Lindsay was resolute. This, she decided, was a practical joke; or an elaborate new attraction Mr. Nowak put together without her knowing. She was the guinea pig, and that was fine – but Lindsay being Lindsay had to get her own back.
The alternative was too horrifying to think about. Real vampires, and the return of the Great Vampire King? No thanks. It made for better fiction than history.
An aluminum pail from the supply closet seemed a good weapon of choice. She lingered around a corner, just out of sight from the staircase.
There were voices in the bell tower; two men and a woman if she heard right. Were they the figures from the coffins? The lady wasn’t in fact a lady at all, but some kind of bat creature who spoke like an English teacher. A puppet, maybe? Maybe, she thought, it was remote-controlled.
Two gentlemen emerged from the staircase as though stepping from a period drama; a badly funded stage period drama with an amatuer wardrobe department. Their clothes were falling apart. The lace cuffs barely held to their stitching! If Lindsay didn’t know better, she’d swear their clothes were worn with age.
Both men sprinted down the opposite end of the hallway, leaving only the winged creature to worry about. With the pail held above her head Lindsay approached the staircase, step by careful step. The element of surprise was hers, but only if she was careful.
“Excuse me, miss.”
Lindsay turned on her heels. It was the purple bat! Where did she come from? She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came. The bat wailed, as though someone needed to fill the air. If she was a puppet, it was the most life-like Lindsay had ever seen.
She brought the pail crashing down, trapping the creature inside it. Fueled by panic Linsday sat on the underside of the bucket, pulled her legs closed, and shifted all her weight to keep grounded.
“Mr. Nowak,” she called. “Mr. Nowak, this isn’t funny anymore!”
A gentle tap dinged from the pail. “Excuse me, miss. I think there must be some mistake. If you’ll allow me to explain-”
Lindsay frowned. “You want me to let you out?”
“If you would be so kind,” the bat said.
But the young woman was having none of it. “If you think I’m going to let you drink my blood, then you’ve got another thing coming!”
She was surprised by the sound of disgust beneath her. “Drink your blood? Good golly, miss! What an imagination you have!”
Lindsay frowned deeper. “You’re a bat,” she said.
“Yes,” the creature told her.
“A vampire bat,” Lindsay continued.
“And vampire bats drink human blood,” she said. “I’m a human, and I like my blood just where it is. Ergo, I’m not letting you out from under that bucket.”
The creature was silent, as though considering her next words. “And how long do you plan on sitting here, miss?”
Lindsay considered her position. There were no windows in the corridor, so even if she did wait until dawn there would be no light to save her. And what if the creature’s friends came back in the meantime?
The bat broke the silence. “My name is Spike, by the way. How do you do?”
“Pleased to meet you, Spike,” Lindsay said, and only sort of meant it. Holding a prisoner under a bucket would be easier if she weren’t so darned polite.
It was a still night with no wind blowing beneath the trees. Cassius and Luther roamed the perimeter of the castle, careful not to come too near to the light; and there were many lights, fastened to the side of the building and connected by a thin pipe. They were fascinating, and though they were tentative in their approach the two men could not stay away.
Cassius sniffed the air. “It’s not gaslight,” he mused aloud.
“How do you know?”
“There’s no scent of kerosene,” he said. “In fact there’s not much of a scent at all. I don’t know what this is.”
They stared for longer than they should, and wondered what force in nature could cast such an ill hue. The light, which was not a fire of any kind, did not appear to breathe behind its glass-like casing. Lesser minds might have called it sorcery instead of the mundane ingenuity of the new world.
“What’s that noise it makes?” Luther asked. “Like fireflies.”
“Definitely not fireflies,” Cassius said. He drew back, and with him his companion. “We’ll have time for such things later. For now we have a duty to attend.”
The castle of the Great Vampire King provided some comfort, and fast became their anchor in a world of change. Great spires reached to the sky as they always had, though the stars beyond were dulled by the city. The exaggerated likeness of their Master, no doubt intended as homage, stood upon signs pointing to the amenities. Most curious of all was that which replaced the narrow path leading to the castle; a flat bed painted with simple geometric shapes. Nested between the lines was a large metal box with wheels like a carriage.
“Now what do you suppose this is,” Luther remarked.
His companion studied it for a moment. “I would say it’s a mobile storage unit of some kind.”
“Yes, but where do you attach the horses?”
Cassius pursed his lips. “They’ve surpassed the need for fire. Perhaps they’ve no longer use for horses, either.”
“A shame,” Luther sighed. “I rather like horses.”
“If you can stand the smell,” Cassius said. Even the thought stirred ill in his stomach. “Now come. We’ve yet to assess the coming danger.”
They needn’t have wandered much further to discover an aberration behind the treeline. Both stopped to inspect the environment with sight far surpassing what was capable of a human. There, skulking between the trunks was a mass moving gradually toward the castle. They made no attempt to hide themselves.
Cassius nodded. “Freaklings.”
Even legend dared not call into memory the foot soldiers of Lord Nihilex. Fashioned from dust and distilled malevolence, the creatures dubbed ‘freaklings’ were merciless in swarming through the old world. Their faces twisted, and true nature concealed in bandages and plate armor, few ever looked upon these beings and remained the same.
Both Cassius and Luther had faced them many times over, and did not relish their return. They took a defensive stance, never once breaking contact with the empty sockets of their foes.
“It’s not like Lord Nihilex to squander an opportunity,” Luther said, “but even I didn’t expect him this soon!”
Cassius snarled. “Whether sooner or later, he is destined to fail!”
In the heart of an arena known as a ‘parking lot’, the youthful vampires charged into battle. The freaklings were swift and strong, and wild with hate.
Dancing under their swipes, Cassius struck their knees from both front and behind. His raven hair fell from its ponytail, and flew across his still expression. One of the freaklings tore through the arm of his royal blue coat, and held it long enough to draw the warrior in. However, he had not trapped Cassius in his grasp as much as the vampire had primed him for a savage blow.
Nearby Luther held the freaklings at bay, deflecting them with biceps swollen like tree trunks. They swelled until his yellow sleeves were bursting. An enemy snatched a handful of his straw locks, only to be lifted from his feet with a single pull. Luther launched the foot soldier at his cohorts, bowling them over like pins. To the others he dealt punch after solid punch, shattering the freaklings from the inside out.
“We’ve been awake for all of an hour and already we’re fighting a war,” Luther moaned. “How long do you think we can keep this up?”
A cadre of freaklings dropped to the ground upon meeting Cassius’s roundhouse swipe. What moments he stole he used to count the number of his foes. They shifted over the forest floor by the dozens, maybe hundreds. Strong as they were, neither Cassius nor Luther could stand against an inexhaustible number.
Still they fought, and would continue until their last.
Lord Nihilex gazed into the crystal ball, and what he saw pleased him.
“Truly great was the Vampire King,” he mused. “What a pity the same cannot be said for his disciples!” The fact amused him so that the chamber was filled with his laughter. It echoed between stalactites, and carried with it the sound of doom.
Had ‘Wiseman’ any thoughts he did not share them. He remained silent, as was his way. Combing over the crystal ball he maintained an eye that could see over great distances, to where a meager two stood alone against the forces of darkness.
“Look at them,” Lord Nihilex said. “Without a leader from which to draw strength they’re like scarecrows; intimidating from a distance, but ineffectual up close.”
He laughed and he laughed, and as he did choked down a bitter wine soured by the ages. Then he laughed some more. Victory was at hand!
Though Wiseman held his feelings at bay, Fantom dared to scoff aloud.
Lord Nihilex set down his second bottle with a thud and marched across the floor . Though shorter than his step-son by a significant margin, the conqueror’s power loomed over the boy.
“Do you have something you wish to say, Fantom?”
The correct answer, at least for Lord Nihilex, was ‘no.’ Fantom, however, had his own truth and was not afraid to speak it.
“Don’t you feel this celebration is… premature?” he asked.
The nerve of him! The sheer gall! Lord Nihilex snorted steam from whichever corner concealed his nostrils. He stormed across the room, feet striking the ground on furious little legs, and then he stormed back. The would-be ruler lifted to the tips of his toes, and bore shark-teeth at the ingrate.
“What I ‘feel’,” he explained, “is that the fall of my most hated enemy will restore your mother, Queen Lacuna!”
Fantom folded his arms. “And that one pithy skirmish is all it will take?”
For the second time in as many hours a glove struck his cheek; something that Fantom was determined to not become accustomed. He shifted into the corner in time with his step-father’s advance, and readied himself to wear another slew of threats.
“You do not speak to me of your mother,” he fumed, “and you do not presume to know matters of my own court! Do you understand, boy?”
‘Boy’ – a term weaponised against him, designed to make Fantom seem immature and impetuous. To call it a severe projection of his step-father’s shortcomings was more than understatement, yet Fantom had better things in mind than arguing the point.
“Yes, Lord Nihilex.”
The stout conqueror pulled away, and as he marched from the throne room snatched the second wine bottle he’d prepared. He turned in the direction of Queen Lacuna’s chambers and took a swig of the liquid. He had no need for a goblet.
Fantom nursed the swelling under his mask. He turned to Wiseman, who did not regard him at all. The silence seemed conspiratorial, and filled him with disgust.
To be continued…