Spending the better part of her lifetime lingering around the castle left no corner with which Lindsay was unfamiliar, except one; the belfry of the clock tower, which was deemed off limits long before Mr. Nowak was appointed curator. “It’s out of respect for the Great Vampire King that we don’t enter the clock tower,” he’d once told her. “Besides, the mystery is half the fun!”
This mystery, Lindsay decided, was not fun at all. The higher she scaled, the deeper the ill harmony that stirred with every strike of the bell. What she’d mixed on her computer for the tour groups paled in comparison to the hollow, gruesome knell. Yet she pressed on, determined to know the origin of the sound.
At the highest point of the tower was a wooden door, rotted and crumbling. What was once well protected with a solid beam was brittle with age, and barely held together under the brutal vibrations of the bell. The sound on the other side was deafening, but Lindsay resolved to see what started it all. One strong kick was all she needed to collapse the handle, sending the door swinging on its hinges.
Then the ringing stopped. All was silent, and the bell hanging overhead still. Had she dreamed it?
Lindsay probed the dusty room with tentative steps. Moonlight shone through the clock face, illuminating the shape of chests and crates. Between them ran a network of cobwebs in which spiders made their home. Just the thought sent a chill down her skin.
“Okay, this is a new level of creepy,” Lindsay said to nobody. “Good one, Mr. Nowak!”
It was then that she noticed that something was terribly wrong. Lindsay turned to the clock face. Where once the hands were frozen askew at one minute to midnight they were now perfectly aligned. If the stories were to be believed, it was the sign of evil’s return.
A sudden creak stopped her heart, and another made it jump. On either side of the room were two long boxes. The lids fell to the floor with a thud, and from each emerged a human figure; one whose silhouette shimmered with the blue and silver of his Victorian suit, and the other with yellow and gold. They couldn’t be real vampires, could they? The manner in which their eyes glowed removed all doubt.
She should have run; she should have screamed in terror, but Lindsay’s calves refused to bend. Everything she’d heard was true. The Great Vampire King was not just a story, but prophecy, leading to the night of his return.
This night. Tonight.
Just then a clear and well enunciated voice echoed through the rafters. “My word, that was quite a sleep! How long have we been out? One hundred years – two? Any more than that and my fur becomes unmanageable.”
The owner of the voice descended to reveal her inhuman form. It comprised of leather wings and tall, pointed ears. Her shape landed upon one of the boxes, and there she began to groom herself. After a quiet moment, she turned to Lindsay.
“Oh. Hello there!”
It was enough of a shock to break Lindsay from her trance; to bring air back to her lungs and prompt her feet into action. Screaming at the highest volume she could muster, the young tour guide sprinted from the belfry, and leapt down the stairs three at a time. Anything to get away from the monsters!
Ducking around a corner, she fell to the ground and caught her breath. Nothing about what she’d seen seemed real, and yet there was no mistaking the scene in front of her. Someone had to do something, even if that someone was her.
Lindsay’s heart dropped in her chest. Her wish to meet the Great Vampire King wasn’t all she hoped it would be.
Running counter to the light, and on the other side of darkness, is an energy known only to residents of the Abyssal Realm. Cool licks, like fire’s estranged cousin, gave definition to the marble floor, and climbed the steps to the throne. Lord Nihilex regarded his surroundings with a sage nod. Though not as ‘grandiose’ as he would have liked, it would serve him well; at least for the moment.
More pressing matters awaited him in the wings. He stomped with purpose. For centuries he’d waited, until at last he saw her, lying beneath a veil on a bed the size of the chamber. Her head lay propped on a hill of cushions; her breathless black lips parted before waking. Lord Nihilex fell to one knee and claimed her digits. Each was white as bone bleached under the sun, and like those bones idle and without life.
Were he able to weep Lord Nihilex would have done so. He drawled through the layers of tendrils that comprised his face.
“My Queen,” he moaned. “My love! The time of destruction is at hand. Why have you not returned with us?”
So invested was he in mourning that he did not hear the slow shuffle of feet in the entrance. There stood Wiseman, equally solemn, concealed beneath the rags that had become a part of him. Were he nervous to betray his presence it did not show. When he rasped it was with absolute necessity.
“Hers was only a partial resurrection,” he said. “My Lord, this world is rife with darkness and chaos. However, our Queen requires a more concentrated tribute to come into her power.”
Lord Nihilex paused.
“Chaos?” he said.
His thoughts turned to a bygone era; to an age where the earth split and fire filled the skies. The seas boiled, and famines ravaged the land. All around was dirt and ash, so thick that it blotted out the sun. There was resistance, such as it was, each attempt more desperate and foolhardy than the last; and none dispatched them with such ferocity as Queen Lacuna.
What could have been a sigh emanated as a growl. To think on those days brought longing to Lord Nihilex. What cruel fate it was for great lovers to be divided by oblivion, only to revive one and prolong their reunion. Were there any god responsible Lord Nihilex would have cursed them, but his focus remained solely on his Queen’s side.
In his devotion Lord Nihilex was unaware that the owner of a deep, handsome voice had entered the chamber. “Then we shall bring them chaos,” he said. “We shall bring destruction, in such quantity that our Queen shall leap from her bed!”
The stout Lord turned with a deftness unusual for one of his stature. He lashed out with claws of glistening obsidian, only to be stopped short by the intruder’s scabbard. The two men held fast, locked in a stalemate, and only broke with the acknowledgement of the other’s strength.
“This is my Queen’s chamber,” he seethed. “You have no right to be here!”
“She is my mother,” the other said, “and though you and I do not share blood, we are by her eternally bound.”
It was a bitter fact, though true. For all his arrogance and bluster Fantom remained the apple of his Queen Lacuna’s eye. How did she stand him? Perhaps it was a love that only a mother could understand; and as such was the only reason Lord Nihilex tolerated his presence.
More than any other Fantom projected nobility, standing tall with his half-masked nose turned high. Dark, saturated hair fell over the void on the unconcealed part of his features. His body was adorned with asymmetrical plates, stolen from the hides of great beasts. It was all he could do to appear as one of them, distinct from wretched humanity.
“We should strike now before our enemy wakes,” Fantom declared. “Fang Force has been diminished, and they’ve yet to discover the scion of the Great Vampire King!”
Lord Nihilex turned, sharply. “You know this to be true?”
“An assumption,” Fantom said, “but a safe one. The Great Vampire King is gone from this world, and it will take time to uncover-”
A sharp hand collided with Fantom’s cheek. It’s claws ripped at his mask, and took him off balance. Lord Nihilex bellowed beside his sleeping bride. “Then you know nothing! Do not speak to me again with your- your- ill-conceived plans!”
Fantom reeled and returned with words seething his tongue. They were quieted, however, when Wiseman stepped between them and parted his rags. From it emerged a silver ball, shimming with the reflection of something distant. Images curled into more coherent shapes; of a clock tower and two figures emerging from coffins.
“He is right, Lord Nihilex,” the sage croaked. “At present Fang Force are few, and though our forces are meager, they are more than enough to crush them.”
The shadowy patriarch stared into the sphere and stroked his tentacle-laden chin. To think that there was only the two of them, overtired from centuries of rest, and without a master to guide them. Though Fantom was impetuous, it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity.
“Assemble a battalion,” Lord Nihilex commanded. “We crush them immediately!”
“With you leading?” asked Fantom.
Lord Nihilex hesitated, and knelt back to his wife’s bedside. “No,” he said. “Someone must stay and attend Lacuna… until she wakes.” He took her spindly fingers between his own and gave a gentle squeeze. “You, Fantom, will lead this assault, and prove why your mother insists on your presence!” Though he doubted it. Even a child could win this campaign.
“Yes, my Lord.”
Fantom stilled his breathing, quieted his resentment, and held a fist to his chest. So long as Queen Lacuna had Lord Nihilex for a husband, Fantom’s loyalty would be to him also.
The last thing Cassius remembered was closing his eyes as the coffin lid closed upon him. Then, after what seemed like no time at all, he sneezed balls of dust over the frills of his shirt. He shook the layers of cobwebs from his face and pressed his way to the open. Each joint cracked as he moved, saturated in cold after too long a sleep. When he rose it was to the inside face of the clock tower with both hands pointing to twelve.
Cassius stared at the moonlit face and slowly turned to his surroundings. The air was musty, as the room was likely sealed while he rested. The wooden beams showed their age, as did the rust between the gears. Considering that he was older than the castle Cassius wondered how he compared.
Climbing from his bed proved a meaner feet than anticipated, and as a result he lifted his legs one at a time by hand. After a few wooden steps he discovered balance, and slowly, deliberately, moved through the stiffness in his bones.
Somewhere in the rafters came a voice, light and lyrical. He called to it. “Spike? Is that you?”
A sudden creak drew him to a second coffin, and the ne’er-do-well that occupied it the last century. Though the embroidery on his coat had started to fray and his vest lost more than a few buttons he appeared in good shape; still a young man, wide and robust, just as he was before. Cassius offered him a hand and pulled him to his feet.
The other man, whose name was Luther, groaned. “What time is it?”
“Half past the twentieth century,” Cassius said without humor, “give or take.”
“Twenty first, actually,” came the voice of a woman Cassius heard before.
With a nearby clack the room was flooded with light. Old bulbs cast the room in amber to reveal a bat creature with purple fur, perched on the side of the room. She fluttered her leather wings, dispersing the motes of dust in the air, and sat herself on the back of an old chair.
“We had a visitor,” she said.
Cassius and Luther blinked at her.
“I just had the most dreadful encounter with a young woman,” the bat explained. “She seemed pleasant enough, but ran off screaming when I tried to introduce myself!”
“I didn’t hear anything,” Luther said. “I must have had dust in my ears.”
Cassius frowned in a manner more subtle than most. Some mightn’t have noticed him to emote at all.
“Well, it’s good to see you both up and about,” the bat said.
Luther frowned. “I wish I could say the same. If we’re awake that means that evil has returned to this world. We’ve got the fight of our lives if it’s just the three of us against Lord Nihilex.”
“Four,” Cassius said. “We’ll also have the scion of the Great Vampire King at our side.”
“We just need to find them first,” Luther said.
The whined and curled under her wings. “If only we had some idea of where to look! He could be anywhere! Or… or she could be anywhere! Or who knows, even they could be anywhere!”
“It’s alright,” Luther said, scratching her fur. “We’ll have all the time we need.”
“And if Lord Nihilex attacks in the meantime, we’ll hold him off,” Cassius said with certainty in his stone features.
The furred creature straightened her wings and cleared her throat. “Of course! Because together we are Fang Force! So long as we’re together no evil can stand against us!”
Luther smiled a roguish smile. “That’s right!”
“Now,” the bat said, wondering aloud, “if I were the twenty-first century scion of the Great Vampire King, where would I be?”
“Do we even know anything about the twenty-first-”
Cassius drew his companion back before having the chance to finish. “While you search, Luther and I wil check for signs of Lord Nihilex’s return,” he said. “It would be unwise to be caught off-guard.”
The little bat nodded and charged toward her mission, down the stairs and to the main interior of the castle. At least one of them was ready for action.
Luther stopped in the middle of the room and inspected his attire. It may have been dusty, but appearance was no doubt as important in the present as it was back in his day. Surely an embroidered yellow coat and satin tights were as fetching as they ever were.
Cassius was halfway to the door before he noticed Luther’s preening.
“What are you doing?”
The dusty youth twisted back and forth to catch every facet of his person. “Am I still… fashionable?” he asked.
Cassius grimaced. “That’s not important right now,” he said, then thought better of it. In equal turn Cassius inspected his own attire. “Am I?”
“Perhaps we will be tomorrow, after some repair and an appointment with the washboard.”
The two descended the stairs into the castle. There were more urgent matters than finery, after all.
To be continued…