In the dark cellars of the Mortan-Murdac mansion, Renfield had removed the wooden barrels in which the household's plasma supply was stored, and had instead conjured up a wall of strong steel bars, reaching from the ceiling to the floor.
Within this makeshift cell stood the former Prince and Princess of the Damned - with their captor gloating at them from outside.
"You'll never get away with this, you lousy usurper!" Marcel hissed. "Your destruction is assured. Start counting the days, Renfield... because they're numbered."
"Oh, please," he scoffed. "That weakling Thorebourne may have escaped, but what is he going to do? He couldn't perform a card trick, never mind defeat my magic. Let the coward run and hide. He's of no use to me."
Pausing to think for moment, he chuckled to himself. Licking his lips, he ventured closer to the bars, looking at Maven with a gaze that made her feel uneasy.
"Whereas you, my lady..." he continued, "may be very useful indeed."
He leaned against the cell, smirking seductively.
"All the truly great vampires have taken many brides," Renfield went on. "Your father was a fool, marrying only one woman."
"What are you talking about?"
"I've always been an admirer of yours, Maven. You truly are a beauty. You needn't languish away in here with that pathetic wastrel. Marry me, and let him rot. You'll be my Chief Bride - the head of my household, my Dark Empress... and my company in bed."
Maven gasped, aghast at this prospect. Behind her, a shaking Marcel clenched his fists.
"Come on, dearie," Renfield whispered with a sickly sweetness. "What do you say?"
In reply, Maven spat in his face, causing him to lurch backwards in shock. Marcel rushed forward, hoping to punch Renfield through the bars, only to stopped by his wife.
"Don't," she said firmly. Turning back to Renfield with a cold stare, she pointedly added, "The bastard isn't worth it."
With a low growl, Renfield slowly wiped the spit off of his face, and flashed his fangs at the couple in annoyance.
"Fine," he snapped. "You've blown your chance, girl. Now you both will be punished. Myself and my future harem will conquer this world, ruling over both mortals and vampires. And as for you, artist... everyone you care about will perish. Your precious Miskin Legacy will be destroyed... slowly, and painfully."
With those words, he stormed upstairs.
Once he was out of sight, Maven felt herself breaking down into tears. She had hoped that she would be able to raise her father from the dead, as he had done with her mother centuries before, but she knew the body had to be complete and functional in order to do so. She'd stared open-mouthed in utter terror when Renfield had callously pulled the stake from Audric's body, and he had crumbled into dust.
Resurrection was impossible. Clearly, once a vampire was slain, there were no second chances. Both of Maven's parents were gone now - forever.
"Father," she wept bitterly. "Oh, Father..."
Sensing her great pain, Marcel embraced his wife tightly, shushing her gently as he stroked her fiery locks.
"Have no fear, my love," he told her. "Alex is still free, and our friend. He will find Marlon and we will be saved. My dear grandson was blessed by the Gods the day he was born. He will defeat Renfield. I promise."
As he lowered a still-trembling Maven onto a cracking wooden bench to rest, he moved into the limited but most-open space available at the back of the cell. Closing his eyes, he concentrated his supernatural energy, and opened a mental channel with the escaped vampire.
"Hurry, Alex," he pleaded. "We may not have much time."
Meanwhile, Renfield had marched into the lounge and threw himself onto the sofa. Hoping to cool his temper, he idly browsed a magazine that had been left on a side table. After flicking through a few pages, he sat bolt upright when he saw photographs of a young fashion model - a strikingly glamorous woman of Mediterranean descent, wearing the latest creation from some couture house.
She had Renfield's full attention.
The article accompanying the image was an interview with the woman: a praise-filled piece marking her return to her hometown of Oasis Springs, following her success in various fashion shows overseas.
Even her name was beautiful.
At once, Renfield was smitten. He had to have her. Tossing the magazine away in a carefree manner, he dissolved into mist and left the house, blending himself with the night air.
Huddled in the bathroom, away from paparazzi and prying eyes, Cassandra Karahalios applied the final touches to her makeup, and relished having a bit of breathing space.
She was about to head out to a party that her agent was throwing in honour of her return home. It was going to be hectic, with lots of company big-wigs waltzing about, so she needed to impress. As she straightened up her black designer dress, she nodded at herself in the mirror, satisfied, and braced herself for a busy night.
A loud knock at the door. Ah. That must be the limo driver.
Stepping out carefully in her expensive high-heel shoes, Cassandra went to answer it - only to be taken aback by the sight of a strange, ghostly pale man stood before her. Still, he was wearing a suit and white gloves: he certainly looked like a driver. Maybe his employers didn't take appearance that highly into account.
"Yes?" she said quizzically. "Are you here to pick me up?"
"Indeed I am," Renfield replied. "May I come in?"
Powerful as he was, he was still a vampire, unable to cross a threshold without consent. Luckily, Cassandra stood aside to let him through - allowing him to approach her as he donned an alluring air, his eyes glowing in a bizarre, otherworldly fashion.
"Now you belong to me," he purred, staring deeply into her eyes.
In an instant, Cassandra lost all of her self-control. She was completely under Renfield's spell. When he ordered her to kneel before him, to refer to him as "Master", she did so at once - pleasing the vampire very much.
"Now, my beauty," he said, helping her back to her feet, "come into my arms, and we shall share the passion of an eternal love."
As Cassandra stepped into his embrace, Renfield held her tightly - his hands slowly exploring the curves of her womanly figure, his fingertips softly stroking her swan-like neck. Filled with lust for both body and blood, he couldn't wait a moment longer, and sank his fangs sharply into her flesh, drinking deeply.
Pushing Cassandra away gently, he pulled off a glove, and scratched at his opposite wrist with a claw-like nail - revealing a small slither of blood. Reaching for Cassandra, he bid her to take her first taste of blood, binding the two of them together for eternity.
Unable to fight back, Cassandra obeyed... Renfield groaning passionately as he felt her mouth on his ice-like skin.
Having taken her first drink of plasma, Cassandra stepped back hastily, as if she was in awe of what she had done. As Renfield smiled at her, she felt herself grow weak, and fell to the floor in a swoon.
Chuckling, Renfield swooped Cassandra up into his arms, carrying her out into the night - running with her at an unnaturally fast pace. Within the hour, he was taking her through the halls of his former master's mansion, laying her down on the bed in a upstairs chamber... like any groom does with his bride on their wedding night.
Waving his hands over her, Renfield hastily muttered a incantation he had discovered in the Tome of Malice - one that would cause her transformation to be instantaneous rather than taking days. As soon as he uttered the final sentence, he gently drew back her lip with his fingertip, and nodded, appeased, as he spotted fangs piercing through her gums.
"Sleep well, my beauty," he whispered, leaving his future wife to slumber in peace.
The following morning, Cassandra awoke feeling weary and dizzy, only to jerk fully awake in horror as she found herself in unfamiliar surroundings. Spotting an open door leading to a bathroom, she scurried in to get herself a drink of water - leading to her screaming in horror when she looked into the mirror over the sink, and found her face absent from it.
Frightened, she examined herself with her hands - freezing when she felt two small puncture marks upon her neck. Slowly, the haze in her mind lifted, and she began to recall the events of the previous night.
That eerie stranger... he... he...
She had to get of this house.
As she raced out onto the landing and down the stairs, Cassandra stopped, horrified, when she saw the man who had brought her here stood in the lounge, waiting for her. Swiftly, he walked up to her, and took hold of her hands, drawing them to his lips for a kiss.
"Ah... I see my beautiful bride is awake."
"Bride?!" Cassandra choked.
"But of course," the pale figure told her. "That is why I converted you and brought you here. I am Jonathan Renfield, Vampire Extraordinaire and Great Eternal Emperor of the Damned.. and soon, of the World. You, my beloved Cassandra, will stand by my side as all of my plans come to fruition - living a privileged existence as everything around us turns to dust. But before any of that can happen, my dear, you must marry me."
"What?!" Cassandra shrieked, pulling her hands away. "You're insane! You kidnap me, force me to become one of you vile creatures, and you expect me to love you for it? No! Never! I will never marry you!"
She slapped Renfield sharply across the face. The former butler recoiled, his hand rushing to his cheek as he felt the sting, then laughed as he turned back towards his unwilling fiancée.
"We can do this the easy way or the hard way, my love," he hissed. "Either way, you will be mine. Obey my commands, and I promise you will be rewarded."
Cassandra gasped in pain as Renfield seized her shoulders sharply.
"If you do not," he continued, "then... everything and everyone you care about will be destroyed. Nobody will be safe. None of your friends, your family..."
With a snap of his fingers, a ball of fire appeared in his palm.
"Not even you. "
With a flick of his wrist, the flame vanished once more - but it had been there long enough to unnerve the already petrified Cassandra even further. Reaching into his inside pocket, Renfield produced a long sample of black lace, and a diamond ring.
"So, do you, or don't you?" he asked Cassandra in acidic tones.
Closing her eyes tightly to hide her tears, Cassandra, trembling, nodded.
Within seconds, Renfield had laid the lace atop the young model's head, forming a makeshift veil, and had slid the ring onto her finger, vowing to love her for the rest of time - a pledge his bride had no faith in whatsoever.
When Renfield graced his new spouse's cheek with a kiss, Cassandra couldn't help but shudder as she felt the touch of his slimy frozen lips.
With the nuptials completed, Renfield snatched the veil from Cassandra's head, and dragged her down to the makeshift dungeon, in order to introduce her to his captives: both to gloat over them, and as a warning to his new wife what may happen if she displeased him.
As Marcel saw the sadness and fear in the young woman's eyes, he could only pray that Marlon would come soon and save them all.
The first few days of Libby's summer job had been non-stop.. even if the stories Marlon was working on were a little on the dull side.
She'd joined her brother at the local charity sale, with one of her snapshots gracing the page alongside his write-up the following day - her first published image, her name in small print beneath it. She'd been introduced to everyone on the Chronicle's staff, and they all seemed to be friendly, happy people. She'd been given a few tips from the professional photographers over lunch at the canteen.
In short, she was enjoying herself hugely.
One morning, the siblings sat together in Marlon's office, enjoying a much-needed coffee break.
"How are you finding everything, sis?" Marlon asked. "Not too much for you, I hope?"
"Not at all!" Libby told him. "I love it! I can see why you chose this as a career."
"Good," Marlon told her. "I was worried you'd be bored."
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, human interest stories are great, and all... and yes, I know Dad's worried about you, but... since you'll only be here for a short while, I wish we were able to investigate a story with a bit more - bite."
The moment Marlon finished the sentence, the door flew open. The Chronicle's editor, Timothy Sterling, rushed inside - waving a folder and looking flustered.
"Marlon!" he cried throwing the folder onto the desk. "Massive story just breaking out. About Cassandra Karahalios."
"The supermodel?" Libby cried.
"The very same," Timothy replied. "She's gone missing."
"Missing?" Marlon asked, looking through the assembled papers.
"So it would seem. She was meant to be at some big bash last night, but she didn't show. She's not at her home, or answering calls. One witness claims they saw her with a man crossing the city line at Forgotten Hollow, but they'd had a drink or two at the time. All the same, it might be a lead. Police are investigating, of course - but it would be an amazing achievement for the Chronicle if we could beat them to the punch. Marlon, I want you to head out there and do some digging."
"Can I go too?" Libby asked.
"Sure," Timothy told her. "If this ends up on the cover, we could use some great snaps."
"No way!" Marlon interjected. "It's too risky. I've got experience with this sort of thing, Libby. You haven't."
"But you literally just said you wanted me to help on a case with some bite!"
"Yes, but this is a bite, a scratch, and a kick to the groin all in one go. Heaven only knows what sort of lowlifes might be involved. It's too dangerous for you. I don't want my baby sister getting hurt."
"I'm not a little girl anymore, Marlon!" Libby snapped. "I can handle myself. Besides, this is going to be a major story. If it's my photos in the papers, it could open some amazing doors for me after uni. Please... let me come with you."
Marlon looked at her. She seemed pretty determined, and wasn't going to budge easily. Sighing, he leaned back in his chair, and relented.
"Well, Libby... looks like you and me are going on a trip!"