The Hamelin Hunter’s Pipe

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Blue PiperIt wasn’t the rats that caught my imagination when I first heard the tale as a child.  It wasn’t all the lost children.  It wasn’t the man in the pied coat that haunted me.

It was the pipe.

And when I met James so many, many years later and we happened upon a discussion of the old folk tale, starting with all of the historical basis for the legend, we stopped for a moment, laughed, and then he said the words that echoed my own thoughts.

It wasn’t the rats that caught his imagination when he first heard the tale as a child.  It wasn’t all the lost children.  It wasn’t the man in the pied coat that haunted him.

It was the pipe.

***

“To speak of such things now at the dawn of the modern era…it’s quaint,” James said.

Gazing out of the train car window at the moonless sky, I smiled, knowing just how “quaint” my husband could be at times.  The four of us had the car to ourselves and were speaking quite freely.

“Come now, James,” said Philip.  “It’s not as if I just claimed the world was flat.  I just think that we will find there is an end to the cosmos.  And I regret I will not live to be one of the explorers who reaches that end.”

“And then what?” James asked.  “What is beyond the end?”

“Nothing.  The end is the end.”

“You’re blaspheming, Philip.  What about our souls?  They’re eternal.  Shouldn’t that mean the world is eternal?”

“Not the mortal world.”

“What’s quaint about thinking that the cosmos has an end?” Professor Reynolds said, interrupting the two young men who were once his students and now his colleagues.

James leaned forward and smiled.  “Every time mankind thinks it has reached the end of something, we’ve always been wrong.  We must not let our fears and superstitions stop us from advancing.”

“Don’t you mean ‘humankind,’ darling?” I interjected.

James gave me an apologetic nod.

“Quite,” the professor said.  “Your livelihood is ironic then, lad, considering your great aversion to superstition.”

James raised a brow.

“You’re going after the Pipe, aren’t you?”

James sighed.  “Only because I’ve been assigned to.”

I knew better, but I said nothing to betray my husband.

“The Pipe and its like are superstition, are they?” said the professor, “The very reason you seek it is itself a legend, a superstition.”

Here, Philip came to his best friend’s defense.  He raised a finger to the air.  “The hairy ape-like hominid that haunts the Americas is a superstition.  Spring-heeled Jack is a superstition.  Vampires are real.”

“Would that they weren’t,” I said, frowning and pulling my collar close in the front, not so much out of practicality as of…superstition.  A real vampire resembled little the vampires of common legend.  I had only seen one from afar, and it was contained, but it was close enough for me.  Like my husband, I longed to explore.  I had no desire to be a monster-hunter.  But our higher authorities believed that the Pipe was worth the trouble of collecting, for the very reason that it could ward off vampires or protect one from them somehow.  The professor had promised to be clearer on that point once we were further along in our quest.

The door to the train car opened, just as Philip took a breath to speak.  He held his tongue as the conductor shuffled in to check our tickets.  Professor Reynolds cleared his throat and whipped open the evening paper.  Philip began to whistle a quiet tune.  I slipped a hand into my travel case to pull out my ticket just as James handed his to the conductor.

That was when the conductor uttered a growl and leapt to one side of the train car.  Before I knew what was happening, the lights in the train car went out.

***

The train car was doused in utter darkness.  I heard shuffling.  A man cried out in pain.  I started to rise.

Suddenly, there was a great weight upon me.  Before I could struggle, hands gripped my arms.  They were not human hands.  The fingers were long and sharp.  A cold and rancid breath moved across my face and my heart seemed to stop.

A vampire.

I could see.  The creature was close enough to me that even in the pitch black, I could see by the light of its pale, luminescent skin.  I had a weapon.  A precaution, James had called it.  My arms were pinned, but my hands were free and I found the trigger with my right hand, the trigger to the rig that was built about my bodice.  A series of metal and wooden spikes, held secure by springs and tension.  They would burst from the front of my chest and waist if I pressed the trigger.  So would go my modesty, and I told myself I would never use it.  But now I was truly faced with the choice between modesty and life.  The creature was close enough to be pierced.

I could feel my mind slipping away from me as the creature loomed above me, blood caked around its mouth, dripping from the ever-seeping wounds on its lips and from its sharp and pointed teeth.  Its eyes seemed to glow with an unnatural reddish light.  It didn’t blink.  It just stared at me and moved closer.

“Vivian!”

It was James.  Even if my voice were not paralyzed with fear, I would not have called out to him.  I would not have called his attention to the ghastly thing that pressed down on me with its eyes full of hunger and its mouth wide open.  James would have come to save me.  Then he would have been the one who was set upon.  The creature hesitated.  It would be able to see him.  It turned its head away from me, just slightly.

Something flickered through my fear.  The flame of a more determined feeling.  My mind slipped back to me long enough to define that feeling.  Anger.  I didn’t know if I was close enough.  I pressed the trigger in my right hand and heard the snap and crack of the device springing open.  It felt like being kicked in the chest by a mule.

The weight above me dropped onto me, then slid sideways and onto the floor, taking me with it.  The vampire flipped over on his back and now I was atop him, pinning him to the ground, literally pinning him with stakes of metal and wood.

The device’s frame had collapsed onto my chest.  I tried to take shallow breaths and support myself with my arms, so I could push myself up and free of the creature.

I sensed a sudden burst of light behind me.  Then another.  I felt an arm wrap about my waist and another across my shoulders and I was lifted off the creature that now lay motionless on the train car floor.

“Off,” I managed to blurt out as I pulled at the oozing stakes that were still protruding from me.

“She’s having trouble breathing, lad,” the professor said.  “Best take the whole thing off.  Here, Philip, let’s turn our heads from the lady and deal with this fellow.”

James turned me around and threw my riding cloak over my shoulders, but I didn’t care who saw.  I just wanted to breathe.  I couldn’t move, so James used his knife to tear my shirt apart and reveal the frame of the staking device and the bodice to which it was anchored.

James and I had built the contraption together and triggered it a few times, once or twice while I was wearing it.  Fools.  We never thought of how it might buckle and twist with two hundred pounds of vampire atop it.

He removed the device and tossed it aside with disgust at the tissues that were still dripping from it.  Then my blessed husband removed my bodice and gave it an equal look of disdain as he tossed it aside.  He looked down at my bare chest, as did I.  I saw welts and a few cuts.  I had feared I might have cracked a rib, but as soon as all the contraptions were removed, I could breathe easily, if still a bit painfully.  I would bruise, but surely nothing was broken or even cracked.

James laid a gentle hand over my heart.  I looked up at him and his eyes misted in such a pitiable look of helplessness.

I shook my head and smiled.  “Nothing broken.”

I didn’t fancy my husband touching me in that fashion in a chamber that we shared with two men who were like a brother and father to me and the terrifying creature that had almost hypnotized me into letting it suck the life from me.

“Bandage,” I said.  James understood despite the limited powers of speech I could manage past the lingering pain and shock.  He wrapped a bandage around my chest and waist.  Then he put me in one of my petticoats, then one of his shirts, and then my duster.  As he dressed me, I tried taking deeper and deeper breaths.

“I should dress as a man more often,” I said.  Made decent and presentable to mixed company, I rose and turned to where the others were securing the inert body of the fallen vampire.  They had wrapped it up.  It was already beginning to ooze and decay.  A metallic sulfur stench began to fill the train car despite the windows that Philip had opened.

Professor Reynolds lit a stick of incense and waved it over the wrapped bundle.  It seemed to help neutralize the odor.  “Well done, my dear.  The mightiest of knights couldn’t have put as many holes in this monster as you did.”

Philip gave me a gentle pat on the back.  I felt a swell of pride and before I got carried away on it, I reminded myself how grave the event was.  I was almost killed, and in a most horrifying manner.

The professor declared that we would dump the body of the creature out of the car before we reached our next stop.

“I felt it, gentlemen.  I felt my will slipping away.  I could not fight it.  I could not even try.”  I glanced around at the men.  “Some might say my will is weaker than yours, being the will of a woman.”

“I might have an edifying thing or two to say to those ‘some,’” James said.

Philip nodded.  “Indeed, where are all these weak-willed women?  My three sisters certainly aren’t among them.”

“Well, I’ve known many a weak-willed woman,” Professor Reynolds said.  “And many a weak-willed man.  Let us say we have established that the strength of will varies among all people and let Mrs. MacAllister finish her thought, for I have one of my own to share.”

“Do you know how it feels when you’ve had a few sleepless nights and then suddenly, against your will, your eyelids just want to droop and you long to put your head down?  You’d lie on the street if you could just close your eyes and sleep.  Your mind begins to slip.  It was something like that, only I was wide awake.  I couldn’t shake it loose.”

“You must have,” James said.  “You had enough will to trigger the staking device.”

“After I heard you call my name, it turned away for just a bit.  I think that’s when I was able to regain myself.”

Philip nodded.  “Unbroken eye contact.  Several accounts confirm this is needed.  There may be some chemical component as well.  Did you smell anything?”

I described the rancid smell of the creature’s breath.  Philip nodded as he reached into his coat for his field journal.  We had discovered nothing new, but every account held value, for we might have noted a detail that meant nothing to us now, but might hold the key to new knowledge in the future.

James retrieved some glass vials from his case.  He knelt before the wrapped bundle, unfolded a section, and began to collect some samples.

“Professor,” he said.  “You said you too had a thought to share.”

“The attack was deliberate, my young fellows,” Professor Reynolds said, nodding.  “I’m sure of it.”

“It meant to hold Viv, hostage, didn’t it?” Philip said.  “To use her life to ward us off, chase us all away.”

“And then entrance us all into thinking we had failed in our quest,” James said.

“They might have been doing this for ages,” the Professor said.  “We suspected as much…”

“That suggests we are on the right track,” I said.

The Professor nodded.  “They are trying to stop us, stop us from finding the Pipe.”

I took a slow, deep breath.  “If that’s so, then it means there truly is something to the apocryphal view that they have a society.”

Legends told of vampire councils, or vampire counts and vampire lords.   And vampire nests that were like human families, where each looked after the other.  But true accounts had not uncovered any greater organization to vampire society, if such creatures could be said to even have anything resembling a society.  They were intelligent and cunning.  But then, so were cats.

“Then they know where it is, but they can’t reach it themselves,” James said.  “Otherwise all they need do is hide it somewhere we’d never find it.  They wouldn’t be trying to stop us now.”

The Professor nodded.  “Gather round, children.  I must tell you a story.  And when this train stops, we will away with the formalities of hotels and buggy rides.  We must go right away to the site we discovered.”

“Shouldn’t we report this?” I asked.  “Call for help?”

“I’ll take care of it at the station,” Philip said.  “While the rest of you get our luggage and equipment…and weapons.”

The professor shook his head.  “All well and good, but if we are being hunted by vampires, and not just vampires, but vampires sent by their highest authorities, then we cannot afford to wait for help.  Our best protection will be the artifact we seek.”

“Then I pray we find it where we expect to.”

“I have little doubt that we will,” Professor Reynolds said.  “It has taken a generation of searching and seeking, of gathering stories, sorting through them to separate fact from fiction, following lines of logic that seemed illogical, and making connections among disparate parts, for us to make this great discovery.”

The professor began with the commonly known tale of the piper.

The town called Hamelin was beset by an infestation, a plague.  A man appeared one day.  He claimed to be a rat-catcher, so they hired him.  He wore a many-colored coat and had a magic pipe that when played enchanted all the rats in town, and they followed him out of the town.  He led them to a nearby river and drowned them.  The townsfolk didn’t pay him what they promised.  So he left the town.  But in his anger, the piper returned and took his vengeance.  He played his pipe again.  Only this time, instead of rats, he enchanted the children.  Some hundred of the town’s children followed him out of town.  In one happy account, the townsfolk finally paid the piper and he returned the children.  But in most accounts, the children vanished forever.

Much was speculated about the true origin of the tale.  Perhaps the children were recruited to resettle in another town.  Perhaps they were recruited to war.  There was no mention of rats in the earliest tales that were told.  Only the children and their vanishing.  That much I knew.  But then the professor continued with stories I had never heard before.

***

Some of our scholars were intrigued by the powers of the pipe to bend the will of the children.  It sounded so very like what a vampire did.

What became of the children remained unclear.  What became of the Piper did as well.  They were all mortal and long dead.  The pipe’s fate too was unknown.  Until the recreations of the Hamelin church emerged.  The town had a church in those days.  It abided for a while but was destroyed somehow.  The windows of the church was said to have images of the piper and the children and the tale that was told of them.  They were lost when the church was lost.  But scholars began to sift among the ruins and to search among the accounts of those who lived during that time, who lived and drew the church as it was when it stood.  So too did they study the drawings of the churches windows of stained glass.

That was where they noted the clues.

Strange characters and marks that were thought to be errors when seen in only one source, where found again and again.  When the scholars studied the marks, interpreted them, they found that the marks were a code that led to the location of a great treasure, something called the spell-breaker.

Our higher authorities set other scholars onto the task of finding the truth behind the legend of the piper.  They hoped to shed more light on the clues in the church.  Those scholars discovered that the piper was a vampire hunter like many that still hunted in the present day.  How he came to possess the pipe, whether he fashioned it himself, was given it as a gift, stole it, or found it, was a mystery still.  One scholar found mention that it might be a shard of heaven, fallen from the sky, not meant for human hands, but ending up in human hands all the same.

The scholars discovered a version of the piper’s tale that was heretofore unknown.  The piper came to the town of Hamelin, wearing his fancy pied coat and bearing his magic pipe.  He did indeed tell the townsfolk he would rid them of a plague.  A plague far worse than rats.  There were many vampires in the region in those days.  While they could move by day, their powers waned in sunlight, so they were most active by night and in regions of the world where the sun was a rarer sight.  Legends said the vampire was a blood-drinker.  But they did worse than drink blood.  The blood that dripped from their mouths and their teeth was their own, for they suffered great wounds from the evil they wrought.  The true sustenance they gained from humankind was the spark of life itself.  Vampires were soul-drinkers.  And every soul they drank was one that was forever extinguished.  Forever lost to eternity.

According to the tale, the Pied Piper’s pipe could do to vampires what vampires did to humans.  It could bend their will to the will of the one who played it.  The will of the piper.  So the piper played and he led all the soul-drinkers out of town.  He was in fact traveling the region, ridding town after town, of the vampires that infested them.  But they were not the dumb creatures he had thought.  They had a society.  They had leaders.  And those leaders had heard of the piper.  And those leaders had heard of the pipe.  They feared it, but they were intrigued by it as well.

A gang of vampires waylaid the piper outside of Hamelin.  And though the piper was a vampire hunter, armed not only with the pipe, but with all the other weapons that vampire hunters wielded, he was overcome.  And the pipe was stolen.

A particularly brutal vampire was he who led the gang.  He brought the piper back to the town of Hamelin, where he tried to coerce the piper into playing a new tune, one that would lure out the people so that the vampire could drink their souls.  But the piper resisted.  He would not yield to the entrancing.  The piper would not yield even when the vampire drank half his soul.  The vampire played the pipe, trying to entrance the piper, but that too did not work.  Then the vampire began to play a most haunting tune.  And to the piper’s horror, he saw the first child approach, then another, and another.

The vampire led the children away.  The piper, held fast by the vampire’s minions, could do nothing to save them.

***

They were held in a dark cavern all the night through.  The vampire master, wearing the cheerful pied coat of the piper, drank the souls of the children as the piper watched, helpless and lost.

The piper waited until daylight, when the vampires’ powers waned.  The vampire master slept.  The piper convinced the minions that guarded him that their master was drinking their share of souls and that they must destroy him while he slept, so they could have the children to themselves.

As the minions moved away, as they tore and clawed at their master, as the children cowered and cried, some losing their minds to the horror, the piper reclaimed his pipe.

He began to play.  The vampire master was destroyed by his unfaithful minions.  They succumbed to the piper’s tune and followed the piper out of the cavern and over a great cliff.

The piper returned to the cavern.  He tried to comfort the children, to tell them that they must follow him so he could lead them home.  But they were as terrified of him as they had been of the vampires.

The piper saw no other choice.  He played the haunting tune that the vampire master had played.  He led the children back to town, those who had survived.  He played a tune that wiped their memories of the ordeal, restored their peace, or so he hoped.  But when he returned, the townsfolk were already up and searching for the children.  They were afraid and grateful for the return of their children.  But the piper knew he should away before their fear and gratitude turned to rage and hatred.  For he heard them whisper that a few had seen the piper in the pied coat lead their children away.  No one had seen the vampire.

The piper never used the pipe again.  The danger of it falling into the hands of vampires was too great.  And yet, it was too powerful a weapon to be destroyed.  He hid the pipe, hoping someday someone worthy and strong would find it.  He left clues behind in the last place where the pipe had been played, the town of Hamelin, in the church.

The vampires must have learned of the clues.  Or they were searching for the Pied Piper’s pipe.  It was they who destroyed the church.  And all the clues with it.

“And those clues,” Professor Reynolds said, “lead us to where we now go.”

***

We made it to the mountain-side without further harassment, but that gave us no comfort.  On the contrary, we were in a state of constant tension.  I was not eager to face another vampire.  And the professor’s account of the Pied Piper’s tale had left a cold hollow in my heart that abided still and would abide, I feared, until our task was done.

Poor James and Philip, being the good men they were, fared worse than I did, for they put themselves in the piper’s place.  They felt the pain of the piper’s heroism turned to horror.

“This is ridiculous,” James said as we trekked up the mountain path.  We were high enough to see the lovely Germanic village below where we had practically thrown our trunks and cases into the cottage we’d rented so we could start up the mountain at once.  “We make the same mistake the piper made when he went about from town to town himself.  He should have had an army guarding him and his pipe.”

I agreed with James.  When we started the quest, we did not know that the pipe could be turned against us.  We’d only been told it was an artifact with a promising history of doing battle against vampires.  If our higher authorities thought it was worth the risk, they would have sent a more seasoned team of questers.  I guessed they rather disbelieved that part of the story.  It was one of many accounts.  And short of a time machine, there was no way anyone could be sure of what truly happened in Hamelin when the piper came to town.

But the professor seemed to believe that the pipe could enchant human beings.  He had told the tale with such fervor.  He must have asked for more protection.  He must have entreated and pressed.  But the higher authorities were far away from the day-to-day work of the scholars, explorers, and warriors under their employ.  They must have judged that he didn’t need any more help than his three young assistants.

Philip did not seem to be so understanding.  He was openly glaring at the professor.

I tried to picture myself and the others back at the academy, surrounded by colleagues and guards and many protections, studying the pipe in relative safety.  But the picture was ruined by the intrusion of another image.  That of my friends and me fumbling with our weapons as we were overcome by vampires, our souls extinguished as they drank their fill of what should have been our eternal selves, only to hunger and hunt again.

I suddenly felt that it was right we should hunt for the pipe, even at the risk of having it turned against us.  They already bent our wills and stole our eternal rest.  I had come so close to being extinguished myself.  I had feared that more than I had feared the death of my mortal body.

I took my husband’s arm and glanced at Philip.  “We are all the army this pipe has for now.  We are here.  Let us do the task and do it well.”

“We’re being followed,” Philip said.

I was no good at knowing such things, but I too had feared as much.  I didn’t see them so much as feel them.  They were coming up the mountain with us.

***

“Hurry, Professor,” Philip said.  “I can see them now.  We have the high ground and I have some nasty surprises up my sleeve, but I am counting far more than we expected.”

Philip stood at the mouth of the shallow cavern in which Professor Reynolds and I stood.  James stood midway between the cave mouth and me, holding a torch.  We had found the pipe.  We had followed the clues to the cavern, made it past the first traps, lifted stone and rock, and we had found the pipe.  It was now within arm’s reach.  But we could not take it without triggering whatever trap the piper had laid.  The Professor was consulting his notes for further clues.

“There should only be about a dozen or so in the region,” the professor said.  “According to last report.”

“Then your last report was very old or very rubbish, or both.”

“How many?” James asked.

“Looks like about fifty or so, and now that night is falling, they’re moving fast.”

I looked at the inscription on the rock beside the pipe.  The pipe lay in a little alcove.  Though it had been many hundreds of years, the pipe appeared untouched by time save for a fine layer of dust.  It had markings along the side, but I could not read them at the distance from which I stood.  So I looked at the inscription beside the pipe again.  The professor had studied it and dismissed it as containing no clues.  He believed it served only to warn.

The spell-maker failed.  Tis’ evil to bend
Any will to another, even to heal.
What spell-maker broke, spell-breaker will mend
All that is hidden, the song will reveal.

Then the piper will merrily send
The cursed soul-drinkers to their tormented end.

“I have it!” Professor Reynolds set down the notebook he was consulting.  He glanced between the notebook and the alcove holding the pipe.

I read the inscription again, before the professor tried anything, just to assure there was no further warning.  The last two lines were unambiguous in meaning and intent.  But the first four were curious.  My guess was that “spell-maker” referred to the Pied Piper’s pipe.  It failed.  It had the power to bend wills.  And the piper had used it to heal the children, after a fashion.  But the research our scholars had done said the artifact was called “spell-breaker.”

Two names, I wondered, for the same pipe?  As I wondered this, the professor, having done whatever he had done to bypass the trap, reached into the alcove and pulled out the pipe.

“Come on,” James said, waving the professor and me forward.  “We can’t let them corner us in this cave.”

We joined Philip at the mouth.  “It’s too late,” he said.  “They’re upon us.”

My breath caught in my throat as I watched the shadowy figures bound towards us.

***

“We’ll never outrun them,” James said, handing me the torch he was holding as he unslung the pack from his back.  It was filled with rifles, pistols, and daggers.

“We have no choice,” I said.  “We can’t hold off so many.  We have to play the pipe.”

The professor handed the pipe to Philip.  He was the musician among us.

Philip began to play as James lifted his rifle.  Professor Reynolds placed a hand on the barrel.  He whispered fiercely.  “No, if you shoot, you’ll disrupt the tune.  It won’t work.”

“Are you certain?”

As Philip played a tune he knew, I gazed at the pipe, at the markings on the side.   The vampires were still advancing through the forest.  Philip stopped playing and James fired.  We heard them now, their unnatural shrieking howls.

I grabbed Philip’s hand and lowered it so I could look at the markings.  I realized what they were.  It was a song.  I pointed to them.

“Play it, Philip.  Play the tune!”

Philip looked down at the pipe and studied the markings.  He nodded and began to play again.  It was a sweet melody and loud enough to be heard over the sounds of gunfire and growls.  James stopped firing but kept his rifle raised.  Professor Reynolds took up a pistol.  I was free of bodice and frame.  I didn’t want any vampire to get anywhere close.  I too raised a pistol in the air in one hand and waved the torch I held in the other.

We waited for the vampires to stop in their tracks, bewildered and enchanted, as they had been in the tale of the pipe.  But on they came.  And yet, the pipe’s song gave me enough courage to go out and meet them.  The professor told Philip to keep playing, so the three of us walked forth before him.

One vampire leapt up into the air, preternaturally high.  James shot it and it fell to the ground and shuffled away.  I aimed past Philip to my right and shot once into a vampire’s arm and again into its chest.  My third shot missed.  And then another one was mere feet away from me.  I waved my torch at it and it leapt away, then leapt forward and knocked the torch out of my hand.  I cried out.  The force of the blow nearly tore my shoulder out of its socket and knocked me back and down.  And again there was a vampire upon me, looming over me, its pale red filmy eyes trying to hypnotize me, trying to bend my will, trying…trying.  And failing.

I didn’t bother struggling with my body.  My pistol arm was pinned down and the creature outweighed me as the one in the train car had.  But I struggled with my mind, against the entrancing.  And I pushed with all the feeling I had.

Back!

I felt something tear away from me, a violent tearing, as if I had rent a piece of cloth.  All of a sudden, my shoulder stopped throbbing.  The weight atop me lessened and lessened.  The sharp, blood-dripping teeth were gone.  The creature had only gums.  I shoved it aside and it mewled in protest.  I pointed my pistol at it and then saw it in the light of my fallen torch.  It was a husk in tattered rags.  A near-corpse.  When I pushed it aside, I thought I had felt and heard snapping, as of bones.  I shifted my pistol to my left hand and reached for the vampire as it tried to scuttle away.  I grabbed it by its neck and heard a crackle.

All around us, the battle continued.  A group of vampires loped toward me.  They all looked as tatty and weak as the one I held in my hand.  I lifted it up, swung it round, and tossed it toward the others.  I came close to them and shot any that were still moving.  When my pistol ran out of bullets, I did not bother to reload it.  I pulled a silver stake from my duster and engaged these strange changed creatures.

Hamelin Hunter's PipeHow long we fought, I could not say.  It did not seem long after I regained my ground.  I knew it was done when I heard the last retort of gunfire.  I found Philip first, then James.  We rejoined with the professor.  We had barely a scratch among us.  All the vampires were fallen, and they did indeed number in the fifties.

“What just happened?” James said glancing about at the still forms on the ground.

“They changed,” I said.  “They couldn’t entrance me.”

“Me neither,” Philip said.  “I’m sorry all.  I stopped playing when it seemed the pipe had no effect.  I was obviously wrong.”

“But are they the ones who are changed or are we?”  James asked.  “I could never go hand-to-hand with a vampire before.  Just now I fought five at once.”

We glanced about at each other, still stunned.  I strode over to the nearest tree, wrapped my arms about it, and attempted to uproot it.  For a heartbeat, I dared to hope.  But the tree refused my attempt.

“Then they are the ones who were changed.”

“Not changed,” I said.  “Revealed.”

The professor snapped his fingers.  “The inscription.”

“Spell-breaker,” I said.

Philip frowned.  “What are you two on about?”

The professor took the pipe from him.  “This is not the Pied Piper’s pipe.  That pipe is either still lost or destroyed.  This is a different pipe.”

“The Pied Piper’s pipe was a spell-maker,” I said.  “It made the spell that enchanted the vampires and later, against his intent, the children.”

“This pipe is a spell-breaker.”

“It broke the spell that the vampires weave around us,” I said. “Illusion…the most powerful illusion in the known world.  That’s their true advantage over us.  Their strength, speed, charm.  It’s all an illusion.  They bent our minds further than we ever thought.  They are nothing like the powerful creatures we’ve always thought they were.

“Then we’ve done it,” James said.  “We’ve found a new way to fight the vampires.”

“Better than that, my boy.  We have found a way to fulfill the Piper’s promise.  To merrily send those cursed soul-drinkers to their tormented end.”

James glanced between the professor and me.  “How long will the spell remain broken?”

I took a deep breath and hitched my shoulder.  “For good, I hope.”

“Let’s take it home, children, and find out.”

“And in the meantime just in case,” I said, looking at Philip, “play on, piper.”

 

Copyright © 2015 by Nila L. Patel.

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