It wasn’t until she’d rested that Lindsay felt the full sting of her experience. She whined as Spike wrapped tape around her ribs with a skill greater than a small creature should possess, while the other two cried for her from the other side of the modesty screen.
“It’s Lindsay,” she said. “Lindsay!”
Of course she could command them to use her name – the power of the Great Vampire King compelled them to her commands – but that didn’t seem right. Better they get in the habit themselves, she thought. Having leadership thrust on her was hard enough; being a ‘Master’ was next level.
Spike finished her work and Lindsay emerged once making herself decent. Though Cassius and Luther appeared in moderate shape – with snappy duds, Lindsay might add – they hung their heads low like birds plucked from a river.
“You guys, I’m fine,” she said, forcing a smile. “See? A couple of days and I’ll be good as new.”
“But we almost lost you,” Luther sulked.
She rolled her eyes. “But you didn’t.”
“No, but we almost did!” He turned away to hide his tears. Oh, the shame of it. A warrior of Fang Force needed to be as strong, composed at all times, lest they make the kind of mistake for which they now blamed themselves.
“It is our purpose to serve the Great Vampire King and his scion,” Cassius explained. “If worse came to worse-”
“About that,” Lindsay said. “I am a thousand kinds of uncomfortable with being the centre of your lives. Don’t you have your own wants and dreams?”
“Of course we do,” Cassius said, “but they are second place to our duty.”
‘Duty,’ he said, as though he hadn’t sworn his heart and soul the moment they met. Lindsay had never known such loyalty, dedication and friendship than she had received from these two, and they were relative strangers! Shouldn’t that be a good thing? Conflict raged across her brow.
“Fantom made a point of how ‘unfair’ it is that I become Red Fang against my will,” she said. “And maybe he’s right, to a point. If I really wanted to I could walk away. I could command you to let me leave, and Fang Force would fall apart.”
Both Cassius and Luther winced at the thought. A life without a Master; how could they carry on?
Spike flapped on a nearby perch. “Please, Miss Lindsay! You wouldn’t-”
“No, I wouldn’t,” Lindsay said, “but the point is I could. I made a choice to stay, and I intend to honor it, but it’s only fair to extend that to the rest of you.”
The vampires turned. Luther wiped tears on his sleeve.
“I don’t understand,” Luther said.
“If Fang Force is going to work we have to be a team of equals,” she said. “Even with me as your leader, both of you have to be your own people. You belong to yourselves. If you’re here it’s not because you’re my servants. You’re my friends.”
“Friends,” Cassius repeated with caution.
Lindsay nodded. “Friends look out for each other. Nobody is more or less valuable than the other. That’s true for Fang Force as well. We fight because evil must be stopped, and not because I command you to. Deal?”
The vampires and the little bat searched each other. What a curious predicament they found themselves in. Perhaps, they each decided, this was a twenty-first century custom with which they were not yet familiar, but would inevitably conform to. Such was the price of being an anachronism.
Luther reached for Lindsay’s hand, and placed his on top of it. “Then we fight in the name of friendship,” he declared.
Cassius relented, and offered his hand to the circle. “For friendship,” he said.
Fluttering around in victory loops Spike came down and laid her tiny digits on their hands. “Then it’s a new era for Fang Force! One for all, and all for one!”
Lindsay beamed, flashing every one of her teeth. It would be an adjustment, but her new friends were trying; and trying because they wanted to, not for any other reason. It was all that she could ask for.
No level of defeat was ‘excusable’ in the court of Lord Nihilex. As a being of nigh-limitless malevolence whose pores brimmed with darkness, he was accustomed to enemies falling at a stroke. As such, those appointed into confidence were expected to maintain an equal level of effectiveness; a level his good-for-nothing step-son failed to meet.
Wave after another drove through Fantom until his wife’s firstborn was but a quivering heap in the corner. And when he could take no more, Lord Nihilex lashed out again, prompting spasms of agony beyond comprehension. It was the least of what such an incompetant deserved!
But through it all Fantom made no sound. Rather he lay and absorbed it, as if to show himself as greater than anything inflicted on him. Only a fool would think Lord Nihilex would appreciate the fact, but to respect himself endurance was a must.
At long last the shadow conqueror stopped. “Miserable boy,” he snapped. “Were it not for your queen I would-I would…” Though he needn’t finish the thought.
Fantom, however, was not yet done. He pried himself from the flat rock and struggled for breath. Still he pushed the words from his lips.
“I would have… succeeded… were it not for you…”
Lord Nihilex stopped in his tracks. Even he acknowledged the ease to which his fury was stoked. “What did you say?” Allowing such opportunity for a charge to withdraw his statement was rare indeed, but he knew that Fantom would not.
“I sought to… erode their spirit,” he wheezed. “But you… you, Lord Nihilex… couldn’t help yourself! Your sense of pride… Fang Force… you couldn’t trust me in our sacred purpose!” He coughed until bile ran from his lips.
Fantom was not so pathetic a sight that Lord Nihilex would spare him. Lightning jumped from the shadow conquerors fingers to twist the already broken general.
At last, Lord Nihilex had his fill.
“No more jibes, boy? No more cutting remarks?”
Fantom remained silent, perhaps because he was beyond the capacity to speak. No matter his state, Lord Nihilex no longer paid any mind. The message had been delivered. Whether it was received was the young immortal’s prerogative.
No sooner had he left the chamber than Lord Nihilex took pause. There was another presence in the room; a presence that was almost familiar, like a long lost memory.
“If that’s family, I’d hate to see how you treat your other underlings,” said a youthful voice.
Lord Nihilex snarled. “He is not my family, and only serves at the bequest of Queen Lacuna. Long may she reign.”
“And we are not your underlings,” a second voice said, “so you’d better watch your tone.”
Two figures emerged from the ether, both of whom struck an uncanny resemblance to humans; but they were not.
The taller of the pair sashayed on platform boots, and wore a long fur coat that down his body. His hair stood in a wave, and featured a fuschia lick along the part.
His companion other stood with hands in the pockets of his jeans, and tilted his head back in a condescending sneer. He was every bit a punk, from his leather jacket to worn olive tee-shirt.
Lord Nihilex bore his teeth. “Vampires, and of the living kind! What business do you have in this court? Speak, before I rend you limb from limb!”
“Touchy, isn’t he?” the first remarked coquettishly.
A third figure emerged; the familiar shape of Wiseman, with rags draped over his brittle, dust covered bones. He prostrated before his master.
“Forgive me for taking the initiative, my Lord,” he droned, “but these two beings called to us from the Abyssal Realm. They come with a proposition.”
Lord Nihilex stroked the tendrils of his chin. “Is that so? Have you come to be my generals, seeking a place in my new kingdom?”
The vampire in leather hissed. “We serve no-one! Not now, not ever again!”
“Calm yourself, dear Drake,” the first said. “But he is correct. We are free spirits, and we do not bow.”
“Then what use are you?” Lord Nihilex shifted his weight. Patience was short.
“We have a mutual enemy, you and I,” the first vampire continued, “and though you’ve long since vanquished him, his legacy on Earth continues. Such a thing we cannot abide. It is for that reason we seek to become… allies.”
“The Great Vampire King must be destroyed,” the other said, “and we will not stop until his memory is wiped from the planet!”
What curious strangers these were; the Great Vampire King’s own kind, dedicated to his end. What vile act must Lord Nihilex’s old enemy have committed to inspire hatred of this caliber?
The portly Lord hummed. “And to whom do I owe the pleasure of this meeting?”
“Our names are Vincent and Drake, respectively,” the thin vampire said, offering a dainty hand. “But you might know us by different titles: Pink Fang, and Green Fang.”
A curious turn indeed.
End of Episode 2