Of all the joys to the twenty-first century, there are none greater than coffee and fresh cinnamon donuts. Though it wasn’t until she was halfway up the castle steps before Lindsay wondered if vampires liked either. Did they need to eat at all? Other than blood, that is. She discarded the thought as too gruesome before breakfast and pushed on with the power of caffeine.
Lindsay bounded into the clock tower – steaming paper bag in one hand, a tray of cups in the other – and was overcome. Two days was all it took for a pair of vampires and a little bat to perform a miracle.
The first time she entered the belfry it was musty, dark and strewn with cobwebs. All that seemed like a bad dream. Crates had been replaced by polished wood furniture and high backed leather chairs, which made a good home on the new planks they’d set. Even the inside of the clock face was wiped clean, along with the bell overhead that reflected the morning light.
She almost dropped their breakfast – almost.
“You guys did all of this?”
Cassius and Luther emerged from hiding. Both had their hair pulled back and were wearing aprons. Their lace cuffed shirts, however, were still in tatters, and only the worse after all their work.
“You seem surprised,” Luther said with a smirk.
Lindsay stared to the rooftops and turned, almost losing her balance in wonder. No corner remained untouched. Even the roof tiles had a new sheen.
“Can I get you guys to clean my apartment?”
“If you so will it,” Cassius said. Lindsay may have been joking, but he was not.
Their conversation was cut short by the mounted chalkboard rolling on wheels across the open floor. Spike muttered through the pad and pencil in her teeth, and and flapped her wings to bring the board to a halt. With a flick of her neck she threw the stationary at Lindsay’s feet, and exposed her tiny fangs with a smile.
“Welcome, Miss Lindsay. I’m glad you could come.”
The young woman retreated into a grin. “That’s my job, isn’t it? ‘Scion of the Great Vampire King’ and all that. Love what you’ve done with the place, by the way. Oh, and I brought you all breakfast! Hope you like coffee and donuts.”
Both Cassius and Luther flew to her side, like children eager to partake in her gifts. She offered the bag to the straw haired vampire while the other sniffed at the drink tray with approval.
“I haven’t had coffee in over two hundred years!” Luther hummed, pulling a cup from the container. “Thank you, Master!”
“You don’t have to call me ‘Master’. Lindsay is fine,” she said.
Cassius raised an eyebrow. “Is that an order?”
What a strange question, Lindsay thought. Very formal. “Um, sure,” she continued, shaking her head.
The dark haired vampire straightened himself to enunciate the name. “Lindsay.”
“Lindsay,” Luther echoed.
“Lindsay,” Cassius echoed again.
The two bounced her name back and forth until it lost all meaning. Coming from them it sounded wrong, even to the one who owned it. Lindsay pulled away, and back to the little bat perched on the blackboard.
“Give them some time to become accustomed,” Spike assured her. Exuberant as this talking animal was she held a great deal of knowledge, or seemed to given the way she spoke. “Now, are you ready for your first lesson?”
Lindsay set the foodstuffs down and pulled a chair in front of the blackboard. She picked up the notepad and pencil from the ground, and held it against her folded leg. There was much to learn, especially if she was to take the place of the Great Vampire King.
“Before we begin, is there anything you would like to ask?”
Though it’d been a few years since she’d graduated high school, Lindsay raised her hand without a thought. “Yeah, two things. I was surprised when I saw you awake in the daytime. I thought sunlight and vampires were a bad mix.”
“It is true, though only for unliving vampires,” Spike informed her. “Cassius, Luther and myself are living vampires.”
Lindsay tilted her head. “Living… vampires?”
“The monsters you’ve heard about in stories are vampires who are no longer alive,” Cassius said. “Their animated forms contain no soul, and so they are susceptible to natural light.”
“It happens to all of us,” Luther continued, “but we’re about six or seven hundred years from that.”
Everything Lindsay knew changed in an instant. Living vampires and unliving vampires; that would go far when trying to explain sightings of the Great Vampire King during the day, and why history books defied the legends surrounding him.
The young woman scribbled in her notepad with a frown. “Is it going to happen to me?”
Both men shifted in their seats, only remembering that they were not a part of the lesson.
“It’s best not to think about it,” Cassius muttered, and drew another swig of coffee.
Though it defied all laws of aerodynamics, Spike flapped in place, and with the chalk held between the claws of her toes she wrote the first point in neat, cursive script. It read:
1. Living vampires do not fear the daylight.
“So whenever Lord Nihilex strikes, day or night, Fang Force will be free to respond,” the little bat said. “Now, you had a second question, didn’t you?”
Lindsay nodded. “The other thing about vampires is their compulsion to feed. Do living vampires drink blood?”
The room fell with a collective groan. Lindsay looked around, confused. It was an important question, wasn’t it?
“Come on. We’re eating over here,” Luther muttered, shoved a half donut between his lips, and licked the cinnamon sugar from his thumb. At the very least living vampires liked donuts.
Spike didn’t answer out loud. Rather she fluttered in the air and scrawled a second point beneath the first. It read:
2. Living vampires prefer not to drink blood.
She settled on her perch and composed herself. “It’s true that we have the ability to metabolise hemoglobin,” she began, “but many of us would rather avoid it given that we may feed by… other means.”
“By ‘other means’ you don’t mean hitting up a Colossal Burger off the highway,” Lindsay said.
The little bat offered a polite chuckle and took refuge behind her wings. A moment later Luther was standing by the blackboard wearing a boyish grin and a twinkle in his eye. He reached down, and gently lifted the notepad from the girl’s hands.
“Living vampires have a more delicate way to draw life energy from a host,” he said. “With your permission, Lindsay, I would be happy to demonstrate.”
There was something about him, something that she’d not noticed before that set her stomach at ill ease. It wasn’t disgust; no, Luther was as beguiling a man as she’d ever known. He leaned closer, placing his arm over Lindsay’s and pressing his weight on the back of her chair. His lips parted. They never touched, but she could taste his warmth.
“Would you stop that?” Cassius huffed.
Luther pulled away and frowned. “Do you mind? I was showing the Master how we feed.”
“Lindsay,” she reminded him, though it hardly seemed to matter. Her heart beat out of control.
Cassius pulled his companion away from the young woman. “Not like that, you don’t. Lindsay, I’m sure Luther would like to apologize for his presumptiveness.”
She giggled. She couldn’t help it. “I… I didn’t mind…”
“What my dear friend failed to tell you is that living vampires can draw energy from the breath of their host,” Cassius said. “And while doing so requires one to share intimate space – much like a near-kiss – the act itself is not… romantic.” He shot the other vampire a knowing look.
Lindsay shook her head. “I still don’t understand.”
The raven haired gentleman pursed his lips and set upon his knees. “Then perhaps I should demonstrate, just to make my meaning clear. I simply come in like this…” He leaned closer, and Lindsay to him, causing him to back away. “Not too close, mind! Then you part your lips… exhale…”
A sudden wing blew between them and knocked Cassius onto his backside.
“Righto! She more than understands,” Spike sang, and flew back to the board to scrawl another point. It read:
3. Living vampires sustain themselves on the breath of the living.
The student cleared her throat and shot upright in her chair. Meanwhile, the other two peeled away. It was as though nothing ever happened; though the burning in their collective cheeks said otherwise.
“Does this mean Lord Nihilex is an unliving vampire?”Lindsay asked.
“Lord Nihilex is no vampire,” Spike intoned. “He and Queen Lucuna are children of the Void; born in darkness, and given shape by fear and despair. They are the most ancient of evils, as old as humanity itself.”
She should have been afraid, for what the little bat described was more than just words. Instead Lindsay blinked, failing to imagine what the greatest of all nightmares might actually look kike. She shrugged with an apologetic look.
“I guess you had to be there,” Spike sighed.
“She’ll know soon enough,” Cassius said. “It’s only a matter of time before Lord Nihilex rears his head, and Fang Force charge into action.”
“But not in those clothes,” Linsday said.
The vampire peered down to inspect his person. White shirt, puffed sleeves, lace cuffs and cravat, vest and trousers coupled with silk stockings, and shoes with ornate buckles. Why, he appeared the very height of fashion.
“I agree they could do with some repair and some starch,” he said.
Lindsay’s grin curled to the corners of her mouth. “Sorry, boys. The Jane Austen look has got to go. Cass, Luther, we’re going into town for a makeover!”
The two youthful men regarded each other with confusion. Whatever this twenty-first century ritual, it was certain to cause discomfort.
For all the hours of his waking, and many through which he slept, Lord Nihilex remained at his wife’s bedside. He pined for her through the cascading vale, and fed his touch through her clawed fingertips. The world in which he lived was lacking, not simply because of Fang Force’s opposition, but because it turned without Queen Lucuna’s malevolent influence.
So taken was he that the presence of two others escaped his notice. The first was the shape of a woman covered in dark feathers whose face was concealed by a pointed helmet. To her side was a monumental figure coated in scales, also garbed in the same decorated armor typical of his family.
They stood a cautious distance before the bed, and when the woman spoke it was with some hesitation. “Any news of mother?”
Lord Nihilex lifted to his feet and approached the pair. Where he had disdain for Queen Lucuna’s other child, for them he held affection. His arms wrapped around the shoulders of the two, and pulled them close.
“Vultera, my daughter,” he said, “and Feareus, my son. I am glad to see you, but your mother is yet to complete her resurrection. The chaos and discord of this realm are not yet enough to sustain her.”
“Then we shall go into the world to spread darkness and misery,” the larger child growled. This earned a rare chuckle from his conqueror father.
“That responsibility falls to Fantom,” he said. “Should that ungrateful brat prove equal to the task of reviving our queen, only then will he be the equal of our family.”
“He should be thankful for the opportunity,” Vultera screeched.
Feareus nodded. “You’re being too generous, Father.”
“Perhaps.” Lord Nihilex bent down, once more returning to his bedside vigil. “But your mother would never forgive me were it not so. After all, Fantom is her son.” A fact that caused bile to rise in his throat.
There were no secrets to be kept in the royal chambers; not when echoes carried whispers to every corner. What resentments Fantom’s step father held were the least mysterious of all, as were the feelings of the ‘true’ inheritors of the throne. Had Fantom a confidante of his own they would no doubt find his disdain mirrored their own.
Though it mattered not. So long as he and Lord Nihilex were unified in their mission the two would remain allies, for nothing was so important as Queen Lucuna’s return to the world. There was little he would not endure in her name; even suffering the humiliation of his mother’s husband.
“Hope you got a master plan, or Father’s gonna be angry,” Vultera screeched.
Fantom halted, then stared into the faces of Lord Nihilex’s most favored. Though they shared physical similarities through their lineage, Fantom often wondered if anything else gave them commonality. Though they appeared frightening, at least by human standards, neither of Nihilex’s children had been sharpened by training or combat. The source of their power was in their father’s name alone.
“I would advise you remove yourselves from my path,” he said, “unless you plan to aid me in Fang Force’s destruction.”
Feareus moved forward, so close that the nose of Fantom’s mask pressed into his chest. The elder sibling did not move, nor did he allow himself to succumb to provocation. More the pity for Feareus, it seemed, who shuffled around the unmoving warrior and onto his quarters.
Vultera followed suit, only turning to hiss at her step-brother.
What pointless grandstanding, Fantom thought, and abandoned it for more important matters. Of course he had designs on Fang Force’s downfall, and in turn the chaos needed to revive his mother. Best not to speak them out loud, however, lest there be some confounding factor to work against him.
To be continued…