by CSyphrett and Martin Maenza
Grimoire Island was the home of the Grimoire Academy of Applied Knowledge. Some referred to it as a school of magic, thanks in part to the substantial numbers of students who were the magically gifted Homo Magi, and because it offered an advanced training program for those who qualified, teaching future practitioners of magic the finer points of the mystic arts. But the truth was that, while the academy was much more complex than that, and most of its courses had little or nothing to do with magic, it was still shrouded with an air of the supernatural. Given its origins, known only to a small number of living people, that was not surprising in the least.
One of the strangest buildings on campus was the clock tower. This was a prominent structure that rose up in the center of a glade in all its three-story glory. By looking at it, one could recognize that it was different from any other clock tower in the world; its four faces stared blankly at the island around it. The faces had numbers but no hands.
It was a special place, a restricted place. That was made abundantly clear during orientation session for the students and staff. No one was allowed there unsupervised, and its keeper Mr. Belmont, a man who appeared to be nearly as old as time itself, never left his post. His own quarters were in the tower, rather than the teacher’s barracks.
Abby Cable, a platinum-blonde beauty who had joined the school just this year as a botanical studies instructor, had been confronted with a small quandary. She thought about it as she stood at the edge of the glade, looking up at the tower. Of all the people on the island, only one might be able to help me, she knew. The question is: would he help me? After all, Simon Belmont isn’t known for his friendly personality.
The young woman decided there was no point in going over it again and again in her mind. Gathering her resolve, she pushed the door open. As she stepped inside, she saw that one of the third-year students was dusting books on the ground floor of the building. This surprised her. “Hello, Josh Cantrell,” she said. While the boy was not in any of her courses, she knew of him by reputation and conversation with some of the other teachers. Mrs. Peel in particular talked quite a bit about the recent grueling detention she had given the precarious youth after Josh had been caught trespassing in the administration building after hours. Abby felt the punishment rather severe, but she’d said nothing at the time. She wanted to avoid any further conflicts with the staff. “Where is Mr. Belmont?”
“He’s around,” Josh said absently. It was obvious that the boy was serving some type of punishment, as opposed to offering his services willingly.
“What do you want?” a voice said from the stairs. Abby turned and saw Mr. Belmont, who wore a bitter expression on his aged face. She honestly wondered if the man had any other expression but that one. He acted as if his job were some kind of burden, and that everyone who came to the clock tower was interrupting something.
“I have some questions I would like to ask you,” said Abby, already feeling things were going downhill fast.
“What about?” snapped Belmont. He looked down at the boy and noticed that Josh had taken a break to observe the exchange between the two staff members. “No one said you could stop dusting, boy!”
“Sorry,” the fourteen-year-old mumbled, and he went back to dusting with a vengeance. Of course, he was also listening with all his might.
“Perhaps we can discuss this in private,” Abby suggested, feeling a bit awkward.
“I am not leaving this boy unsupervised!” Belmont replied. “He’s already swiped some blueprints that I had on file here. God knows what he’ll get into next, if he’s not watched!”
Abby nodded. The boy certainly seemed mischievous. “All right, then,” she said. “My husband has been presumed dead for some time. But recently, Mr. Gallowglass said he knew my husband was alive and had known for some time. How is that possible? How would Gallowglass know this?”
“It was probably unearthed during the background check,” said Belmont flatly.
“Background check?” asked Abby. She hadn’t consider that when she accepted the offer of the job.
“Don’t be dense, woman!” said Belmont. “Did you think you were asked to teach botany because of your looks? Everyone gets checked by the recruiter before they are asked to come to teach here — thoroughly!”
“I didn’t know that,” admitted Abby.
Belmont rolled his eyes. “Anything else before…?” Belmont stopped suddenly; his whole demeanor changed before Abby’s eyes. “Get out of here!” he snapped.
“What?” Abby said, rather shocked by the statement.
“Both of you, get out of here right now!” shouted Belmont. He grabbed Josh by the shoulder and shoved him in the direction of Mrs. Cable. “I must go!” Belmont started up the stairs in a run.
“Too late for that, old friend!” said a smooth voice on the second-floor landing.
Abby and Josh both turned, barely in time to see a wave of energy sweep Belmont down the stairs. The keeper tumbled down, losing his foot and banging hard on the floor at the foot of the steps.
“Mr. Belmont!” Josh cried out.
Abby ran to the older man. “He’s hurt! Josh, get help!”
Simon Belmont’s attacker was already descending the staircase. “Allow me to introduce myself,” said the stranger.
Joshua Cantrell felt an urgency sweep over him, and he ran for the door. This is too weird! he thought, and his mind went back to the incident in the basement of the administration building, when he and Timothy Hunter had opened a weird portal and freed some bizarre creature. I’m out of here!
Before he could reach the handle, though, the boy was jerked backward firmly. “Hey!” he cried out. Josh turned his head, only to find himself in the grip of a tall lizard. “What are you?”
Abby heard Josh’s cry and turned to help the boy. “Josh!”
A second lizard grabbed her arms and lifted her in the air with ease. “Aaahhh!” she screamed. “Put me down!” The creature instead turned her around to face the newcomer.
The man with the dark, slick hair and thin mustache eyed her hungrily. “I am Vlad Tepes,” said the stranger, with a bow. His cape swirled around him as he moved. “I see you have kept my castle in good condition, Belmont.”
The man on the floor groaned and turned his head. He felt a sudden urgency upon seeing who attacked him, though in truth he had sensed the disturbance moments before the arrive. He rose to his feet. “Vlad, you’re going back in your crypt!” Belmont vowed.
“I think not, Belmont,” sneered Vlad as he rushed forward, grabbing the keeper by the shirt. With ease, he lifted the thin, frail man into the air, Belmont’s feet dangling inches off the floor “The day is long past when you could stand in my way!” At that, Vlad flung the thin man into a bookshelf, causing a number of the tomes to become dislodged and fall upon the man as he hit the floor.
“Once I dreamed of ruling one Earth with my darkness,” said Vlad. “Now I can rule five! And it’s all thanks to you, Belmont!”
Abby’s head was swirling. Menaces seemed to come and go very quickly around here. She thought about the evil man that she and Tim Hunter had encountered while aiding the horse called Black. That incident had ended in bloodshed; she never did get the stains completely out of that dress. Now, another crazed maniac appeared on the school grounds. What kind of place was this for young students?
“Mr. Gallowglass will stop you!” said Abby. But why did she think that? It felt like the right thing to say at the moment, even though Headmaster Gallowglass was one of her least favorite people at the moment. Maybe because he had such a powerful, forceful way about him. Maybe she felt that perhaps this man might be scared of the threat. She didn’t know.
“The vaunted master of the impossible?” laughed Vlad, smiling with very pointed canines. “By the time he realizes something is wrong, it will be too late!”
Abby realized that, when the man smiled, there was something familiar to Vlad’s appearance. Pointed teeth, slick hair, and pale skin. And Belmont had said the word crypt. My God! Abby thought. He’s some kind of vampire!
“Now, Gossamer,” said Vlad as he looked up, addressing someone on the floor above. “If you will be so kind.”
Something began to descend from above. Abby and Josh looked up. “What the–?!” the boy exclaimed.
It was a creature of some sort; the upper-half was that of a woman, and the bottom was that of a spider. It — she — glided down on an unseen thread to a gentle landing. It then thrust a spear to Belmont’s throat, holding it before piercing the flesh.
“Now that the old fool cannot interfere,” said Vlad, “I must be going. I will alter the worlds the way they were meant to be!” He looked at Abby and Josh, who were still held captive of his lizards. “Stay here, out of the way, if you please.” He then laughed wickedly and turned to walk away.
“Can he do what he says?” Abby asked naïvely, struggling in the grasp of the creature who held her. While it wasn’t about to hurt her, at the moment it certainly kept her at bay.
“It’s not my fault this time,” Josh grumbled, his own wrists smarting from the tight, taloned clasp. Detention with Mrs. Peel was suddenly looming large in his head.
Vlad was moving up the stairs. The sound of music, a light tune of sorts, could be heard from up above.
“Can he do it?” Abby asked again, this time of Simon Belmont.
“Yes, if I don’t stop him,” groaned Belmont.
The three monstrous minions seemed to snicker. After all, the old man was at a disadvantage. What could he do? All three humans were helpless.
Simon Belmont, master of the Grimoire Academy’s clock room and terror of the students, looked his captor directly in the eye.
The spider-woman smiled.
Abby was surprised by this. For sure she felt that this was not a normal expression for the sour old man. What is he up to? she wondered. She soon got her answer.
Simon Belmont’s left hand moved quickly and grabbed the spear just above its metal point. His right hand, balled tightly into a fist, smashed through the shaft of the weapon with a loud crash.
Whoa! thought Josh. Check out the moves!
The spider-woman, surprised by the unexpected retaliation from her captive prey, backed up and took a deep breath.
The short piece of the damaged weapon that Belmont held in his hands reversed itself in a rapid movement. A second later, with a smooth flick of the wrist, it was sticking out of one of the beast’s eyes.
The spider-woman squealed in pain as blood ran down her face. Her hands had clapped to the hurt eye, in essence blocking any remaining vision she had with her one good eye.
Belmont rolled to his feet in a quick move.
“Why isn’t he teaching self-defense?” Josh asked softly.
“Probably because he would kill the students,” Abby had to admit.
The lizards who held the other two did not attack the man, but instead eyed their own captives. The lizard that held Abby exhaled the smell of carrion in her ear.
In her mind, Abby wondered if Belmont had just signed all three of their death warrants.
The spider-woman breathed out a discharging cloud of noxious fumes, some of which stained a few of the nearby books. Belmont slipped to one side, avoiding the attack. He then grasped the remaining handle of the spear and drove the point deeper in the spider-woman’s head as he passed.
The creature let out one more agonizing wail before bursting into flames. The fire consumed the creature wholly and then puffed out, ashes falling to the floor.
Belmont paused, facing the two lizards. His eyes darted back and forth between them. He seemed torn.
These recent actions were the first displays of humanity Abby had ever seen from the man who was, at best, completely obnoxious. While she appreciated his dilemma, she knew what he had to do. “Get Vlad!” Abby cried.
“Get Vlad?” Josh howled in surprise. Here was this old guy who had just whomped spider-butt like a skilled ninja, and the teacher wanted him to go after the vampire? What about us? he thought selfishly.
Belmont said nothing as he turned and started up the stairs.
Josh’s lizard dropped the boy and started after the thin man. The teenager scampered to his feet. Ah, I get it! he thought. Distraction! Joshua then wondered what he could do now. Getting help is probably the smartest thing. Just like Abby wanted me to do before! He started for the door once more.
But Abby’s lizard moved to block the door, dragging the woman with it, and Josh Cantrell paused, trying to decide what to do now.
Josh tried! Abby thought. But now it was up to her. Abby slammed her head back under the taller lizard’s snout. Her skull was throbbing, but she hoped it would be enough.
The creature staggered long enough for Josh to slip by, ducking to the side away from its free hand. The boy ran out of the tower as fast as he could.
Abby smiled. At least Josh was safe, she thought. But what about the rest of us?
Above she heard several thunderous crashes and the sound of breaking wood. This was followed by a thump-thump from the stairs. The lizard that had followed Belmont fell bonelessly down the stairs, several bloody stripes cut across its purple hide.
Abby’s lizard flung her away with a roar. She tumbled to the floor, catching herself with her hands. As she looked up, she saw it starting up the stairs after the errant Belmont. For a second she thought of yelling out a warning, though perhaps that wasn’t the best. It might alert Vlad Tepes, though the sound of the battle was certainly loud enough.
I have to see if I can help Simon! she thought with determination as she rose to her feet. There was another terrible cracking sound again from the stairs. Just as she was about to reach the foot of them, the beast fell back down the stairs, just as the other one had. This one disintegrated in a flaming cloud when it slammed into the broken body of the other.
Abby felt a sick feeling in her stomach. The smell reminded her of brimstone. Gathering herself together, she went up the stairs.