• I awoke to a murmur of voices, and something soft beneath me. Through my eyelids I could see the faint gold of light, but I was still feeling too comfortable to open my eyes. Instead, I simple rolled over into the warmth of the bed and sighed, rubbing my face against the soft pillow. Perhaps last night had all just been a dream. The voices were probably my room-mate and one of her friends...In...my room...
    I sat bolt upright, weaving as the room spun a bit. I was in a large, four poster bed, one of those old, really expensive ones you always see in movies that take place in Victorian Times. In fact, the whole room kind of had that feel to it, dark red, patterned wallpaper with a white trim, a tall mahogany wardrobe, a nightstand of the same stuff, with an old fashioned lamp set on it, and a nice, shiny hard-wood floor, though it looked worn with age. Struggling to get off the bed and onto my feet, I found that I was still in my day-clothes, and it was most certainly dark out. Either it had been some time that had passed, or very little time at all.
    Either way, I was in a strange house, after what was a strange night, or, what I was trying to convince myself it was, a dream. Turning, I saw the door, and my exit, because I was most definitely getting out of here. I strode toward it, my heart thundering, when a rather bubbly sounding giggle stayed my hand. Slowly, I turned, and came face to face with another vampire.
    The man was taller than the last one, and stood with sort of a hunch, his violet eyes following me as he perched, literally, upon an old red love seat. He wore a tall black top hat, accented with a purple ribbon that matched his eyes, a long, flowing cloak of blacks, blues, and purples, each a different layer, some rather see-through, others solid. I couldn't see beneath the cloak, but I suspected, and hoped, that those things weren't all he was wearing. Like the other man, he was dressed impressively, but also like the other man, he was pale as parchment, and most definitely had fangs, which were quite visible in that frightening grin of his.
    The vampire who had, I assumed, brought me here, was nowhere to be seen, only this grinning...man, if you could call him that. Needless to say, I was not happy with my situation, because it meant that I had to admit to myself that before hadn't been a dream, and that there was now a vampire perched in front of me, beaming.
    I swallowed nervously and stepped back, which only caused him to giggle again and grin wider. He followed my movement towards the door and tilted his head in a quick, jerky movement that reminded me of an insect, or a particularly curious bird. Another giggle burbled forth and then he spoke.
    "My, my, little fish! Aren't you a pretty thing! Might you make a lovely dish, or might I have that shiny ring," he asked, though his voice didn't match his mannerisms, it was the kind of deep, silky voice that you could listen to all day. I figured it was a vampire thing.
    I wondered what on earth he was talking about, while he chortled at his clever rhyme, obviously pleased with himself. Well...I knew what he meant by, "lovely dish," and I had been a "lovely dish" for enough people tonight. But...oh. I looked down at my hand, to the silver ring resting on the ring finger there. Silver and set with sapphires, it had been my grandmother's ring, and I rarely took it off since she had passed away. I didn't really want to give it up, but...
    "If I give you this ring, nobody else chews on me, okay? And I go home?" I paused, then hopefully added, "Please?"
    The vampire looked surprised, then rolled down the back of the loveseat and onto his back, staring at the ceiling, a serious expression suddenly set on his face.
    "Hmm....hmmmm....no, no, I think not. You can't go home, not yet. We need you, yes we do. But I shall grant you safe passage, if you give me the pretty. Maron would love a pretty thing like you, and we can't have that, can we, little spider?" he said at last, sitting up and jumping to his feet in one fluid motion. Then he gave a low, sweeping bow that ended with an outstretched hand. "We be Tobias. Shiny please?"
    I hesitated, then plucked the ring off and dropped it in his outstretched hand, biting my lip at the sudden feeling of loss. I sighed. It would be worth it if I got out of here alive, and grandma would have understood.
    "Please take care of it," I said softly, "It's special to me."
    Tobias straightened again, the hand with the ring vanishing into the folds of his cloak. He beamed. "I will take care of it, little spider. No worries, no worries." He tilted his head again, then reached over and gripped my shoulder, squeezing once. "Your grandmother would be proud. She was a strong woman, and met a good end."
    I jumped, surprised, my eyes wide.
    "How did you..."
    He gave a mirthless smile, and withdrew his hand, then headed toward the door with a sort of swaying, dancing movement, while he softly sung, "...and above them all waits, the lonely crow in the clockwork moon. He knows where you've been, and he knows where you'll go, and at the end of every path he'll meet you..." He paused, the door open, a grin once again upon his pale face. "Coming? We have much to do!"
    I jumped again, as I had been for a moment transfixed in his song, though I didn't quite understand it. I gave a quick nod, afraid to speak, and hurried after him, into the dimly lit hallway. I couldn't help but wonder what would become of me. What did they want from me? I wasn't that important...! I was just another average college student for heaven's sake! What ever they wanted, I hoped to god I would survive to see another day. I swore that if I did, I would never complain about another homework assignment or dusty books again.