we need to get an early start tomorrow."
Meanwhile, on the porch outside, Alex closed his eyes to focus as he sensed the Dark Prince linking up with his mind.
"Forgive me, your Highness - he didn't believe what I said."
"Don't worry, Alex. I think I may have a way of convincing him otherwise."
Tossing and turning in his bed, Marlon struggled to get any rest as dozens of visions flooded his slumbering brain. They featured a figure who was mysterious, and yet well-known to him - someone who had seen in dreams ever since his childhood.
Only this time, he seemed to be telling Marlon his story.
He had once been an artist, who had dreams of creating paintings that would be admired for eternity.
"Grandad Marcel?" Marlon thought to himself.
A kiss with a young woman. His first love. The first of many.
Their relationship had been a brief one, but lasted long enough to lead to the birth of twin sons.
"Dad? Uncle Marius?"
Like this man's loves, his children would also be plentiful.
Then, a woman unlike the others. An alluring maiden, who stole his heart...
... and who introduced him to a new, immortal way of existence.
"Wait - vampires? Vampires are real?"
A wedding had followed swiftly, along with a coronation. His title - Prince of the Damned.
Yet his new-found royalty came at an awful cost. A heartbreaking one.
The "death" was an elaborate hoax, carried out by a servant the royals had believed to be faithful.
But now, he had betrayed them. In the worst possible way.
Leaning against the sink, sipping the cool clear liquid in the hope of calming himself, a chill ran up Marlon's spine as he sensed someone entering the room behind him. He turned, sharply...
... and saw that his sister had come to join him.
"Geez, Libby - you scared the hell out of me!"
"Sorry. I didn't mean to."
She seemed upset. As Marlon approached her, concerned, she let out a sigh.
"Did... did you have the nightmare, too?" she asked. "About the artist, and - and the vampires, and...?"
"God, I've never seen anything like that before," Libby said. "It was terrifying."
"I have," Marlon told her. "Well - sort of. The artist...I've seen him in my dreams, ever since I was little. Most of the time, I'm a baby again, laying in my crib, and he comes in and picks me up, cuddling me close."
"That's... that's really sweet."
"I know. I always thought it was something I just made up, probably because I missed Dad so much, but now - I'm starting to think that it's not a dream at all. It's a memory. I think that man is real. That he came to visit me when I was born, because... because he's my grandfather. Our grandfather. Marcel."
"Marcel?" Libby replied, stunned. "But he's dead. We've seen his grave."
"A fake. He planned it all. He's still out there somewhere. Even now."
"But how can he still be alive? Even if he did fake his death back then, he'd have died of old age since."
"He's not alive or dead," Marlon replied firmly. "He's undead. He's one of them. A vampire."
"Like we saw in the nightmare. It's all a message. From him. Why else would we both see the exact same thing?"
As Libby considered this, she started to giggle.
"That explains the bat, then," she whispered.
"Remember when I was little?" Libby continued. "I used to scream in the night because I said I could see a bat trying to get in through my bedroom window. It'd be out there, flapping madly against the glass. Dad never left the window open. He was too security-conscious - worried about me. His baby girl. Said you couldn't trust anyone these days."
"Pot and kettle much?" chuckled Marlon.
"Anyway, by the time you, Mum or Dad came in, it'd be gone. You just told me to go back to sleep - that it was all a bad dream. In the end, I believed you. But now, it looks like Grandad was trying to pay me a visit, too."
"But, if everything we saw was real," Libby added, "then that wicked man is real, too. Grandad's in danger. He needs our help."
"Which is why he sent - "
Before Marlon could say any more, he was once again interrupted by a knock on the door. As quick as a flash, he dashed into the lounge and threw it open.
Just as he had hoped, standing there on the porch was the young blond man from before.
"So... do you believe me now?"
Marlon nodded, hanging his head
"I'm so sorry," he said, embarrassed. "For my behaviour earlier."
"It's quite all right," came the reply. "Understandable, given the strangeness of the circumstances. May I enter?"
As the figure stepped inside, Marlon continued to apologise profusely, whilst the visitor insisted no harm had been done.
"What did you say your name was again?" Marlon asked him. "Amadeus Rose something?"
"Thaddeus Ambrose Alexan -"
He stopped himself, shaking his head dismissively.
"Forget it," he said. "It's a mouthful, anyway. Just call me "Alex", Mr. Miskin. Alex Thorebourne."
"And you can call me "Marlon". "Mr. Miskin" is my father."
"I thought your father called himself "Midas"?"
Seeing Marlon's stunned reaction, he winked.
"His Dark Highness tells me a lot of things," he explained.
Libby, watching from the kitchen, decided there was no way she was missing out on this conversation, and approached the pair. However, as she passed the mirror hanging on the wall, she stopped, suddenly, as she noticed something strange.
She could see her reflection. And her brother's. But not the visitor's.
All at once, she realised why.
"Marlon," she called. "Look. He's one of them, too."
As Marlon beheld the looking-glass, panic set in. Immediately, he rushed towards his sister and took hold of her tightly to protect her - much to Libby's chagrin - whilst Alex raised his hands in a peaceful gesture.
"Don't be afraid!" he told them. "I've vowed to His Dark Highness not to harm or mislead you! Besides, I sustain myself with animal's blood... I've never once drunk from humans."
Before he could say any more, Alex let out a heavy groan, his hand rushing to his head. After Libby pushed him away sharply, Marlon approached their weary visitor.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yes. I'll be fine. It's just -"
His legs gave way from underneath him, and he tumbled towards the floor. Acting out of instinct, Libby ran towards him - catching hold of Alex's forearms before he could fully fall, and helping him back onto his feet.
"It's OK," she said kindly. "I've got you."
"Thank you," Alex answered. "I do beg your pardon. The sun will be rising soon. My energy levels are becoming depleted. If I may... could I possibly rest here, where I know I will be safe from Renfield?"
"Is that the man who's imprisoned my grandfather?" Marlon asked.
"I'm afraid so," Alex replied. "And furthermore, I feel your original journey here may not have been in vain. His Dark Highness tells me that Renfield has forcefully taken a young woman from her home, converted her to vampirism, and made her his unwilling bride. A lady of Grecian heritage."
"Cassandra Karahalios," Marlon said flatly.
"Then we need to sort this scumbag out," Libby added. "And quick."
"Of course you can stay here," Marlon told Alex, changing the subject back. "But there's only two beds, so... are you OK with sleeping on the sofa?"
"No trouble at all."
"What about the windows?" Libby said. "Won't they let in daylight?"
"It shan't be enough to harm me."
As Alex straightened himself up and looked into Libby's face, he smiled kindly.
"And who might you be, Miss?" he asked.
"This is Liberty," Marlon told him. "My younger sister."
"'Libby'," the young lady added. "Please."
"Ah, yes. His Dark Highness has spoken of you, too."
Tenderly, Alex took hold of her hand, and raised it to his lips for a kiss.
"Enchanté," he said, as Libby giggled and blushed.
"Hey!" Marlon snapped.
The pair turned to look at him - Libby annoyed, and Alex alarmed.
"F-Forgive me," he stammered. "Was... was that inappropriate of me? I fear I'm not overly familiar with the social graces of today."
"It's... It's OK," Marlon replied, speaking in a calmer tone. "It's just... that kind of thing's not commonly done these days, that's all."
"Don't worry about him," Libby whispered to Alex. "He's just being a guard dog, as usual. I didn't mind a bit."
"It's still really early," Marlon told the pair. "I think we should all get some sleep, and wake up later refreshed. Then we can figure out how we're going to save Ms. Karahalios and Grandad Marcel."
"Order received and understood, sir," Libby sarcastically replied. There he was, bossing her about again. All the same, he raised a fair point.
Thus, as the siblings headed into their bedrooms, Alex lay himself down on the sofa, and slept like the dead.