"I hate just hanging around," said Claudius the vampire, presently in bat-form and hanging from the rafters of Farmer Broadstock's barn.
"What do you want to do?" asked Nick, Claudius' best friend and the senior vampire of the pair.
"Go terrorize the populace! Bite some maidens! Dwell in a musty old castle and send invites for awkward dinner parties!" Caludius replied. "All that good vampire shit. Now we're just warming the roof in this old barn and occasionally biting those stupid cows. They don't even notice."
Stalls partitioned the lower floor of the barn. Their bovine occupants lowed to one another. Cattle are not stupid - they are merely introverts, and dislike unplanned socializing. Limited by a lack of opposable digits necessary to operate a calendar, all social visits are unplanned, and so they spend their time pretending to be unintelligent so that they may more fully devote their time to their rich internal lives. Now their keen observational skills came into play as they sened the uncanny evil in the rafters as it plotted mystic machinations and arcane abominations.
The cattle realized that this would cause a disruption of their carefully constructed routine. So they grumbled amongst themselves.
"Hey, now," Nick said. "Do you have any idea how easy of a life we've got here? Sleeping, eating, poopin'? Say you decide to go bite some maidens. Then you've got a line of square-jawed heroes stretching off down the block, each with a pocketful of wooden stakes and reeking of garlic."
"Fine, then, what about a castle? With a big fuck-off moat around it, and nasty signs warning of pits laced with scorpions holding cages full of killer bees? I'd wager those heroes would re-consider their career options."
Nick shook his head.
"First of all, find one for sale. Second of all, try to scrape together the funds for it. Castles ain't cheap. Then add in all the upkeep and the annual tax assessment, not to mention the raccoons building nests in the parapets and the ghouls infesting the dungeons, along with the stench of the old scullery water that collects in the cracks...the list goes on. Not for me, thanks."
"But we're bloody vampires, Nick!" Claudius said. "We're supposed to be menacing, and dangerous! We don't go buy a castle, we go take a castle!"
"Not my cup of tea. Er, blood."
"Then why'd you want me to become a vampire in the first place, Nick?"
"Because we'd have to go scrounge for food and then we'd have to worry about old age. This way we can while away our hours enjoying our life in ease, luxury and convenience!"
Below, a cow passing quite a lot of gas.
Claudius dropped from the rafters and began flapping in circles around his friend.
"Well, I've had it, Nick. I refuse to be a vampire living in an old barn. I want a castle, I want maidens, and I aim to get 'em!"
"Good luck," Nick said, his eyes already starting to close for his sixth nap of the day.
"Argh!" Claudius said, and flapped right out of the barn through a cracked board.
The pounding rain immediately took him out of the air and dropped him into a puddle of mud.
"Bugger!" he said, spitting out mud. He shape-shifted from bat to man, and crawled under a bush. Only half of the rain hit him, but he still felt fully miserable.
Claudius frowned and wiped some rain off his brow. He'd heard tales of vampires that were able to shift into an evil mist. Necessity was the greatest teacher, and he began attempting to learn how. Shifting from man to bat and vice-versa required a sort of shiver to begin the process, and after half of an hour he was able to muster a pretty decent evil mist.
He rolled out of the bush, evilly, and down the lane, also evilly. A carriage had gotten stopped in the mud, and the driver and passenger alike were soaked to their skivvies as they tried to yank, pull and cajole one of the enormous wheels from a rut. Two lanterns fought to illuminate the night.
Claudius, as a mist, floated around one of the lamps.
"Damn but do I provide some badass ambience," Claudius said, but he was a mist so it came out as a whisper in the mist. The two men in the rain became spooked, freed the carriage and drove off down the road.
"This is more like it!" Claudius thought, enjoying the look of pure terror in their eyes. He floated onward, until he came upon a terrific castle upon a hill. It wasn't a large castle, and it had only a handful of parapets, but the stones were sufficiently overgrown with moss and the foundation had decayed enough that Claudius figured it to be a fine castle.
"And now, to find a place to dwell!"
The next day, Nick woke up. He yawned and dropped out of the rafters, flapping his wings only the precise number of times to break his fall against the soft, warm, blood-filled flank of a cow.
Except instead of the warmth of the cow, he smacked into cold wood. Struck into a stupor, he tried to feel his way across the wood and realized, to dawning panic, that he'd been captured!
"Calm, calm, my friend," said a faraway voice. It sounded familiar.
"Claudius!" Nick said. "What're you doing?!"
"Showing you something."
"I told you how I feel about things, some or all! Put me back at this instant!"
"I will return you to the barn if you wish," Claudius said.
After banging his head against the wood until his bat-ears were sore, Nick remembered something that he'd long forgotten: he could shape-shift. He burst the bounds of his wooden prison with little more than sawdust in his hair and a splinter in his behind.
"Now, I have something that I want to say to you!" Nick said, facing a cloud of mist. His jaw dropped.
"Claudius, where'd you go?"
"I'm right here, Nick!" whispered the cloud of mist.
"The mist, Nick! It's me! Don't you remember hearing that vampires could change into more than a man and bat?"
The mist coalesced and Claudius stood before Nick. The two naked men regarded each other, one with pride, the other with awe. Then they both coughed and turned their head towards the nearby castle.
"What's that, then?"
"Pah!" Claudius scoffed. Then his face softened.
"Got a pair of pants for a friend?"
"Absolutely! Fly with me into that second tower. No, not the one with the eerie light, the one with the skeleton hanging from it."
The two vampires turned into bats and flew into the tower. They shifted back into men and quickly donned the trappings of such, including pants.
"Absolutely marvelous," Nick said, as Claudius gave him the tour of the castle. "And you say you drove out the previous occupants?"
"It was a doddering old fool and his three daughters, who were all as pretty as they were useless. As a matter of fact, and I was saving the best for last, I captured one of them!"
Nick blanched. "You...captured one of them?"
"I said that I wanted to capture maidens, so I did! She's down in the dungeons right now. I was rather expectin that she would be more receptive to my advances to bite her and turn her into my undead bride, but she wasn't having anything of it. I'm afraid that she's had rather a lot of weapons training. And, er, a carpentry apprenticeship. Or so I assume, as she rendered one of the chairs into a neat pile of wooden stakes that she then began hurling at me until I chased her into the dungeon and she locked me out."
"So you mean that she's hiding in the dungeon, not that she's a captive?"
"Well, yes. I mean, no. How's she going to escape? It's a dungeon, for gods' sakes."
"Did you lock her in?"
"No, dungeon masters don't just leave the keys lying around any old place, Nick," Claudius said, flashing his friend a patronizing smile.
"So she could have just sauntered out?" Nick asked. "To find her old pa and her sisters? Give them a few dozen more reasons to get angry? Angry enough to get together an angry mob of peasants?"
Both vampires jumped as thunder rumbled a few grains of mortar out from between the stones in the wall. Then they heard the rain grow from a quiet patter to a solid roar.
"Not at all. She'd have to get past me," Claudius said.
"Like when you left to come get me?" Nick said.
"I'm going to go down to the dungeon. For a completely unrelated reason," Claudius said, edging towards the door.
"Don't bother," Nick said. He pointed out the window. Both of them could see a faint figure running across the meadow towards the faint lantern-light of the village.
"Bugger it all!" Claudius bellowed. "What's she done to the scorpions and bees in my pit?! And she'd better not have done something unpleasant to my crocodile or moat!"
Claudius stormed down the stairs into the main part of the castle. In front of the door, a large, black pit loomed in the middle of the floor. The dust had been disturbed all around, as if somebody had fought to keep themselves from falling in. The two vampires stood next to it and peered in.
A lone scorpion with only one claw sat atop a small box and munched on a piece of lettuce.
"That's your pit full of scorpions and bees? One scorpion and a box of bees?" Nick asked.
"No!" Claudius said, "there's no bees in the thing, I've only just had the castle last evening and this morning. The little buggers are hard to catch. I only got the scorpion from the village apothecary who was selling it as a discounted spell component. But my crocodile, oh my crocodile, I found one of them in the moat already! The bastard looked like he'd chewed the legs off of a dozen men!"
They went out under the overhang at the front of the castle, trying to keep out of the rain. Nick saw an enormous dark shape floating in the moat. When the lightning flashed, it didn't take a herpetologist or a creepy lizard enthusiast to see that it had no teeth.
"And it left all of its chompers in the legs of those dozen men," Nick said. "This is embarrassing."
"But it looked so mean last night!"
"I'll bet that the maiden just danced across the poor thing's head!"
While Claudius stared sadly at his moat's geriatric, toothless crocodile and wondered how much it cost to buy pudding, Nick looked out towards the village. Nick wasn't sure if it was a trick of the rain drops, but its glow seemed to get brighter, as if all of the inhabitants began to drizzle more and more lantern fuel onto their torches. Nick tugged Claudius' arm.
"We have to leave. Like, now," Nick said.
"Why?" Claudius asked.
"Because the villagers have formed an angry mob. Scratch that, a furious mob," Nick replied.
Sure enough, the glow had been from the clot of villagers wielding torches and walking towards the castle. They were angry enough that their cries could be heard over the angry rat-a-tat-tat of the rain drops and even over the distant rumble of thunder. A few pitchforks and scythes poked above the heads of the villagers and glinted in the torchlight.
"Being the lord of a castle is more like being the lord of a stony headache. Screw this," Claudius said, turned into mist, and floating off into the sky.
"Hey! I can't do that!" Nick shouted after him, but the mist had already floated away. He tried to turn into a bat, almost drowned, turned back into a man, and was just pulling on his trousers when the villagers arrived.
"Are you a vampire?"
"You forgot to knock," Nick said, trying to delay his imminent demise. He silently vowed to come back as a ghost and haunt the shit out of Claudius if vampires could turn into ghosts.
"Angry mobs don't have to respect the conventions of etiquette," said one of the peasants. "How would you like to die? Stuffed with garlic and stabbed with a stake, or stabbed with a stake and then stuffed with garlic?"
"Hang on, hang on," said a female voice. A young woman pushed through the crowd. She carried a wooden stake in either hand.
"This ain't him," she said.
"But Princess Misty, he's a vampire. And he's at the castle."
"But it ain't him. The other one looked more like a horse," Princess Misty replied.
"Skewer him anyway!" someone in the back shouted.
"Coat him in garlic like a Christmas goose!" shouted another.
"Bite 'em like he bit me all those moons ago OW WHY'D YOU STAKE ME!"
"I'm not going to go around staking any old vampire I find. I want revenge!"
"You may want revenge, Princess Misty, but we're an angry mob. We just want a dead vampire. The enemy of my enemy is my friend and all that stuff, but not really since reality's a lot more nuanced than some bland platitude. Pardon us, but we'll take this vampire. Good luck with your hunt and all that," said a peasant.
"Vampires are already dead," Princess Misty said.
"We're not orthodox like that," the peasant said. "Now if you don't mind..."
The peasant threw a wooden javelin at Nick, who cringed and prayed like mad to every single deity that he could think of. He thought fast, so he had to make up a few new ones. When he arrived at Piggicelsus, the god of pork, he wondered why he hadn't died yet. He saw that Princess Misty had intercepted the wooden stake with her stomach, gallbladder and probably some other bits of anatomy that hadn't yet been invented.
The peasants stood around.
"Crap, sorry," the peasant said.
"You're supposed to protect your princesses," Princess Misty said, blood spilling from her mouth.
"Well, er, see, we've had a doctrine to kill vampires longer than we've had princesses, so we don't have to if it's in pursuit of a vampire."
"I hate myself for saying this, but Piggicelsus damn it, maybe you're all the monsters," Nick said. He grabbed Princess Misty and inspected her wound like military doctor figuring out what he could stuff back in through the new holes: all business, and split-second decisions. Satisfied, he pulled her into an embrace, keeping the point of the javelin will away from him, and whispered in her ear.
"It missed the heart. This is going to hurt quite a lot. Sorry," he said, then sunk his teeth into her neck.
It was the first human blood that he'd tasted in decades. The flavor was sweet, bitter and tacky all at once; better than he remembered. Considering the circumstances, he tried not to enjoy it too much.
Princess Misty's eyes glazed over for a moment. Her heart stopped. Then her eyes opened. And she screamed, long and loud.
"That really hurt!" she said.
The peasants looked uncomfortable.
"So, uh, are you a vampire now?"
"Yes, she is," Nick said.
The peasants gave each other sidelong glances. Nobody had the courage to figure out what to do if the Princess was also a vampire, so they implicitly agreed that the best course of action was no action at all. With the sort of vigorous dissipation that usually accompanied an obscene bill at an inn, the peasants dispersed.
"Sorry for the trouble," Nick said.
"It's okay. This beats the hell out of being dead. I don't think that ghosts could do this," she said, and reached behind her to where Nick had just re-materialized now that the threat of the peasants was gone. She seized him by the throat.
"Hiiiiii-gurk," he choked out.
With a twist of her body, she threw a squirming Claudius into the moat. The crocodile immediately swam forward and chomped down on his leg.
"Ow!" he yelled.
The Moral: the crocodile's for show, the lack of life vests represents the real danger of the moat.