Vultera drew a card between her talons and considered the details on the wax-coated paperboard. It featured the likeness of a human male, little more than skin and bone, crawling on his knees like an animal. Below it was a transcription in the old tongue, from a time before humanity had words of their own. After some thought she placed it upon the table and slid it toward her brother.
“I play my emaciated type,” she hissed, “and use ‘feral bite’, adding plus two to my speed.”
Her monstrous sibling snarled and laid a card of his own on the table. It featured a wide eyed human female wearing naught but rags, mouth gaping in horror with limbs frozen. “I play my hysterical type in the defensive position and use ‘flee for safety’,” Feareus said. “I have evaded your attack!”
Their back and forth went on for some time, playing cards in the shadows above the throne room, where echoes could not reach. Though known to their father, the two regarded the passage a secret, insofar as it belonged to them. None had appeared to challenge their claim, until that moment.
“What are you doing?” Fantom pressed.
The two snapped from their game and leered. “We’re playing Pocket Humans,” Vultera screeched. “Now begone from here, before we take our pick of your organs!”
Feareus stood over the intruder, ever the wall, ever the looming presence. Often Fantom wondered if the scale covered brute knew a language other than threats, as he also wondered if Feareus would ever act on them. It would prove more entertaining than his attempts at intimidation.
It was then that he noticed that Fantom was not alone, and that a pair of human legs hung over his shoulder. There was a familiar quality to her; one they had captured before in the eye of Wiseman’s crystal ball.
“What is that?” Yugel Leral grunted.
Vultera circled them both and lifted the hair from the girl’s face. “It’s her! The inheritor! The scion of the Great Vampire King! You’re mad to bring her here!”
“That is my business,” Fantom spat, and without hesitation pushed past his larger step-sibling.
The two watched him vanish into darkness, and dreaded what was to follow. It would have been one thing to take a human as a pet, but a human she was not; she was their inevitable destruction, and inside their home! Vultera shivered, as did her mountain of a brother.
“Father will hear about this!” she screeched.
Fantom droned in the darkness, unfazed. “I’m sure he will.”
For the better part of the morning Spike circled the belfry, eager to witness the transformation of her centuries old allies. What a shame it was for the little bat to be trapped in a bestial form, unable to enjoy the splendors of the new world. That, however, was her lot, and it didn’t do to complain.
No sooner had Cassius and Luther returned to the castle than she sensed their defeat. Gushing about their dashing modern fashions could wait. She fluttered around the sullen pair, following the Blue Fang as he crashed on the old leather sofa.
“What happened? Where’s Lindsay? Oh dear, I hope she isn’t hurt!”
“Fantom happened,” Cassius groaned.
Luther returned a moment later with a cold press happily accepted by his companion. “He took her, right after mopping the floor with Cassius and I.”
The admission caused them to wince more than any hurt a monster could dole out. Despite the inexperience of their Master the two were seasoned guardians. Neither were prepared for the inevitable confrontation.
“We should have known better,” Luther spat. He threw his fists into the air and paced. “The Great Vampire King would be ashamed of us!”
Cassius pulled himself up with a groan. “Now is not the time to wallow. We have a new mission; to find our Ma… to find Lindsay.”
“And where do you suppose we start looking?”
Spike landed atop the blackboard and turned it with her weight. She found a new perch and furrowed over the newly revealed map showing the topography of Crescent Valley and the surrounding mountains.
“There are miles of caves under the city,” she sighed. “Fantom could have taken her anywhere!”
“We won’t find anything if we don’t look,” Cassius said.
Luther frowned. “It could take us years.”
“All I need is a scent,” Cassius said, bleak as the prospect was.
Spike’s ears pointed to the ceiling and she froze in place. A moment later footsteps rattled the planks on the stairs, carrying Mr. Nowack into the newly refurbished belfry. He sang in greeting before stepping into the open, and near tripped upon catching sight of the newly polished surfaces.
Cassius and Luther stood at attention, giving themselves to politeness over pain.
The curator marvelled. “Did you do all of this yourselves?” Mr. Nowack stared up and turned, almost losing his balance. “To think, all this place needed was some spit and shine! Lindsay was right to bring you in as volunteers!”
“We’re glad to be of service,” Cassius said. As Mr. Nowack was Lindsay’s employer, he supposed it was right to aid the master of their Master.
He beamed at the two young men and adjusted his glasses. “I see you got a haircut!”
“Yes, sir,” Luther said. “At Mast… I mean Lindsay’s request.”
“Speaking of which, where is Lindsay? Her shift is about to start and she’s usually an hour early.”
Guilt dragged the vampires down. How could they ever explain? The truth of vampires was one thing; the evil they fought was another. Worse was their inability to protect the scion to whom they were loyal.
Luther tensed. “She’s…”
“Running an errand,” Cassius lied. “She’s going to be a while, I’m afraid.”
Mr. Nowack pouted in annoyance, but was quick to accept the fact. “Not like her to miss a shift. No matter. I used to run these tours by myself; I can do it one more time. Still, I would have liked the help.” He grinned at the fellows and waggled his eyebrows. “Of course we’ll be training you both to fill in soon, yes?”
“O-of course,” Luther stammered. The prospect of two real vampires pretending to be fake vampires as tour guides through the Great Vampire King’s castle was almost more than they could stomach.
He turned to leave, and not a moment too soon; but not before catching the purple bat perched nearby the chalkboard. Mr. Nowack adjusted his glasses and approached what he’d up until that point suspected was a sculpture.
“Is this the same statue I saw last time?” he asked.
Before Luther could guide him away the curator took hold of the bat and felt her weight in his arms. Spike remained perfectly malleable as he examined the elasticity of her wings, and twisted her limbs this way and that.
“It moves!” the old man remarked. “My goodness. What realism! If I didn’t know I would have sworn it was alive!”
But of course it wasn’t alive. A living thing would scream when he turned its limbs in such an awkward rotation. Cassius and Luther winced in sympathy until they were finally able to wrench the little bat from his hands.
“Thank you for stopping by,” Cassius said, guiding him to the stairs.
“Still an ugly thing, though,” Mr. Nowack continued. “No point in keeping it.”
After the struggle of ushering him away, Cassius retrieved the cold press and applied it to the little bat’s shoulders. She whined in Luthers arms and wrapped her wings around her torso.
“We’re sorry about that, Spike,” Luther said.
The little bat shook her head. “Don’t worry about me. Lindsay’s the one in danger. We need to find a way to track Fantom!”
She was right. Despite their wounds there were more important matters at hand. The two vampires set Spike down and started for the stairs. If it took days, weeks or months there was no time to waste being idle.
When Lindsay woke it was on a hard surface. The cold of the stone filled her chest. She pulled her arms tight in search of comfort, and opened her eyes to the dark. The single candle did little to reveal where she was, but gave shape to a figure sat crossed legged at the far side of the room. As her senses returned she could hear him chant; not in words so much, at least that she could recognize.
The stranger continued his ritual, utterly failing to acknowledge her in any way. Lindsay rose to her feet and inched toward him, and stopped upon bumping into an invisible wall. She frowned at the insubstantial obstacle and pressed her hand into it. Cold and numb ran through her digits, and filled them with pins and needles. Following the wall for its entire length Lindsay found that she was trapped in a tight space, ten feet wide at a guess.
Dread settled in her gut. The last thing she remembered was crawling on the ground before Fantom struck her. It was a lucky shot on his part, and one she was determined he’d never land again. On the other hand, he only needed one to make her a prisoner.
Her fists wailed against the invisible wall. “Hey!”
The evil monk, priest, whatever he was continued to ignore her, but not for long if she had her way.
“Hey! I’m talking to you! Don’t you know who I am? I’m the Red Fang, leader of Fang Force! I’m the scion of the Great Vampire King!”
“And what a poor excuse for a scion you are,” replied another voice.
Emerging from the shadows was a familiar face – or rather half face. The beast strolled by the seated figure, paying him no mind. He folded his hands in front of him and bowed.
“I mean no offense by that,” he said, “and do forgive Wiseman. He cannot hear you while performing the incantation, which is necessary to hold you while we chat.”
Lindsay wandered along the edge of the barrier and squinted to make sense of her captor. “Fantom?” she asked.
He bowed once more with hand over heart. “I am he.”
“And this is – what – a holding cell under your secret base?”
“Merely a convenient location within the labyrinthine halls I call home,” he explained. “And as I said, I only wish to talk.”
“You want to take over the world,” Lindsay said, “and I’m going to stop you. Good guy versus bad guy. Doesn’t seem like we have a lot to talk about.”
“Were it only so simple.”
Lindsay beamed. “Except that it is, and nothing you say will convince me any different.”
Fantom sighed and paced from one end to the other. She was a stubborn one; that much was certain. Perhaps he would have a simpler time grounding her into the dirt, but why take the risk so soon?
“You’re quick to accept the burden of your ancestor,” he mused. “Are you sure that this is your battle? After all, the only qualification you possess is blood. By following this path you’re sure to meet a premature end.”
Her fists balled tight by her sides. “Nobody else can do it, so I will.”
“How unfair it is that you should be dragged into our squabble.” There was no mocking or condescension in his tone, but nor was there sympathy. Fantom halted in front of Lindsay and faced her. In the flickering twilight his half mask smirked at her; his absent eyes threatened to swallow her whole.
Lindsay turned away. He was right about one thing; it was unfair. She was just one person, pulled by fate into the fight of her life. There were others more qualified, more prepared, but circumstances demanded that it was she who needed to step up. Whatever life she had needed to be sacrificed for her duty.
“One chance,” he said. “Walk away now and leave Fang Force to their fate. You can still live, Lindsay!”
“Is that supposed to be a real offer?” she spat.
Fantom’s mask turned. “Of course it’s a real offer. I may be a monster with no love of humanity, but I do believe in fairness.”
A laugh of surprise escaped Lindsay’s lips. “And how fair is world domination?”
“Fairer than you can know,” he said, and sighed. “I can see you need some time to think things over. For your sake, I hope you come to the right conclusion. You may not believe it, but we are capable of great mercy.”
The young woman pressed herself against the barrier, defying the sensation. “Tell you what. I’ll rethink Fang Force if you rethink taking over the world. Deal?”
Fantom turned away and vanished into the dark, leaving Lindsay alone in the cold. She rubbed her arms to generate friction, but it seemed nothing would warm her; not even the knowledge that Cassius and Luther were probably out there looking for her.
To be continued…