Lindsay lifted her head from the console. Everything beyond the crack in her visor was a blur. Her head swam on her shoulders, and the metallic taste in her mouth spelled something she didn’t want to think about. Still, she endured.
Through the haze there were voices; voices that she knew but couldn’t put names to.
“There’s too many of them!”
“I can take a few. I just need a clear shot.”
“Everybody stay calm. Cooler heads will prevail.”
“What about Lindsay? Lindsay, are you there?”
The sound of her name was the anchor she needed. Red Fang shook her head and was back in the pilot’s seat of her familiar. She winced through the agony of crashing to earth.
“I’m here,” she said, wearily. “I… what happened?”
Every thought to pass through her head did with the consistency of concrete. How tempting it was to lay back on the panel and sleep again.
“We got our proverbial behinds kicked,” Green Fang said via intercom.
That made a lot of sense, given the throbbing. Lindsay raised her head to the monitor array. Several were black or were barely functioning. What few remained painted a horrifying picture of the outside world, including the ten gargantuan insects looming over Crescent Valley.
Memory flashed behind her eyes. Lindsay gripped the control stick tighter.
“We need to mount a counter-offensive,” Yellow Fang said.
“How do you propose that?” Pink Fang countered.
“I-I don’t know. We round them up like cattle, I suppose.”
“Any line we form they can break with combined strength,” Blue Fang told him.
“We need to split up,” Green Fang said. “Divide and conquer.”
“We already tried that,” Lindsay said. The sound of her own voice resonated through her skull.
Blue Fang drew a deep, calming breath. “You lead us, Lindsay. Tell us what to do.”
Their collective agreement weighed in her chest. Her choice would either save or doom a city, and every second she waited made that fate more certain. Lindsay closed her eyes and searched for the little voice inside herself; her instinct, her truth. It didn’t take long to find it.
“We stay together,” she said.
“Are you sure?” Pink Fang replied.
“Chorack got the drop on us by driving us apart, so we have to do the opposite. We stand side by side, no matter the consequences.” If only she felt as certain as she sounded.
“If only we could summon the Fang Empress,” Green Fang said.
Lindsay paused. “‘Fang Empress’?”
“That’s impossible,” Yellow Fang said.
“Only the Great Vampire King had the power to unite the familiars,” Pink Fang explained.
The thoughts trudged through her head, but still connected. Fang Empress; the combined form of their familiars, the ultimate symbol of unity. What better way to defeat Chorack than to pool their powers together.
“He’s not the only one with that power,” Lindsay said.
Blue Fang gasped. “You don’t mean-”
“No, not me,” she said, “but the familiars do. What if it wasn’t the Great Vampire King’s power that brought them together? What if he only brought out a power they already had?”
The vampires were silent. The idea had merit, but was it too good to be true?
“Just try,” Lindsay said.
They listened. Red Fang closed her eyes and held the stick in front of her. The others did the same from their own cockpits.
“Red Bat,” she said. “Things are looking grim out there. There are more of them than there are of us, and the odds aren’t in our favor, but… we can’t give up now.”
The machine began to stir. Gravity shifted in the seat beneath her.
“I know you’ve taken a beating,” she said, “and so have I; but we need you right now, along with all the others. Please, we need the Fang Empress!”
She called, and the familiars answered. Life stirred within her control stick. Red Bat screeched, Blue Wolf howled, Yellow Beetle clicked, Pink Spider hissed, and Green Mountain lioned growled. Each shone with the determination of Fang Force as a whole.
Beneath her helmet, Linday’s tears kissed the corners of her smile. “Thank you,” she said.
Chorack stood as a ten roach barricade around Crescent Valley. Each body cast a shadow that swallowed part of the city. The people below squealed in his wake. They were nothing to him. This was revenge. He wouldn’t step on them just yet, however. What was the point of sparking fear if he couldn’t draw it out?
“When Lord Nihilex rules, people will say ‘to be squashed like a human’,” he clicked. The thought of them flattened on a windshield sent shivers of delight running through his exoskeleton.
Though before the rampage began, one of his selves turned to a curious sight. The rest of him followed, taken by new goings on in the mountains; the same mountains he left the carcasses of the dreaded Fang Force.
The air rippled. A slow shockwave rolled toward the monster. “That doesn’t look good,” he said.
Chorack, Chorack and the others stood transfixed as the familiars lifted from their graves. Then, against all explanation, they transformed.
Blue Wolf and Green Mountain Lion stood side by side and rested their chins on the ground. Their bodies folded upward, swallowing their legs and changing their metal heads into feet. The Yellow Beetle followed, and planted face down on top of their tails, joining the two together. Its wings unfurled, revealing a torso lined with armor plates. Next was the Red Bat, whose wings folded in on itself, and whose chest opened to mount the torso. Pink Spider split down the centre; its fangs becoming thumbs, its legs into fingers, and its abdomen unfolding into forearms that fixed to either side of the body.
Finally, the head of Red Bat turned to reveal a woman’s face. She was the Fang Empress, realized for the first time in centuries, and she glared with a power beyond recognition.
Chorack scoffed. “So you went and got a bigger robot. Big deal. That just makes you a bigger piece of trash!”
The roaches charged with wings fluttering, not expecting this new foe would hold against his strength. They pressed, and they pushed, but the Fang Empress did not budge. Every inch she resisted them, and cast them away with a sweep of her arm.
Since brute force didn’t work, the insects then surrounded the giant, attacking her from all sides. Surely one would break through her defenses. Yet whenever the Choracks lunged, the Fang Empress countered with spider-y fingers, sending each of them to the ground, writhing.
“You don’t fight fair,” the insects clicked. “That’s okay. Neither do we!”
The roaches gathered again, this time keeping their distance. They pressed their hands together, forming a ring around the machine, and hummed. Electricity tickled the air, and sparks climbed their antennae. Each nursed a ball of energy in front of him. All Choracks took careful aim, and released.
A torrent of power surged through the Fang Empress. She shielded herself with one arm, and stumbled to one knee, though her fall was short lived. The great robot shook it off, and stood again. Defiance shone in her golden eyes.
Then, from out of the ether, an object started to form. Fang Empress grabbed onto it by one end and held tight as it materialized. It was a long, curved blade that shone in the afternoon sun. It was the ultimate weapon of the ultimate weapon.
“Now you’re ready to fight seriously,” Chorack clicked.
Fang Empress was more than ready. She eased the sword back, filling it with her spirit and the spirits of her comrades. From deep within roared the cry of her comrades:
“Great Fang Striker!”
The blade cut across the horizon line in a full turn, and as it did pierced the shell of every creature, one through ten. A surge tickled the air, purifying it with a swish.
Chorack, once many, now in a single body, wept. The end had arrived, but how could he accept that?
“It’s not fair,” he clicked. “It’s just not fair!”
Fang Empress looked on without forgiveness as each cell of his unliving body burned into oblivion. When evil walked the earth, it was those like Fang Force whose role it was to rise against it. On this day they had done just that, and won.
Where others walked in fear of reprisal, Wiseman stepped with the same small, broken steps he always had. Feet of dust and bone scraped against the stone floor, announcing him long before entering the bed chamber of Queen Lacuna.
He pressed inside without invitation, and hobbled to the corner of the room where Lord Nihilex was knelt. It was for his queen, and her alone, that Lord Nihilex would relinquish his standing.
The ancient sage took a bold position at the shadow conqueror’s side. Withered hands folded in front of him as he awaited his Lord’s command. It was, as it turned out, a considerable wait.
Finally, Lord Nihilex acknowledged him. “Failure is a shortcoming I attribute to others, Wiseman; never to you.”
With a voice as dry as sand the sage replied. “Forgive my saying, my Lord; but all is as anticipated. The task appointed Chorack was not the destruction of Fang Force as he so readily believed.”
“You test my patience,” Lord Nihilex growled.
“Yes. I expect so,” Wiseman continued.
Were it anyone else standing before the shadow conqueror he would turn them inside out. Wiseman, however, had more than earned his consideration.
The sage continued. “My Lord, you are accustomed to absolute power,” he said. “In the Abyssal Realm, where nightmares are manifest, everything bends to your will, and your basest desires are immediately gratified.”
“And,” Wiseman continued, “you do not have such luxury in the land of the living. Nor do I. But, while you have been challenged by your… present limitations in this realm, I have become accustomed to waiting.”
Lord Nihilex scowled. “If there is one area where you excel and I do not, sorcerer, it is that.”
“My skill has been honed over centuries, my Lord,” he said. “That is how I am accustomed to playing what is known as ‘the long game’.”
The shadow conqueror turned to his wife, and then back to the sage. Already the conversation was wearing on him.
“Tell me one thing,” he demanded. “How does Chorack’s downfall lead us closer to dominion over this world? What does it mean for the resurrection of Queen Lacuna?”
“In their battle against Chorack, Fang Force pushed their abilities to their limits.” Under his tattered shroud Wiseman broke the slightest smile. “They can go no further; but you, my Lord, grow stronger in your connection to the Abyssal Realm with each passing day.”
That much was true, the shadow conqueror supposed; though far too slowly for his liking.
“Leave us,” Lord Nihilex commanded. It was as close to forgiveness as any would garner from the likes of him.
The next day, when the curator arrived at the castle of the Great Vampire King, it was to a note on his desk, from Lindsay, asking to meet in the clock tower. He shrugged at the note, frowned at the number of steps ahead of him, and set about the climb to his volunteer’s favorite hangout.
He called out from the door. “Lindsay?”
“We’re up here,” she called back, and he followed. ‘We’, as in more than one. Was there some sort of surprise party? His birthday wasn’t until February.
Mr. Nowack emerged from the stairwell, only a little disappointed by the lack of cake and streamers. However, the volunteers were all present; Lindsay, Cass, Luther, Vincent and Drake, along with the furry purple statuette that appeared during his visits. It sat on a small coffee table with hands clutched over its chest, and what appeared to be a smile.
The curator reeled at the thing, but fought to contain himself. It seemed that the others had some kind of affection for it.
“Good morning, Lindsay,” he said, “and everyone. You wanted to see me?”
The young woman folded her hands and forced a smile. “Yes, and thank you. I know this is awkward but… we need to have an intervention.” Lindsay fixed her eyes shut, not able to look her employer in the eye. Sure, they were friends first, but putting her foot down like this was dangerous territory.
Mr. Nowack blinked. “I think I may need to sit down for this.”
Luther and Vincent dashed for a chair and presented it for the curator to sit, which he did, both with appreciation and confusion.
Lindsay lifted her head. “It’s about Spike.”
“Spike?” he asked.
She gestured to the purple bat, frozen in a sweet pose.
“We found her in the trash,” Lindsay said, “and while we don’t want to point any fingers…”
“No, no. It was me,” the old man said. “It’s just that… well, look at the thing. It’s so ugly, you see! It would be one thing if it were ugly and scary. Then I would mount it over one of the entrances; but this… whatever this is, is just silly!”
“She’s not silly,” Cass said.
“We like her,” added Drake.
“She’s a part of this castle’s history,” Luther explained.
“Not to mention… we really like her,” Vincent told him.
Mr. Nowack sat upright, astounded. Such a strong connection to a mere statue. On the surface the thing seemed innocuous, but how could he argue with their feelings?
He peered to the young woman. “And how do you feel, Lindsay?”
She tensed, and tightened her lips. “I, and the others, would really appreciate it if you could treat Spike with more respect,” she said.
Mr. Nowack considered the statue again, and searched her for something to care about. He supposed she was cute in an unusual sort of way. Though it was not a living thing as far as he knew, indulging his friends seemed easily enough.
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll be kinder to Spike in future.”
Lindsay gave the old man a hug. It was the easiest victory she’d won in a while.
“Thank you,” she said.
As he left the curator leaned down to give the statue a scratch between the ears. “I’m sorry I’ve not been very kind to you… ‘Spike’.”
The moment he left Lindsay exhaled, and as she did stopped to visit every one of her friends for a hug. All her days were a roller coaster of emotion, and none of them would survive without each other. At last she came to Spike; of all the team they needed her the most.
With silent tears running down her fur the little bat smiled. “Thank you for standing up for me,” she said.
Lindsay lifted her up. Cass, Luther, Vincent and Drake crowded around and held them both.
“You’re a part of Fang Force,” Lindsay said, “and we’re better together than apart.”
End of Episode Four