Once Lindsay scoffed at Lord Nihilex, because she’d been lucky. She’d never been touched by evil personified; never felt its needles tear her from the inside out. She cried out, though her sounds were lost in the darkness, fading in the course a thousand tunnels.
Lindsay clutched her chest, as though to do so would keep her together. What little defiance she had ebbed by the second. Moments dragged for eternity. She convulsed, no longer aware of her surroundings; only the supernatural power that wrenched the life from her.
The torture ceased, but not by the mercy of Lord Nihilex. The taste of copper dominated her senses. Lindsay lifted her head, and through the haze could swear to seeing Fantom on his knees facing away from her. It was hard to tell in the dark. More curious still were the licks of smoke rising from his chest, same as it did from her jacket.
Lord Nihilex snatched Fantom by the collar and lifted him to his feet. Weren’t they on the same side?
“I’ve had enough of your insolence,” the conqueror snapped. “Stand in my way again and you’ll share her fate!”
Lindsay could barely make sense fo the words. Only one thing mattered, and that was to escape. She crawled across the rock and pushed into the barrier. It pushed back, filling her arms with the same pins and needles as before, but she wouldn’t give in. She wouldn’t survive a second assault.
Where were they others? Fang Force were a team, yet she was alone. With Blue Fang and Yellow Fang at her side she could pull through, but they were far, far away. If she called them, would they come?
The conflict raged between Lord Nihilex and Fantom – something about a queen or a mother or something else Lindsay couldn’t follow. It didn’t matter.
“My Lord, she could be of great use to us,” Fantom pleaded.
Lindsay shook her head. She needed to focus. It took all that she had, but at last she found them in her mind’s eye; her vampire companions, roaming the mountainside in search of her. She bowed her head and smiled. They hadn’t given up. Whether it was her imagination or not it didn’t matter.
“Cass… Luther… I need you,” she gasped with words that reached across space.
The vision of her companions stopped in their tracks. They searched for her voice. Could they really hear her? Lindsay called again, this time with an authority that superseded mortal bounds.
“Cassius! Luther! Help!”
Were they her words alone they may have been nothing, but Lindsay had something else on her side; the power of the Great Vampire King.
Both Lord Nihilex and Fantom regarded her with caution. The young woman stared into the dark, grinning in their direction.
“You guys are in for it now…”
For miles they searched, high and low, with no sign of Lindsay. Each dead end tightened their resolve. Neither would rest until the Master was found.
“Do you think she’s alright?” Luther asked.
Cassius pressed his nose to the dirt and frowned. “I’m trying not to think about it.”
“That’s probably for the best.”
They came upon the lower end of a slope covered in foliage and dry needles. There were no tracks, at least from the unliving. Then again they needn’t wander by foot, not when they could rip portals open in the air itself.
An ill feeling churned in Luther’s stomach, and burned at the back of his throat. Each passing moment gave over to doubt. Would they be left without a Master for a second time? The possibility haunted him.
Just then was a gust of wind, and on it a whisper. It carried a familiar voice.
“Did you hear that?” Luther asked.
Cassius’s ears pricked. It was no illusion; it was Lindsay, calling to them, but from where? The stopped and they listened, poised to sprint when they next heard a sound.
When it came it wasn’t as a whisper, but a crisp command leading them down a shadowy path. It resonated in their chests, and pulled them. Neither Cassius nor Luther resisted the call, and with all the haste they could muster bounded in the direction of the underground.
“We strike hard, and we strike fast,” Cassius declared.
Luther’s grin returned. “Just try and stop me!”
Lord Nihilex continued his assault. The Red Fang had to be destroyed once and for all. The legacy of the Great Vampire King had to end!
Though her body faltered, Lindsay better withstood the licks of dark energy. It burrowed into her bones and pressed inside her skull until her eyes felt like bursting, but still she smiled. The odds were against her, but the young tour guide held fast. This time she wasn’t alone.
“You are an ant,” Lord Nihilex bellowed. “You are nothing!”
She rolled onto her back and cackled through the pain, tears streaming. “I guess… nothing’s got you… really worked up, huh!”
Lord Nihilex did not laugh. Fresh destruction jolted from his fingertips, blacker than deepest absence, to rend her apart a thousand tiny pieces at a time.
The cavern yawned into infinity, and with a cold gust inhaled in anticipation. The ground rumbled like the turn of a belly until it exploded with freaklings and dust. Something was coming; something powerful, something fast. Those somethings were Cassius and Luther, not at all slowed by the dark.
Both the conqueror and his step-son boggled at the two young men. “Who are you supposed to be?” Lord Nihilex bellowed.
Fantom hummed. “Don’t you see? These are the Fang Force acolytes. They’ve altered their hair and fashion.”
Their night sensitive eyes fixed on their enemies, and beyond them their Master. She was laid on the floor, snatching what relief she could, but couldn’t help beam at the sound of their voices. The vampires stood side by side and prepared to charge.
“It’s called a ‘makeover’,” said Cassius, “which you’ve needed for centuries, Fantom!”
“Let’s alter a few more things while we’re here,” Luther said.
The vampires weaved between the conqueror’s blasts, taking full advantage of the space. When one would draw fire the other would strike, driving the dark one back, further into the void.
Luther raced to his Master, only to be met by the unseen barrier. He pressed his hands against it, but it did not give.
Lindsay rolled to her side. “It’s the wizard,” she groaned. “Some kind of… force field.”
All the while the gaunt sage chanted, the vision of composure, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. No amount of distraction could sway Wiseman from his task, making him the ideal servant. They would need a more direct method of breaking his concentration.
No sooner did he move toward him than Luther was laden with the full brunt of Lord Nihilex’s power. He planted his feet, resisting the evil energy with a strength that was his alone. The mop-haired vampire grit his teeth and pressed back.
“Get… Wiseman,” he wheezed. When Fantom added his own power to the assault Luther turned red with strain, scraping whatever remnants of will he could muster.
Cassius struck the ancient mystic. He felt no pang of remorse when his fist landed with a crack, and did not hesitate to deliver a knockout blow to the vulnerable body.
No sooner than Wiseman was unconscious than a rush of air moved through the cavern. Lindsay climbed to her knees, only to find her path unencumbered. Freedom at last!
Fantom turned with a battle cry and directed his scimitar toward the vampire in blue. What he did not expect was a sideways kick from his former prisoner, thrusting him out of their path.
Luther doubled back from Lord Nihilex’s rain and fell in line with the others. Though worn down and injured, the three gathered their resolve. Together there was nothing that could stop them.
“Ready?” Linsday asked. She clutched her crucifone tight.
Cassius and Luther did the same.
They dialled the numbers 6-6-6, and the three called as one.
“Red Fang!” cried Lindsay.
“Blue Fang!” called Cass.
“Yellow Fang!” declared Luther.
The transformation was instant. Rolling mist fell over them, bestowing upon them the uniforms of Fang Force; each wearing the sigil of the bat, wolf and beetle respectfully, and a velvet red cape over one shoulder. In this state they shared a strength equal only to the Great Vampire King.
A rush of detail filled Lindsay’s visor, offering a first glance into the empty room. There she saw Fantom, and for the first time her torturer. She reeled in the face of him.
“I guess you’re ugly on the inside and the outside,” she laughed.
Insulting Lord Nihilex wasn’t the smartest choice, but Lindsay couldn’t pass on the chance. First impressions mattered, and more than anything she wanted a barb living under his skin.
“Insolent whelp!” he roared.
Before he had the chance to lash out Fang Force leaped to the sky, and by the power of their fists revealed the path to the outside world. Daylight broke into this forbidden place. Now was the time to destroy it all.
On the other side of the mountains and away from Crescent Valley rests a long, dust covered plain. The ground burst open, and from it spilled Fang Force, Fantom, and more freaklings than either could count. It was the ideal battle ground, free of any bystanders, waiting for their arrival.
Fang Force landed together with Blue and Yellow gathered around their Master. Even hurt, they were never so strong as when they stood side by side. Lindsay placed hands on the shoulders of her companions.
“It’s good to have you back, Master!”
Lindsay chuckled under her helmet. “We’ll work on that later. We’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
Fantom considered his surroundings. Lord Nihilex was nowhere to be seen, nor was Wiseman. In a sea of unliving minions he was alone, no doubt by design. It seemed only typical that he should be burdened with the lion’s share, and with no credit for his accomplishments thus far.
The warrior moved through the freaklings, who parted for him without thought. He ran his glove along the length of his blade. It was as thirsty as ever, and eager to serve now negotiations were done.
Red Fang glared at him through her visor. In the light of day he seemed less of a threat, but appearances were often deceiving. After all, he’d taken her once already.
Lifting his nose high, Fantom peered across the makeshift battlefield. “You can still walk away,” he called. “It’s not too late for you, Lindsay. You are not the Great Vampire King; only his heir. You owe him nothing!”
Yellow Fang leaped forward. “What do you know of it, monster?”
Lindsay held him back. “You’re right, Fantom. I’m not the Great Vampire King, but I am his descendant. I could run, but who would that help? Guys like you need to be stopped, so that’s what I’ll do!”
Her companions pumped their fists in muted celebration. Fantom huffed among the chittering freaklings.
“Then you’ve chosen your fate,” he observed.
Red Fang bore her claws. “I guess I have.”
“Let it not be said I denied you mercy.” Fantom pounced. “Now you will fall!”
There was no longer any reason to hold back. Whatever scheme he’d hatched was in ruin. Now, with a violent wind at his back the villain brought his blade down. If he couldn’t wittle Fang Force down with persuasion he would have to rely on power. The blow, however, never landed.
Yellow Fang clapped his hands around the blade. The vampire’s strength proved more than a match for the shadow-born general.
A high kick landed from Red Fang, and a low swipe from Blue Fang, sending Fantom stumbling back to the front line of freaklings. He nursed his shame and scolded the creatures for being idle.
“Attack, you fools!”
The freaklings poured like a tidal wave and lashed at the heroes. There was no grace to their movements, as opposed to the trio of vampires who moved through them as though dancing in the wind.
Yellow Fang pressed his back to Red Fang, and together they swatted a closing circle of monsters. He smiled under his mask. “You’re a natural at this!”
“You think so?” she chirped, landing a roundhouse against a freakling skull.
The two peeled away, and plowed their way through a wall of opponents. Blue Fang appeared between them, charging in the opposite direction. With a grunt he cast a freakling into a throng of its comrades.
“Forgive my saying so,” he said, “but now is not the time to be cocky!”
One by one the monsters exploded into clouds of dust. The power of Fang Force was too much. In the end the freakings were nothing more than a distraction. Fantom recouped his power.
By that time the gender had seen enough. It was time for the battle to end. He cast his arms wide, delivering from them the same elemental force that proved so effective last time. Perhaps Fang Force were deft at hand to hand combat, but none of them matched the raw power of Queen Lacuna’s firstborn. The unseen energy split rocks and sent gravel flying, before colliding into the collected heroes.
This time they were ready. Fantom had scattered them when surprise was on his side, but now they knew to plant their feet. Red Fang, Blue Fang and Yellow Fang huddled together and crouched to the earth. The elements rolled over them, and together they held their ground. As individuals Fantom was a challenge; as three they stood more than a chance.
“I’ve got an idea!” Yellow Fang cried over the wind.
Red Fang peered up to him. “Whatever it is, just do it!”
She needn’t have told him twice. Latching on to their forearms Yellow Fang turned on his feet, and with all the momentum he could gather lifted the pair from the ground. Lindsay and Cassius spun through the air, holding for dear life through the first, second, and third turns. Then the Yellow Fang released them, casting his allies in the direction of Fantom.
A torrent of force whipped at their faces, but neither Red Fang or Blue Fang balked. Grim with determination and with claws bared they swiped at their enemy’s chest, bringing an end to his show of power. Grinding to a halt in the dirt, they relished Fantom struggling for balance, and cheered when Yellow Fang charged with a strike across the enemy’s jaw.
Lindsay strolled toward the downed foe. “You see? I may not be as fast or as strong as the Great Vampire King, but that doesn’t matter. I’m bringing my own talents to this fight, and that’s more than enough to finish you.”
Were there another trait Fantom shared with his step-father, other than their affection for Queen Lacuna, it was their disgust for humanity; those sanctimonious, self-important cousins of primates who saw fit to gloat over their victory, no matter how small.
“Let’s finish this,” Red Fang said.
Razor tips glistened in the light as Red, Blue and Yellow Fangs circled their foe. In unison they crouched, readying for a clockwise finish. To land this attack meant only one thing.
A shadowy sliver opened in the earth through which Fantom slipped. One moment he was there, the next he was gone. The tear sealed shut, leaving no mark in the gravel. All that remained was the echo of his words:
“Not today, Fang Force!”
Lindsay kicked the dirt. Living to fight another day was not a luxury the bad guys deserved. The other fangs stepped closer to glare at the sudden absence.
“He’ll be back,” Blue Fang said.
Red Fang sighed. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
To be continued…