“Fang Force is at full strength,” Lord Nihilex lamented. “Even without the Great Vampire King, they are five united, and with their unstoppable familiar combat machines at the ready!”
His voice more than echoed in the dark; it was an extension of it, so that every word drilled into the ears of those who dwelled there. Not least of all was Fantom, his warrior step-son with a mask covering half his absent face.
“We’ve been cocky,” the younger monster mused. “It isn’t enough to simply throw our weight around, hoping for the best. Defeating Fang Force will require all our cunning.”
“Who asked you?” the shadow conqueror roared, and unleashed a wave of dark energy to plunge deep into his chest.
Such attacks were becoming customary, and left Fantom writhing. Some days he wondered why he spoke at all; but then he realised that to be silent was to give himself completely to his step-father’s wishes. His mother, Queen Lacuna, would have long age interjected were she awake to see such a display.
Relief came in the form of the dusty mage bowing as low as ancient bones would allow. “My Lord, if I may.”
Lord Nihilex lifted his head. Of all his underlings, Wiseman proved the most worthy of his attention.
“Though Fang Force are at the height of their power, your strength continues to grow,” the withered sage said. “At present, our connection to the void is as strong as it has ever been, and we now have the ability to summon abyssal generals to our cause. My Lord, we may not be able to fell our enemies in one swoop, but it is a matter of time until they’re worn to the last.”
The thought held some appeal. Lord Nihilex’s chest swelled in anticipation of the power that awaited him. However, the prospect also meant the continuing absence of his Queen, and an empty throne beside his. It was a bitter pill to swallow, though he had little say in the matter.
“And were I to command, you could bring me one of these generals?” Lord Nihilex asked.
Wiseman bowed in the affirmative.
“Then do it,” he said. “Show me the one who’ll bring Fang Force to their knees!”
Raking stick-like fingers over the crystal ball, the sage started chanting in a language long forgotten. An ill wind blue through the cavern, and the shadowy portal on the throne room wall began to pulse. Darkness chilled the room, and consumed what life remained among the unliving.
Moments later, a shape took form with hard edges and antenna. It stood on two feet, but had several arms and what appeared to be a pair of insectoid wings. Second by second it grew in definition, revealing a chocolate brown exoskeleton caked in dirt and muck. The creature danced as it emerged into the throne room, and cackled like a man tasting air for the first time.
“At last!” he cried. “Now is the chance to prove myself to Lord Nihilex!”
The shadow conqueror stroked the tendrils on his chin. What silly thing had been brought before him? However, looks could be deceiving.
“And what do they call you, foul creature?” he asked.
The monster snapped, only realizing whose presence he was standing, and bowed. “My name, Lord Nihilex, is Chorack! It is a pleasure to serve you!”
“Chorack,” he repeated, “like a cockroach. An insect that crawls on its belly. The lowest of the low.”
“And a natural born survivor,” Chorack continued, “able to find corners forgotten by most.”
A fair assessment, the shadow conqueror thought; though hardly something he would share with a servant. He continued, “And you think yourself equal to the likes of Fang Force?”
Chorack snapped with a salute. “My Lord, they won’t know what hit them!”
At the very least, his attitude was to be commended. “I’ve heard such words before,” he said, “but now is the time to show your worth. Who knows?” Lord Nihilex turned his eye to the still twitching Fantom, and made sure to have his attention. “You might be more invaluable to the cause than my other charges.”
Fantom spat. To be made second place to a cockroach was more than he could stomach.
Cassius and Luther sat staring at the inside face of the clock tower under which a velvet curtain hung. They lingered in anticipation, curious as to what Lindsay could produce for their brothers. ‘A makeover,’ she called it; a fashion ritual designed to modernize their appearance, and further ingratiate them into society.
The young woman bounded into the open with glee bursting from every pore. She clapped her hands and beamed at the eager pair. “You guys ready?”
“Ready!” Spike cheered.
Both vampires leaned forward. Their respective ‘preppy’ and ‘skater’ styles took some time to become comfortable, but when it did they knew Lindsay had chosen well. No doubt the story would be the same for the others.
From the wings Spike tapped on a little drum to produce a dramatic roll.
“Introducing first! You know him as Pink Fang, the rider of a giant spider. He’s cool, he’s classy; give it up for our boy Vincent!”
Lindsay cheered the loudest, despite being the presenter, as the vampire sauntered from behind the curtain. He turned to his brothers, raised a curious brow, and posed along the imaginary catwalk.
“We’ve given Vincent a ‘fashionista’ style,” Lindsay explained, gesturing to each of his garments. “We’ve started off with a basic men’s dress shirt with flat color – baby pink to match the theme – and paired it with these checkered heather grey trousers, ash tie in a windsor knot, and a crisp white belt. The hi-top sneakers make a good addition, don’t you think?”
He pulled at his rolled sleeves and the hem of his shirt. “Doesn’t it seem a bit… messy?”
“Messy is all the rage!” Spike chirped.
Lindsay nodded. “This motif shows the world that you’re both sophisticated and fashionable, but still a man of action!”
Vincent eyed the young woman with suspicion, then turned back to his friends. They nodded to him as if to say ‘go with it’.
Ushering him to one side, the hostess once more took the spotlight. “Up next; you know him as Green Fang. He’s fierce, he’s feisty, he’s no kitten; say hello to the brand new Drake!”
The second model emerged to applause, though with none of the poise of his brother. Drake moved to the centre of the room in a surly strut, and sneered the more they clapped. This, he decided, was ridiculous.
“You’ll notice we’ve gone ‘hardcore’ with Drake’s look,” Lindsay said. “The green leather jacket – don’t worry, it’s vegan – screams equal parts ‘biker’ and ‘punk’, along with shredded skinny jeans and heavy boots to match. Also note the scoop neck t-shirt, teasing just enough chest to be interesting.”
Despite their approval, Drake continued to fidget. If only he could see himself in a mirror.
“Do all modern men dress like this?” he asked.
“Only the ones with an eye for fashion,” Lindsay said.
“Sadly, that doesn’t describe many of the men in this era,” said Luther.
Drake furrowed his brow. “What do you mean?”
“Since we last walked the earth, the love of fashion has become ‘unmanly’,” Cassius explained. “A simple shirt and trousers will suffice for most of the male species, to say nothing of their grooming or bathing habits.” The wolf vampire pinched his nose. Just thinking of new world scents left him wanting.
Vincent gasped. “What are these modern men? Are they pigs? Why, even the beasts of the wild preen themselves!”
Their words stirred something powerful in Lindsay that left her quivering on her knees. The vampires gathered around to see if she was alright; though she was more than alright. She clasped her hands together, and shouted to the tops of the clock tower.
“Finally! Men who get it!”
“Men who get what?” Mr. Nowack asked as he gingerly climbed the stairs. He may not have been as young as he once was, but remained determined to make the trip himself. The curator beamed to the others, and blinked at the sight of two newcomers. “Oh, hello!”
The young woman dragged the two additions by the arm toward him and chirped. “Mr. Nowack, I’d like you to meet Vincent and Drake. Guys, this is Mr. Nowack; my employer, mentor, and custodian of these grounds.”
Drake tried his best not to frown while shaking his hand. “So you take care of the Great Vampire King’s castle,” he said.
The old man smiled. “Yes. I find his legend fascinating. Don’t you?”
“Not really,” Drake muttered, earning a sharp elbow from his companion.
Vincent forced a polite smile and shook the curator’s hand. “Let’s say that ‘Drake’ and I have a deep personal interest in the lore.” An interest that nearly demolished the castle, he neglected to say.
“They’re the new volunteers I emailed you about,” Lindsay said.
Both vampires stiffened, and ignored the chuckles of Cassius and Luther. Of all they had endured, working in their former home turned museum was strangest of all.
The curator puffed his chest. “It does an old man’s heart good to see such fine young fellows taking an interest in history. Crescent Valley was built around this place, you know. Without it, we wouldn’t be where we are today!”
His mood turned when he dragged Lindsay to one side, and whispered to her. “I just have to know, these young men; they’re not… you know. Are they?”
Lindsay barely contained a giggle. “What, boyfriends? No way! You know I’m not interested in that sort of thing.”
“It’s just that they’re…”
“They’re what?” she asked.
Mr. Nowack shrugged. “They’re all rather handsome, don’t you think?”
Lindsay peered over his shoulder to consider them. There was Cass, stoic and intellectual; Luther, passionate and athletic; Vin, stylish and cool; and Drake, strong as he was sharp. In the corner was Spike, hiding away behind her chalkboard, but she was not a contender.
“I guess so,” she said, “but what would Mrs. Nowack think?”
The old man near tripped over himself, then laughed.
It was then that the large hand struck twelve, though it was hardly the middle of the day or night. The great bell rang over their heads, sending out the call; evil had returned to Crescent Valley, and Fang Force were needed once more.
Cass, Luther, Vincent and Drake flew down the stairs. Lindsay clasped Mr. Nowack’s arms to keep him from falling over.
“I’ll be back before my shift, okay?”
With that she sprinted after the others and toward the heart of danger, leaving the curator alone and confused in the once forbidden room.
West Side was the part of Crescent Valley made up of refurbished colonial buildings; former workshops reimagined as cafes, galleries, and nightclubs. Once upon a time, trolleys ran down the streets, though all that remained of them were rails embedded in the asphalt. The smell of artisan coffee lingered between buildings, inviting all comers to steal a moment of relaxation.
That moment, however, was not destined to last.
Cars screeched to a halt. Strange, bandaged creatures hobbled onto the road. They turned, en masse, and leered at the drivers before reaching for their doors. Others piled into the front of stores, pulling items off of shelves while charging at shoppers; others still upturned tables in front of restaurants and grunted at anyone who fled.
Chorack wandered through the carnage and clapped his arms. “What a glorious feeling it is to lead a battalion against the light-dwellers,” he mused. “Pity about the weather. Oh well. There’ll be plenty of grey skies once Lord Nihilex is supreme!”
“The only lights going out are yours, bug-brain!”
He turned to the rooftops, and there they were; bright as day in red, blue, yellow, pink and green. All but one were proteges of the Great Vampire King himself, and united were an unstoppable power.
They were Fang Force!
Chorack cackled to the sky. “About time you showed up! I was getting bored scaring all these pathetic humans!”
“You want pathetic, look in a mirror,” Red Fang snapped.
As one they moved, leaping to the ground and forming a ring around the roach. The freaklings closed in, but Fang Force were prepared, and one at a time alternated between the rampaging minions and their boss. Between high kicks, low strikes, and blows that struck like a battering ram, Chorack hardly knew what hit him.
The monster lashed out with white hot balls of death. They exploded, sending both Fang Force and his minions scattering. It granted him only a moment’s reprieve, as the guardians jumped back to their feet and formed a line.
“This guy is a pushover!” Yellow Fang snorted.
“Then let’s not waste any more time,” Pink Fang said. “Lindsay, will you lead us?”
“That’s what I’m here for,” she all but sang.
Chorack moved left, then right. Everywhere he turned there was a warrior of Fang Force ready to take him down. He braced for the oncoming fight, and so did they by crouching and baring his claws. It wasn’t until he sensed the supernatural power radiating from each of them that he knew it was the end.
The heroes struck as one in a five-way clockwork strike. A flurry of talons tore through the monster’s exoskeleton like it was paper, digging so deep as to annihilate his core. The roach fell to his knees; he was destroyed, but didn’t yet know it.
“By Lord Nihilex’s name, I will have my revenge!”
The cockroach’s body erupted into flame and ash. Without a vessel to contain them his energies dissipated into the ether, and he was as nothing; defeated, less than a memory.
Fang Force cheered for one another, and for their quick victory.
“I almost feel sad for the guy,” Green Fang said. “Then again, he was a monster who wanted to hurt people, so…”
“Enjoy it while it lasts,” Blue Fang hummed. “Lord Nihilex will only find stronger generals from here on out.”
The street was still empty, but life would soon return. By that time Fang Force would be long gone. They wandered from the battlefield arm in arm, all the time unaware that their celebration was premature, and that something unseen scuttled after them in the direction of the castle.
To be continued…