Chapter 1: Master of Puppets
“ARE YOU A VAMPIRE?” the young woman asked, leaning uncomfortably close to the hooded figure perched precariously on a crooked old bar stool.
“Yeah. Go away or I’ll bite you.”
“I heard that vampires are really good storytellers. Is that true?”
“Don’t lie to her, you tell wonderful stories,” the bartender said with a sarcastic smirk.
“Screw you, bartender! My stories are great!”
“So you are a good storyteller?” she pressed excitedly.
“Not for free.”
“Here’s five dollars and a cool-looking rock.”
The vampire promptly put the rock in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. He froze in deep thought, as if he was trying to decide whether the rock was salty or if it had a hint a clove. For a brief moment, all was silent in that little bar which occupied the most rundown, crime-ridden part of the city. Suddenly, the vampire turned to the bartender, coughed up some fragments of the rock and then spoke.
“Give me some of that whiskey with the butterfly on the label and we’ll call it a deal.”
The bartender loved to hear the vampire’s crazy stories, so he was more than happy to contribute to meeting the vampire’s demands. He poured a glass and slid it across the bar into the waiting claws of the demon-like creature. The vampire began to lap the whiskey up like a kitten drinking chocolate or strawberry milk. While vampires do have significantly longer tongues than humans, he soon reached a point where he could no longer capture the precious liquid. He frowned, tried again, and then gave up. “Ok. Once upon a time, there was a princess who lived in a magical castle with her pet Lamborghini named Steven. Steven was—“
“BORING!” The lady was clearly not buying it.
“Well, aren’t you just a rude little brat?” The vampire snapped at her.
“To be fair, that story sounded kind of weak,” the bartender chipped in.
“Fine. I will tell you a real story. This is the story of Khvarikx, the mighty dragon lord!”
“Dragons are pretty cool.” The bartender whipped an empty bottle at a simple white and red target on the far wall, spreading shards of glass everywhere. A small robotic vacuum cleaner buzzed out from under the bar and gathered most of the debris swiftly, burped loudly, and then retreated to its lair.
The vampire cocked his head. “So the legend is true? You smash every empty bottle?”
“I’ve smashed every single one since this bar opened forty-seven years ago.”
The woman eyed the bartender with a puzzled gaze. He didn’t even look like he was old enough to drink the alcohol he was serving. His eye color was bright blue, he had lightly tanned skin, and sported long, spiky golden hair with snow-white streaks, so he clearly wasn’t a vampire like the grayish white-skinned, red-eyed figure across the bar. The only thing even remotely odd about him was the eye patch/bandage covering one of his eyes. Her lips parted as she began to form the words to ask him about his apparent longevity, but she was interrupted as the vampire resumed his story.
“Khvarikx was a mighty dragon who ruled over the world many years ago after killing off all the other dragons and their creator Aevynha before enslaving the human race. He was an outcast because unlike all the other dragons which were sleek and elegant with vibrant colors, he was a rugged, spiky, grayish black dragon with a mutation called heterochromia that caused him to have mismatched eye colors. One eye was a fiery red like the inside of a volcano mixed with the color of blood in the sunlight and the other was a greenish blue like a swimming pool filled with emeralds. Being perfectly symmetrical, the other dragons immediately rejected him and disowned him. Even after he got his revenge, he was still very sensitive and self-conscious about his eyes. He would slaughter thousands of his slaves if even one of them mentioned his deformity.
Eventually, a rebellion formed, led by a young wizard and his pet demon Err. Err was a smoke monster possessing extreme intelligence despite only being able to say the word 'Errrrrrrrrr.' No one really knows how it managed to teach the young wizard the art of wizardry. The rebels overthrew the loyalist forces in Khvarkix’s northern kingdom where the he spent most of his time sleeping on a pile of gold. While wizard boy attacked the capital, Err went to the dragon’s lair in a nearby mountain and attacked the snoozing emperor. Being a smoke monster, it was nearly impossible to kill him; the only physically solid part of Err’s body was his set of giant talons. After furiously clawing at thin air for several hours, Khvarikx escaped from the cave and unleashed a mighty blast of dragonbreath at the entrance. The force severely damaged the mountain, bringing down thousands upon thousands of tons of solid rock!”
“Oh my god! What about his gold?” she asked.
“Obviously, he was pretty mad about that. Sleeping on gold boosts a dragon’s power, so without it, he couldn’t keep growing his strength.” The vampire turned to the bartender. “I’m thirsty!”
The bartender selected a small bottle from the shelf behind him and set it in front of the vampire. The vampire sank his fangs into the glass and slurped loudly. When it was mostly empty, he detached the bottle from his teeth, fell off his chair, and then laid there quietly. A few minutes after he stopped twitching and purring, the woman asked, “Is he dead?”
The bartender shook his head. “No, he’s just really drunk. He’ll sober up in a bit.”
The woman sighed. “Well, my name is Ryssa. What’s yours?”
The bartender looked up at her and shook his head again. This time, the head shake was less of a negative answer and more like an expression of silent judgement conveying disapproval. He pointed to a pink bedazzled sign next to the toaster.
“NO NAMES ALLOWED”
“We have a lot of sketchy business in here. It’s for everyone’s safety.” The bartender adjusted his tie and continued cleaning a medley of dishes, glasses, and lightbulbs. “Speaking of which, you should probably get that gunshot wound in your shoulder taken care of sometime soon.”
“I can’t go to a hospital! They’ll find out it was me! I just need to find an off-duty doctor or a—“
“I’M A DOCTOR!” The vampire sprung to his feet, his hooded cloak replaced by a lab coat with a light blue stethoscope that was clearly stolen from a small child’s play set. The vampire doctor spun Ryssa around so that her injured shoulder was facing him and, from his pocket, he drew a stack of assorted dining utensils… including but not limited to: a pizza cutter, an aux cord, fiber wire, chopsticks, several shuriken, a guitar pick, two .50 caliber bullets, a fork, a spork, and a scalpel. He returned everything except the chopsticks and the scalpel, put on a pair of prescription glasses which had a missing lens replaced by clear packing tape, and began his back-alley surgery.
“You’re a doctor?” asked the bartender suspiciously.
“I’m as much of a doctor as you are a bartender!”
The bartender shook his head and returned to his cleaning while the vampire returned to his story.
“Khvarikx flew to the palace in the hopes of finding his magician and asking him how to kill the monster so that he could get back to sleeping on his gold, but instead he found his kingdom in flames. It was such an inconvenient day for him. He walked through the city with mild interest, casually dodging the occasional collapsing structure. Just when he thought his day was going to get better, it got a whole lot worse.”
Khvarikx made his way to the palace courtyard, curious to see whether or not his mage had survived. He was quickly distracted from his objective when he saw that the city’s solid brass statue of its serpentine king was still standing proud. Being extremely vain and narcissistic, he spread his wings and fluttered over to it to admire his beauty. The thing he loved most about the statue was the fact that its eyes were just brass. No bright colors, just brass. He smiled at his reflection and that’s when something troublesome caught his eye.
“WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?!?” he roared, shaking the city to its core.
There was a little note, scratched into the side of his metallic twin’s face. It read:
roses are red
violets are blue
your eyes are dumb
and so are you
PS by roses and violets I mean your eyes, stupid
He was paralyzed by rage. They just had to bring that up. The only part of himself that he actually hated was right in the spotlight and they didn’t even stick around to face their punishment.
“Oh noes! Merp forgot something!” A little imp scurried up the base of the statue, climbed onto the head, and quickly splattered red and blue paint onto their respective eyes. “Yay! Master won’t cut Merp’s tail off again!”
“Good job, Merp,” Khvarikx growled, trembling with murderous intent.
“Thank you, Mr. Dragon Sir. Merp loves to do a good job!”
Merp stopped and studied the physical appearance of the dragon in front of him. He turned to look at the statue. He spun around with wide eyes and stared directly at Khvarikx. Timidly, he peeked at the statue one last time. Realizing just how screwed he was, Merp screeched and scampered across the courtyard. The dragon pounced on the imp, pinning him to the ground beneath the weight of his tremendous claws.
“Where’s master hiding?”
“Merp doesn’t know anything! Merp is just an imp!”
“Merp, I will burn your tail off so it never grows back. Where is master?”
“Merp’s master is hiding in the old temple of Aevynha! Don’t hurt Merp’s tail!”
“Thank you, Merp.” Khvarikx lifted his claws and stood on his hind legs.
Feeling the joyous rush of freedom, Merp smiled and stood up too. He opened his mouth to thank the dragon for his mercy, but he was shut down by the vicious hammerfist which plastered him into the ground. Khvarikx viciously smashed the street to pieces until the only thing left of the demon was greenish smoke and scattered bits of coal. He spread his wings and took to the sky. It was time for revenge. Within minutes, he had reached the temple. He hung there in the clouds, channeling his blind rage into one giant surge of power in the form of an ultimate dragon breath attack. He stretched out his wings to stabilize for recoil and unleashed all of his energy at the temple, springing the wizard’s trap!
“Wait, so was the imp lying?” Ryssa asked.
“No, the imp was telling the truth. The wizard had counted on the imp forgetting to finish the job and still being there when Khvarikx arrived. Unknown to both the dragon and the imp, the wizard had... conjured... up a scheme quite clever and treacherous at that temple.” The vampire paused, seemingly for dramatic effect, but actually in waiting for a response from his small audience.
“What was it planning? Tell us!”
“No one caught that? Conjured? He’s a wizard... and he conjured...”
The vampire turned to the bartender who had already finished pouring a shot of some sort of vodka which had a live cobra in the bottle. The vampire studied the glass for a second and then poured it out on the bar in a squiggly line. He rolled up the five dollar bill that Ryssa had given to him earlier and attempted to snort the vodka like any number of illegal powders you would snort in such a shady establishment (flour, sugar, sawdust, etc.). Of course, he failed miserably as the liquid merely soaked into the currency. He shrugged and swallowed the soggy paper bill without hesitation. Then, a look came over his face. If you have ever eaten wild fish that you and/or an acquaintance caught and cleaned, you probably know this look. It’s the look you get when you think there’s a fishbone in your mouth but you can’t find it. Soon enough, his facial expression changed to that of mild triumph and he spit out an unopened pack of blueberry bubblegum.
“How does that even happen?” Ryssa was beyond perplexed.
The vampire ignored the question, opened the pack of gum, and tossed several pieces into his mouth. He frowned, looking at the package. “This is definitely root beer, not blueberry,” he mumbled angrily. “Well, it’s not my problem now, is it? Let’s get back to that story!”
Khvarikx’s ultimate mach 4 dragonbreath manifested as a violet beam of plasma arcing out light blue streaks with neon green sparks. It pierced the roof of the temple without any resistance and drilled through the stone foundation, deep into the earth. pockets of energy erupted randomly from the ground throughout the surrounding 25 miles until, reaching a catalytic level, the entire area disintegrated. Chunks of rock and dirt the size of buildings hurtled through the air in every direction, turning to dust, then glass, before shattering violently upon impact with the jagged exposed flesh of the planet. An expansive and intimidating cloud of sickly black dust blanketed the land. From the heart of the cloud, a reddish glow formed and began to grow in intensity. An explosion of fire cleared the dust away, revealing a demon the size of a gorilla whale (the 2014 version).
Khvarikx was an ancient creature, with knowledge regarding most everything that has existed on this earth. This demon, however, was something beyond even his concept of reality. It’s body was whiter than the arctic circle with large, feathered wings reaching out over miles of desolate earth. It had a smooth and beautiful exoskeleton with pearl spikes and horns generously loaded onto its armor. It’s eyes were like glowing rubies, piercing the darkness.
“The wizard was a demon?” Ryssa asked, perplexed.
“No. The wizard was trying to summon the demon, but he needed more power than his loyal Err could muster. Unfortunately for him, he did not know enough about the demon before summoning it. Her name was Xijan Ol and she was the older sister of Aevynha. Aevynha learned how to create physical forms by reassembling subatomic particles. She eventually started using this power to create dragons on the moon which she sent down to humans as gifts. Xijan Ol was the opposite; instead of creating things, she only knew how to destroy. Not wanting to cause a premature apocalypse in an innocent universe, she cursed herself so that two conditions had to be met before she could/would destroy anything. First, she had to be summoned from a blank, grey universe using an extreme amount of power. The extreme power surge was a necessary safeguard because the summoning materials were pretty easy to find: 3 chicken feathers, a half-gallon of egg-nog, a sword with a broken blade, and 200mg of fairy dust. Secondly, she had to posses a physical body once summoned. If a living creature or willow tree that was at least 30 years of age wasn’t present after the summoning, Xijan Ol would not be able to remain in our spectrum of reality. Once these aformentioned conditions were met, she would destroy everything living, dead, and undead. The wizard only knew of the first condition and he believed he could control her with Err’s help. He was hiding on a cliffside nearby during the ritual and obviously the boy died within nanoseconds of the ultimate attack hitting the ground. Without the boy in the picture, the only thing for Xijan Ol to posses was Khvarikx.”
The demon surveyed the field of destruction, searching for a viable host. For the first time in his long life, Khvarikx felt inferior to something else. He glided backwards, wary and tense. Once she saw him, she vaporized herself into a white cloud. The cloud started to spiral, tightening and compressing until it was a giant spike of fluid white matter. It was about 30 feet long and about 5 inches in diameter. Khvarikx watched warily, waiting for it to make a move. He blinked--and when he opened his eyes, the spike was embedded in his chest. Unable to move, he croaked. He had never even been in danger before. He watched in horror as the projectile sunk in deeper. He could feel his heartbeat pounding against the blade and his vision began to fail him. Khvarikx lost his grasp on consciousness and faded into darkness.
“The dragon died?” Ryssa asked, gripped by the story.
“Not likely,” said the bartender, pouring a generous amount of tequila and limeade into a sippy cup. “I bet you’d like one for the road?”
“Aha! My good bartender!” the vampire fondly exclaimed.
“No! What? No!” Ryssa screamed hysterically.
“He always does this. He leaves on a cliffhanger so people have to come back tomorrow and hear the rest of the story. It’s great for business,” explained the bartender.
The vampire’s jaws unhinged like a python as he swallowed the sippy cup. “¡Hasta la mañana, señorita bonita!” Wrapping himself in his cloak, he nodded to the bartender. “Y tu, amigo.”
He briskly walked to the door, fastened a pair of roller skates to his shoes, and disappeared into the night singing the Canadian national anthem with surprising precision and enthusiasm.