Millie and her wealthy protector Count Benjamin Castle have their first adventure behind them, but troubled seas lay ahead in the land of magic and mayhem.
Millie finds herself wondering about the unique staff in her possession, and how she could master its supposedly powerful magic. Castle suggests she find herself a teacher for its flute form, and an opportunity presents itself when a well-known band returns from a long tour. They venture out to make inquiries, but their journey becomes a winding path of relatives and revenants as a strange horror rises from the ghoulish depths of the old city.
Their troubles are complicated by their budding romance, and Millie’s inexperience in a world filled with fantastical creatures and some rather shady characters. One of those characters is the seller of a popular card game among the youth. The parents consider the game a less frightful diversion than the odd music band, but something seems amiss to Millie. She can’t put her finger on it until her curiosity gives her more than she bargained for.
Together Millie and Castle must wade through ghouls, graveyards, and groupies to discover the truth behind the sinister magics cropping up around the city, before they’re both buried by their latest, and maybe last, adventure.
“Do you think this thing can change into a hammer?”
I was the curious carpenter, and the person I questioned was the handsome man seated at the head of the dining table.
Count Benjamin Castle paused in the middle of his breakfast and lifted an eyebrow at me. “Pardon?”
I held up the Prima Staff, otherwise known as my flute. “This thing. You think it can change into a hammer, too?”
Ben set his hands on the table and smiled at me. “That’s a rather unusual request.”
“I have a rather unusual floorboard in my room that could use some pounding,” I revealed as I tilted the flute to and fro like it was a metronome. “Maybe this thing could make itself into a purse, too.”
He chuckled and resumed his eating. “You may have better luck fitting yourself to its magic.”
I stopped my ticking and lifted an eyebrow at him. “What do you mean?”
He pushed away his empty plate and dabbed the corners of his mouth before speaking. “Magic is used, but it cannot be pushed, especially powerful magic. It was created with a specific purpose, and it’s best to find that purpose rather than try to bend it to your will.”
I scooted a little closer to him. “What would happen if I tried a little bending?”
“You do recall what happened to Dunn only a week ago?”
I winced and leaned back in my chair. “Point taken.”
Ben’s eyes flickered between the flute and my face. “Do you play?”
I blinked at him. “Play what?”
He nodded at the instrument. “The flute?”
A snort escaped me as I lifted up the flute. “I think this is the first time I’ve ever held one.”
“You could try playing it.”
I studied the instrument for a moment before I winced. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”
“Try playing it now.”
My face drooped. “You don’t want me to do that.”
“I tried playing the tuba once.”
“I attracted all the wrong attention.”
He set his arms on the table and leaned in closer to me. “How so?” I rolled my eyes and mumbled a few words. “Pardon? I didn’t catch that.”
I scowled at him. “I said someone’s pet pig came into the building thinking I was a lovesick sow.”
Ben burst into laughter, so much so that I glared at him. After a moment he gathered himself and wiped away a tear under one eye. “My sincerest apologies. I had no idea you were so musically gifted.”
I wagged the flute at him. “You just keep laughing and I’ll subject you to a fate worse than death.”
His eyes twinkled at me. “How is that?”
I lifted the flute to my lips. “I’ll play the flute.”
Some of his good humor failed him as his attention fell on the instrument. “That may not be a good idea.”
My heart pumped a little faster as I set the flute on the table. “What do you mean?”
“Even if your intentions are in the right, powerful magic such as the Prima Staff must be used with skill and caution,” he warned me as he took the instrument from my hands and studied the markings. “Otherwise, chaos may ensure. You may be killed.”
I couldn’t help but look him over, especially the high collar of his shirt. “You know, you still haven’t told me why your body’s covered in those black designs.”
He sighed and set the flute on the table between us. “Those are a. . .rather long story.”
I put my elbows on the table and cupped my cheeks in the palms of my hands. “I’ve got time, remember? Stuck here with nothing to do.”
A loud rap on the front door gave us both pause. Ben lifted an eyebrow as he rose from his seat. “I’m not expecting anyone.”
I cursed the intrusion as Ben exited the room and moved out of sight into the hall. I leaned forward to see what was going on, but all I caught were some voices.
“Hi-ya, count!” I snorted as I recognized the eager voice of Tim the newspaper boy.
“Good morning, Tim. What brings you here?”
“I’ve got a special edition for you. Maybe your new girl would like to see it. All the girls are going crazy over it.”
“Really?” came Ben’s bemused response. “I’ll take two.”
“Thank ya!” Tim shouted, and a moment later I heard the front door slam shut.
My curiosity was near bursting as Ben strolled back into the dining room. He was engrossed in a small pamphlet, and another one hung from his arm. The front page of the folded paper showed some strange designs. Those were popular that morning.
“What’s going on?” I inquired as he stopped just shy of his chair with his gaze still fixed on the paper.
“Phantom is returning.”
A little color drained from my face. “You guys have those, too?”
He chuckled as he held out the paper he had been reading to reveal the headline. The word ‘Phantom’ was written in a jagged typography, and below that was a long article. I leaned forward and squinted as I read the first part aloud.
“The famous Phantom musical group with its mysterious lead singer are set to arrive back at their home city of Validen within a few days. Long-time fans of the group will be aware that they have been on a tour of the continent for the past half year, and look forward to some well-deserved time to themselves after they have their farewell performances at Fox Hall.” I paused and looked up questioningly at my local host. “Fox Hall?”
“The locale for large musical performances,” he explained.
I leaned back and crossed one leg over the other. “I’m guessing a lot of women are looking forward to their return.”
“They also have many among the male citizenry who admire their songs,” he revealed as he resumed his seat. He caught my eye with his own look of curiosity. “You might ask their leader about playing your flute.”
My lower jaw hit the floor. “A big-time singer like that? Why?”
“He’s apparently proficient in many musical instruments,” Ben revealed as he set the other folded paper on the table. “And it’s always a good idea to get the best teacher.”
“Can I afford the best teacher?” I wondered as I studied the emboldened typography.
Ben clasped his fingers together in front of him and smiled. “I may be willing to grant you a loan. At a reasonable rate, of course.”
I snorted. “Only an arm? Or do you want a leg with that, too?”
His bright eyes took on a slier expression as he studied me. “I might be forced to take the whole thing.”
A blush accented my cheeks, and I swatted his arm. “I’m not buying.”
He feigned a sigh and shrugged. “Then I suppose we’ll have to lean on his benevolence, though admittedly that may be hard to do.”
I lifted an eyebrow. “Why?”
Ben tapped a finger against the name. “Their leader is a known recluse. No one even knows what he looks like, as he wears a different mask for every performance.”
“That sounds like a lot of trouble.”
“He must make them himself, as well, as no one’s been able to trace their creator.”
A smile slipped onto my lips. “And I’m sure many a female fan has tried.”
He grinned and inclined his head to me. “Many.”
I tilted my head to properly read the band’s name. “So it doesn’t sound like we’d have much luck getting him to talk about the flute.”
Ben stood and offered me his hand. “Should that stop us from trying?”
I snorted and accepted his hand, wherein he drew me to my feet. “I suppose not, and what do we have to lose?”
At is turns out it was going to be more than a morning’s time as we strolled into a hair-raising adventure of ghouls, graveyards, and groupies.