Hate, like love, burns hotter than any emotion. To hold it in your heart is to capture the essence of life; to be inspired, and driven to new heights. All that divides them is a thin wall through which a tonic of bitterness might send one falling.
Moments before, Blue Fang might have claimed to love his counterparts in pink and green. Yet they fought with wild abandon, as though to allow the other freedom was the greatest of sins.
They danced up and down the steps of City Hall. Cheers rose up from the rabble of freaklings all around. Though the warring vampires could hardly hear their screeching; not with the drum beat of their fury pounding inside their ears.
Blue Fang charged low to take his opponents off their feet, but they were swift and evaded him. The knowledge of centuries granted them insight over the other, drawing them into a cycle of counter-movements without end. Ultimately it would become a battle of endurance, in which two were more than a match for one.
Luther stood on the sideline, caught between combat, his feelings, and Lindsay. Why did they have to fight? But fighting was inevitable, and without his help Cassius would fall.
The straw haired vampire frowned at Lindsay. “I’m sorry.”
He dialled the numbers into his crucifone, uttered the incantation, and in a whirlwind of power transformed into Yellow Fang. Throwing himself into the battle, he landed a blow to the back of Pink Fang, and propelled him into a nearby column. It was a move he regretted immediately.
Blue Fang rolled from the ground to his feet. “About time you got here,” he said.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Yellow Fang said.
Green Fang charged on all fours and pounced on his former ally. “The hell it doesn’t!”
Between Luther and Drake there was no contest of strength, for Luther was the mightiest of all Fang Force; but the other had speed and guile unmatched, not to mention claws that could slice through steel. Yellow Fang held Green at arms length and gripped the mountain cat’s collar, and fought every moment his enemy used the dense limb as a scratching post.
Agony coursed through his veins. How long would it be before Green Fang clawed his way to the bone? His muscles were tough as a beetle’s shell, but by no means invincible. Through force of will Yellow Fang raised his brother to the sky and brought him crashing to the pavement. He did it again, and again, never once letting go; not until the cat put the claws away.
“I love you, Drake,” he said without shame.
Green Fang pressed his sharp digits deeper. “Less than you loved the Great Vampire King; or your new Master, I’ll bet!”
His arguments fell on deaf ears. The fight continued.
A short distance away, Pink Fang dueled with Blue. When Pink struck high, Blue struck low, with both playing to their strengths. One moved to pin the other like a wolf, and one looked to snatch his foe like a spider. The two danced more than they fought; twisting, twirling and evading to no end.
“Your skills are as sharp as ever,” Pink Fang said.
“I don’t take compliments from traitors,” Blue Fang spat.
“If only you would listen,” Pink Fang said. “We were the ones who were betrayed!”
It was the first time Lindsay had laid eyes on either Vincent or Drake outside of a sketch, but she knew what she saw was wrong. Anxiety twisted in her gut, as through pieces of herself struggled to break away.
Against all reason she ran between the guardians – not as Red Fang, but as herself. Lindsay threw her arms wide and glared at the Blue Fang, bringing him to a halt. Either could have brushed her away, but the tour guide was fixed in place.
“Why are you doing this?” she demanded.
Blue Fang hesitated. “He… he turned against the old Master!”
Cassius jumped, as though the word landed a literal blow. “So… it’s a matter of honor,” he said. “You wouldn’t understand!”
“Then make me understand,” she said. “I’ll listen. And when we’re done, we’ll listen to Vincent and Drake. Then we’ll talk, like people!”
Pink Fang stroked his chin. What a peculiar young woman, he thought.
It was after some consideration that Blue Fang readied for another charge. “The only way you’ll stop me is by commanding me to stop,” he said.
Lindsay shook her head. “You know I won’t do that.”
“You have the power,” he said.
“What kind of a friend would I be if I ordered you to act against your will?”
Blue Fang lingered with uncertainty. He knew the will of the new Master – a Master that wasn’t a Master, but a friend – and she had given him the choice to defy her. What was he to do?
Before he could decide the landscape shifted, and a glove belonging to the Green Fang pulled Lindsay against his body. One hand clung to her waist, the other pressed claws into the side of her neck.
“Maybe we should do to you what we couldn’t do to the Great Vampire King,” Green Fang said.
Yellow Fang and Blue Fang froze. Surely they wouldn’t harm an innocent young woman. Neither Drake or Vincent would ever be forgiven for such a crime.
“Let her go,” Pink Fang said.
His companion faltered. Lindsay hung loosely in his arms. “What did you say?”
“She’s not our enemy,” Pink Fang explained. “Only those complicit in our suffering shall be targets of our vengeance. The scion – though she serves a distasteful legacy – is an innocent.”
Lindsay smiled tenderly, more than any person with claws to their neck should. Neither Blue or Yellow Fang dared press their hand, and neither did the guardian holding the young woman hostage.
Green Fang released her, and shoved Lindsay toward the safety of her charges. They could enjoy her while the moment lasted.
“You’ve got twenty-four hours to vacate the castle,” he said, “before we demolish it with the ultimate weapon!”
Having placed an exclamation on their point, both Pink Fang and Green Fang made a tactical retreat, stepping into the same ethereal shadows as the freaklings. The steps of City Hall stood empty, as though nothing had happened.
The visage of Blue Fang faded away, and Cassius wrapped Lindsay around the shoulder. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” she said.
Yellow Fang transformed back into Luther. “They could have hurt you.”
Lindsay thought about it for a moment and shook her head. “No. I don’t think so. They’re hurt, and they’re lost, but I think their hearts are in the right place.”
Could it be that simple? Cassius’s fists balled his side, as Luther bowed his head in mourning. Once they’d called Vincent and Drake kin, but now they weren’t so sure. If only they had Lindsay’s confidence.
Spike crawled over Luther’s outstretched arm in a spiral pattern, unfurling bandages as she did. The scratches left by Drake were deep, and would require a great amount of care in the following days. Not that Luther appeared to care about such things. Not only was he obstinate in asking for aid, but his mind was otherwise occupied.
The castle was still that night, as though anticipating the end. Lindsay and Cassius sat opposite each other near the frozen clock face and stared at the floorboards. They had but a few urgent hours to devise a plan, or the home of the Great Vampire King was as good as rubble.
She pulled her arms tight. “How did it ever get this bad?” she asked. “They were like your brothers, and now…”
“Now,” Cassius said, “they are the enemy.”
The vampire frowned. Her question was almost as tiring as the answer. “It’s one thing to defy the Master and follow your own path,” he said. “That much I can forgive. But to work against the Master, and actively tear down his legacy is something I cannot abide.”
It was an answer that failed to satisfy, but it was the only one Lindsay would get. She pressed her face into her hands. There had to be some other way.
“Tell me about the last time you saw Drake and Vincent.”
Cassius leaned back into his chair and drew a long, slow breath. “It was a month before Luther and I went into hibernation. Lord Nihilex and his forces were at the height of their power. The Great Vampire King hatched a plan. Two of us would stay to guard the castle; the other two would accompany the Master behind enemy lines.”
“So he chose Vincent and Drake,” she said.
The vampire shook his head. “He knew the dangers, and what he was asking of us. The Master allowed that we would determine who would stay and who would go, so we opted to draw lots.” He sighed. “Vincent and Drake drew short.
“I’m uncertain as to what happened next, save to say that Lord Nihilex and his forces vanished overnight. Neither the Master, Vincent, or Drake ever returned to the castle. A month later Luther, Spike and I slept, only to be revived by the return of evil.”
There was sorrow in his voice; loss and mourning. It was evident even in his monotonous tone. Not even one as deadpan as Cassius could contain emotions of that scale.
“I can’t imagine how hard this must be,” Lindsay said.
Cassius tightened his fists. “Things are how they are. We cannot change that.”
She wrapped a tender hand around his knuckle. “And now you want to fight them, after all you’ve been through-”
“I don’t want to fight them,” Cassius snapped, “but I must! They turned against the Master! They are the enemy!”
Lindsay peered to the corner, where Spike and Luther hung their heads low. The words hung heavy around their necks like weights. Perhaps Cassius could face the necessities of war, but to turn against one of their own was monstrous.
For once, Lindsay had no words to offer.
“Maybe we should talk strategy,” she suggested. “What’s this ‘ultimate weapon’ they were talking about?”
“So glad you asked!” Spike chirped.
The little bat was up in a shot, injecting life into the otherwise solemn belfry. Flapping her wings, she guided her flight toward her prized chalkboard. With one pull she turned it to reveal five not-very-lifelike, but entirely recognizable scrawlings of animals in red, blue, yellow, pink, and green chalk.
Lindsay recognized them immediately. “Those are the animals from our costumes,” she said. “Cass has the wolf, Luther the beetle, I have the bat, Vincent the spider, and Drake the… house cat?”
“Mountain lion,” Spike corrected, “but otherwise very astute! These are the ‘familiars’ that represent each member of Fang Force.”
“Familiar,” she mused. “You mean like pets?”
Spike drew a tiny paw to her chest in offense. “Why, certainly not, Miss Lindsay! We familiars are our own creatures! Though we do swear unwavering loyalty to a single Master.”
Lindsay caught herself. “You’re a familiar?”
“Indeed,” the little bat continued. “When a living vampire is born or sired they are paired with an animal spirit. That connection may grant a familiar certain powers, such as speech and human intellect, and in turn their Master gains new powers also. The only unliving vampires with familiars are those who were once living vampires, and they are all the more powerful for it.”
The young woman wandered toward the board and studied each of the animals depicted, in particular the semi-cartoon bat scrawled in red. Strange, seeing as that Spike was purple.
“Does that mean you’re my familiar, Spike?” Lindsay asked.
The little bat tittered behind her wings. “No, Miss Lindsay, I’m afraid not. I am the once and future familiar to the Great Vampire King, and his alone. However, the old Master had two familiars, who was also a bat.”
Lindsay tilted her head. “Okay. So where’s my little bat friend? And why isn’t there a wolf and beetle following Cass and Luther? And what does that have to do with the Great Vampire King’s ultimate weapon?”
From his brooding chair Cassius decided to speak. “Our familiars are the ultimate weapons,” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“In the battle against evil, Fang Force’s familiars offered themselves to the Great Vampire King,” the little bat explained. “With the use of forbidden alchemy, the old Master transformed them into great machines, each half the size of this castle. Their combined power was like nothing we’d ever seen! And they were more than a match for Lord Nihilex.”
Lindsay jumped on the spot. “You mean the Great Vampire King had giant robots? That’s ridiculous!”
Spike grinned. “I take it you’re impressed!”
‘Impressed’ was an understatement and a half. Then Lindsay paused and turned to the bat. “He didn’t hurt them, did he?”
Luther nursed his arm and chuckled. “It turns out the familiars were quite proud of their new forms. Not only were they better able to serve the Master, but their new bodies gave them respect wherever they went.”
What a concept! And one which without cartoons from Japan, Lindsay would be unable to grasp.
Her tone dropped, and so too did the room.
“And now Drake and Vincent have turned them against us,” she said.
Dreaded possibilities crept into the collective chests with fingers like ice. In a handful of hours one of two fates would come to pass; the castle they so loved would be in ruins, or its would-be destroyers would lay defeated. Either was too gruesome for them to consider, but nor could they ignore their duty.
To be continued…