Fang Force #13 – “Bitter Return: A Fang Force Divided” (Part 1)

The city of Crescent Valley is named for its position below an arcing mountain range shaped on a map like the waxing moon. Home to over half a million residents, their numbers swell with the countless visitors that enter its limits every year; for during the days of its founding Crescent Valley was home to a being of legend, simply known to locals as ‘The Great Vampire King’.

Many are skeptical that such creatures ever walked among humans, yet cannot explain the great stone castle that sits above the city. Strong and silent, the structure watches them through the ages, though marks no time of its own, as the grand clock fixed to the central tower sits frozen for over a century with hands set at one minute to midnight.

That it had already struck and that a pair of vampires set it back was, for the purposes of keeping the peace, a fact that could be overlooked.

“Legend has it that when the clock strikes twelve a great evil will beset mankind,” Lindsay said, leaning toward the group with the eagerness of a believer. “Flames and darkness and destruction!” Her arms rose with the scale of her story. “And on that day the Great Vampire King will return to defend us with his power.”

It was a story she’d told a thousand times, perhaps literally so, and over the space of years been finely tuned in melody and pace. To be a part of the castle and its history was a dream come true. Who could have guessed the depth of that connection, and that she would be revealed as the Great Vampire King’s scion?

She thought about it, and she’d smiled. Lindsay was just as happy with her lineage as she was being a tour guide. In a strange way it seemed inevitable.

One of the guests, a thirty-something year old woman in a cardigan and shawl, raised her hand like a schoolgirl. “Excuse me, but… what is this ‘great evil’ that the Vampire King will protect us from?”

It was a question she’d fielded many times before, and each time Lindsay dreamed up a new story. Now that she knew the truth her mouth hung open, silent. The caution in her voice was no act, unlike the times before. She’d seen evil with her own eyes, and it stayed with her.

“There are a great number of things that dwell beneath the earth,” she said, “hiding in corners the light has never touched. One is Lord Nihilex, who thrives in the cold, and whose dark aura sucks life from around him. They say he’s older than the first gods, and maybe the world itself.”

A hush fell over the gathering. The story was more effective than she could have hoped. Definitely using this on future tours, she thought.

Just then the lights went out. Lindsay gasped with the group. Funny, she wasn’t prepared that time. Lindsay shook herself and snapped back into role.

“Everybody stay calm,” she said. “The wiring in this building is really old. We’ll have maintenance get right on-”

The air shook on cue. Resonance from hidden speakers set nerves on edge with a low frequency.

BONG!

BONG!

The emergency breakers came to life, and flooded the room with a deep red hue. Lindsay pried herself from the wall with all the theater of an old movie damsel. She hurried to count the members of the group, as was her legal obligation. They were all present and accounted for. “I-I don’t understand! What is this?”

Deep, guttural vibrations rattled their collective bones with each toll of the bell. The volume permeated from head to toe.

BONG!

BONG!

BONG!

The clock tower rang until the twelfth strike, and then stopped. With silence there was calm. A young boy clinging to his parents started to settle.

Just then, there was a burst of light, and standing among them was an ominous figure dressed in black; arms outstretched, cape flared, and fangs glistening. He loomed over the unsuspecting tour group… who should have screamed, but didn’t.

The woman dressed as a premature grandmother doubled back with only mild shock. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t see you there!”

Cassius stood, canines flashing, and froze. Not the woman, or any other tour members for that matter, appeared to hold any feelings toward him except confusion; not at all as Lindsay had explained.

‘We’ll give them a good scare,’ she’d said. ‘It’s what they pay for,’ she’d said. ‘All you have to do is stand at the right place at the right time.’

There was no doubt that Cassius was in the right place, as he’d studied his cues in great detail. Yet when the moment came the mood fell flat, and for the first time the Blue Fang failed to inspire fear.

The tour group shuffled on with Lindsay’s guidance. She shot her friend a sympathetic glance.

“Next time for sure,” she said.

Though her words were of no assurance. Cassius sighed and dragged his feet toward the belfry. How did an aging mortal posing as a vampire prove more intimidating than a real one?

 

 

Neither Spike, Cassius or Luther were alone in the twenty-first century; at least in the sense that a number of mementos stayed with them during their sleep. Box after another filled the corners, most of which were packed with straw to cushion this thing and that. Some of the contents had not aged as well as the custodians, and were promptly sealed away again for disposal.

Though one crate in particular snagged the attention of Luther. It was filled with old books, once property of the Great Vampire King. There were great works, including the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Poetic Edda to name a few; together with untitled tomes bound in leather, containing the Old Master’s journals. The straw haired vampire sat on the floor cross-legged and combed through them with the curiosity of a child.

For hours he read, fixated, as though by absorbing his words the Old Master had returned. With each turn of the page his smile twinged, but fell when tempered by melancholy. Those, he decided, were his best days, even in the face of constant evil.

Soon he came upon a book not filled with words, but with pictures scrawled in charcoal. Luther turned to the first page and marveled at his own likeness arm in arm with Cassius. The memory of their posing remained fresh in his mind, even after centuries. Page after page returned him to a simpler time with images capturing the old windmill, the farmer’s daughter, and the wild pig that often came sniffing about.

So enraptured was he by nostalgia that Luther failed to acknowledge Spike’s presence, even when she flapped her wings and perched on his golden mop. She peered over him, and started in surprise.

“You found my sketch book!” the little bat exclaimed.

Luther turned page after the next, basking in a world left behind. “It was with the Old Master’s personal belongings,” he said. “You had a dedicated fan in him, and for good reason! It’s a shame you don’t draw anymore.”

“It’s difficult to grasp a pencil with hands like these,” Spike remarked, showing off the diminutive digits at the end of her wings.

“Maybe so,” Luther said, “but you had a talent. Such a shame you can no longer use it.”

He turned to a page in the middle of the book and stopped. Three figures stood together in portrait, one of whom was Cassius. To his side was a tall, lithe gentleman with a powdered face and wig, preening for the artist; and beside him a scraggly fellow who didn’t have the sense to press his tights.

A chill blew through the hollow of his chest. Pleasant memory faded into gray, and halcyon days seeped into nothingness. Those times were well and truly behind them, never to be revisited.

“Perhaps we should reminisce another time,” Spike suggested.

Luther might have agreed had Lindsay not chosen that moment to set down beside them. 

“Hey, guys! What’s happening?” Before either had the chance to respond, the young woman peered at the open notepad and gawked at the drawing. “Is that Cass? Wow. Whoever did this is really good! Who are the other two?”

Their jaws hung open, but neither found words. Only then did Lindsay realize the mood.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “They were friends of yours, weren’t they? I didn’t realize.”

“It’s okay,” Luther told her, though it was only a half-truth.

“We have to get used to them being gone,” sighed Spike. “It was a long, long time ago.”

Lindsay bowed her head. Poor Luther. Poor Cass. Poor Spike. She’d been so tied up being the scion that she’d forgotten about their needs, and all they’d had to sacrifice.

Though talking about it, she reasoned, was the healthiest option. “Who were they?”

“The tall one is Vincent,” Luther explained, “and the scraggly one is Drake. They were our brothers.”

“Brothers,” she echoed. “Like you’re all related?”

Spike climbed solemnly from her perch atop of Luther and clasped onto the shoulder of Lindsay’s jacket. “We were all sired by the Great Vampire King,” she explained. “He made us who we are and brought us together. In that way we’re family, closer than any mortal could understand.”

The dam walls burst, and Luther fell onto his hands, weeping. They were a family, and would never be united. Carrying that knowledge was too much for him to bare. Fortunately, he was not alone.

He started when a pair of arms took him and squeezed for all they could. Lindsay lay her head against his back and sighed. Through her he was filled with warmth, and for a fleeting moment he was whole. A moment later Spike’s wings unfurled across his back, pulling them even closer.

“I don’t care if you’re a hugger or not,” Lindsay said. “You’re getting them, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Luther smiled in spite of himself. “Thank you,” he whispered.

 

 

Nestled in the underground, far from the reach of light, Lord Nihilex ruminated upon his next move. The stalagmites and stalactites of his throne room sat like the open jaw of a beast, and blew with a foul breath of subterranean gas. No one living could survive there, but for the unliving it made an ideal home.

Though what was a home without a family to make it so? Vultera and Feareus were adequate children, but they could not fill the void left by his beloved. Until Queen Lacuna woke, the darkness they served would remain empty. What torture it was to be without her; to endure the waning and waxing of chaos in her absence.

The shadow conqueror stroked his chin. “Perhaps it was a mistake to end Fang Force so swiftly,” he mused. “As their powers grow, so does the chaos defying them!” 

All the better to sustain my queen, he didn’t say.

“What a pity then that we should meet so soon.”

Heels clacked through the darkness as the vampire Vincent sauntered to the throne. His companion followed, slumped over, heavy eyes twitching. Once upon a time it would have taken all their daring to be so close to the villain. What strange times these were that they should be allies.

Lord Nihilex leaned into the arm of his throne and considered them. “How did it come to pass that two acolytes of my greatest enemy act against his interest?”

“We’re nobody’s acolytes,” Drake hissed. “Not anymore!”

“For centuries now we have acted of our desire alone,” Vincent explained.

The shadow conqueror clicked his tongue. “Give me one reason why I should trust your vagary.”

Vincent pressed his lips together coolly, and with a slow sashay started up the steps toward his former enemy. “We have no love for you, Lord Nihilex,” he said, “and you should by no means trust us. Drake and I would sooner flay you than bow at your feet.” Upon reaching the throne Vincent sat on the arm, pressing the conqueror’s arm aside with his rear end, and folded one leg over the other.

“But you can trust our ambition,” Vincent continued. “The Great Vampire King wronged us in a way that cannot be forgiven. That much, ‘my Lord’, you can rely on.”

The other vampire snickered at the lowest step and dared to turn his back. Had Lord Nihilex blood in his veins it would surely boil. He clenched his fist, and swatted the interloper from his chair.

“No one has ever taunted me so flagrantly,” he snarled.

Vincent rolled his eyes with a tight smile. “And no one outside of the rank and file has ever offered their services so freely,” he said.

The other vampire, Drake, lifted his head. “All we ask is for a battalion of freaklings, and we will end Fang Force, so you don’t have to.”

“On our behalf, darling; not yours,” Vincent continued. “But gone is gone. You’ll get your unencumbered chaos. What’s the difference?”

He should have cast them out, or put them down on the spot, but the taste of victory at so small a cost was sweet indeed. In a world without Fang Force, the human armies would topple in an instant, giving the conqueror freedom to sow discord as he pleased. For that his pride could stand a hit, but only once.

“What makes your victory so certain?” he asked.

“Because,” Drake explained, “we have a secret weapon.”

Lord Nihilex leaned forward. “What secret weapon?”

The thought prompted a grin from Drake’s otherwise grim expression. “The secret weapon,” he said.

This conqueror sat upright. Could it be true? Once, long ago, the Great Vampire King commanded a weapon that could level cities, but was turned instead toward their liberation. Even Queen Lacuna paused in the face of such power. Imagine, to see that strength turned against Fang Force!

“You’ll have your battalion,” he declared, “but speak to me in this way again and there will be a reckoning.”

Vincent beamed, and danced down the steps of the throne. He had what he wanted, and took dear Drake by the arm back to the main hall. There was still much to be done.

 

To be continued…

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