The caves growled and the wind like teeth pressed into the monsters from behind. Even Curs’tac, indestructible as he was, hesitated when drawing closer to the throne. He took refuge behind Fantom, whose advance continued.
“You must be out of your mind,” the creature said. “Y-you pulled me away without orders. Victory was in our grasp! I’ll make sure he knows it was you! I’ll make sure he has your head!”
Were there eyes behind his mask Fantom might have rolled them. It was not uncommon for would-be generals to prattle with bravado, but this one was particularly grating.
“I have called you here for a purpose,” he said.
Stalactites trembled, and the ground cracked. Greater than the draw of the Abyssal Realm was the presence that loomed at its mouth, hanging in the darkness. The shadow conqueror’s bellow gripped at the tar covered things the monsters called hearts.
“AND WHAT PURPOSE MIGHT THAT BE!”
It was not a question; it was a challenge, and one that only a fool would take upon themselves. Lesser creatures had known oblivion for speaking out of turn. Was now the time for Fantom?
Curs’tac fell to his knees, but the wretched step-son of Lord Nihilex pressed on, and began the incline leading to the throne. Waves of unholy power crashed against him, but Fantom was undeterred.
“To make you aware of your own slothful actions,” he said.
Rage burst in a shockwave as Lord Nihilex threw his arms wide. It cascaded down the steps, knocking Fantom from his feet. The nerve of him! Yet nothing about the boy’s stature showed any sign of regret.
“What would mother think?” Fantom rasped. “For all the time spent at her bedside, moaning about her absence, you could have turned the skies black and suppressed humanity a hundred times over! Tell me, don’t you think that’s what Queen Lacuna would want?”
All was silent. Not Wiseman, nor Curs’tac, dared to so much as breathe. In all their endless lives, none had spoken to Lord Nihilex in such a way, save one; she who was gathering strength in the chamber next door.
Lord Nihilex seethed. “You think me lazy, do you, brat?”
Fantom nodded. “My mother deserves better than you are giving.”
The shadow conqueror turned his attention to the other general and composed himself. “Return to your original mission. Let none sway you from your path,” he said.
Curs’tac jumped to attention, marched toward the exit, and once out of sight scampered back toward the light.
“As for you,” Lord Nihilex continued.
To speak against him was the action of a traitor. Oh, the things he dreamed for those who dared to cross him. Fantom disappeared into the dark, as did his step-father. The screams that followed would linger in the throne room for ages to come.
Even monsters knew fear, and nor was Curs’tac immune. Yet Fantom appeared eager to stoke his step-father’s, despite the personal cost. The thought had Curs’tac trembling in his shell.
“Better him than me,” he said.
Casting those thoughts aside, he looked ahead to Crescent Valley. There, tens of thousands sat on their fat behinds, spoiled by a world they failed to appreciate. It was only fitting that they be visited by terror, and that Curs’tac was the one to deliver it. Those screams, he mused, would be most delicious.
Then there was his mission; Fang Force – ah, Fang Force! Their first encounter proved no contest, and on the second they would be fewer. What chance did they stand against one whose shell was unbreakable?
Weaving through a cloud of darkness, Curs’tac descended upon the city. His form reconstituted in the street, welcomed by the blaring traffic that ground to a halt. Their cries only grew more shrill when the freaklings multiplied. What sweet sounds chaos they made.
“Where Fantom has failed, I will succeed! Fret no more, my Lord. When Fang Force falls, this world will be yours!”
The tower bell rang, signaling the return of evil to Crescent Valley. Fang Force were needed once more! Lindsay, Luther and Vincent started to their feet, but Cass sat hunched with face buried in his hands. Nothing, not even the call to action, could lift him from despair; not with Drake laid out on the other side of the curtain.
Lindsay stopped. What could she do to help her friend? Of the two impenetrable challenges she met that day, it was Cassius’ deflated spirit that left her helpless. The wounds of the crab monster were only skin deep, after all.
The other vampires took her hands. Heavy with duty, Lindsay stormed with them down the belfry steps. She had work to do.
As soon as they were gone, Cass himself toward the bed in the corner. He moved behind the curtain to where Drake rested. On the back of a chair hung the vampire’s green jacket, once heavy with his scent. Cass took the garment and laid it across his teammate.
“I found your jacket,” he said.
Where Curs’tac went, destruction came with him. The hard-shelled brute plowed through empty cars, knocking them to their backs like bowling pins. He cheered his own work, while the freaklings clapped like puppets. Whether they had any real appreciation mattered little.
Lindsay, Luther and Vincent materialized from the ether, ferried by their little bat friend. Spike vanished back into mist, leaving the three staring down the barnacle encrusted beast. Their collective fists tightened.
The stalks of Curs’tac’s eyes raised from his shell. He smacked his mandibles with satisfaction. “Only three of you? I must have whipped your butts harder than I thought!”
She searched for words, but Lindsay found none. How could she go on when she’d already lost two friends? Luther and Vincent pulled to her sides, giving their support. It was in them she found her nerve.
“No matter the number, there’ll always be someone to stand against you,” Vincent said.
“You could always run, like you did last time,” Luther spat.
Lindsay smiled, shirking off her doubt, and removed the crucifone from her jacket. Together they dialled the numbers six-six-six.
“Let’s boil this crab,” she said.
As one they cried, “Soul awaken!”
In a flash they transformed; dark clouds spiraled down, encompassing the three from head to toe. One moment they were a vampire brood, and the next brightly colored heroes in red, yellow and pink, bearing capes as a symbol of fealty.
“Whether as five, or just one,” Red Fang declared, “we remain immortal defenders; night’s guardians of the innocent! We are-”
“‘We are Fang Force.’ Right, right, right. Whatever!” Curs’tac gestured with a pincer for her to finish talking.
Lindsay blinked under her mask. “Did he just cut me off?”
“He did,” Pink Fang said.
“Are you going to stand for that?” Yellow Fang asked.
She answered by flying into the enemy. Every limb was a tool of justice, banging at the monster’s shell. Somewhere there was a weak spot; he did have a weak spot, didn’t he? Red Fang didn’t bother to hope. She knew she would find it, sooner or later!
Curs’tac swiped at her, though the hero was too swift. She ducked and weaved, and landed every blow aimed at him. This time, however, he didn’t hold back. Every strike flew at her with singular intent; to end the woman once and for all.
Neither gave an inch. Speed and hardness negated their attacks, bringing the two to a standstill. Then the tide turned, and a sharp pincer came down on the Red Fang’s head. It would have been the end for her, and landed before the cold realisation of defeat, if her teammate hadn’t caught the limb in his mighty hold.
Yellow Fang flexed, locking the crustacean where he stood. Pink Fang dropped from above, and pulled the monster’s head by the mandibles. Though they could do little to damage him, they could slow him down.
“Go for the eyes!” Pink Fang grunted.
She wasted no time, and launched over her teammate. With a pair of brutal slaps, Red Fang knocked the eyes of Curs’tac back into his head. The creature squealed and pulled away.
“That was a dirty trick,” he spat, “but I’ve still got a few of my own!”
Curling into himself, Curs’tac shifted from biped to ball with rough, grey plates locking together. More shell than monster, he propelled down an uncharted path, making no distinction between hero or freakling. Curs’tac bounced like a ten ton pinball, making short work of anything in his way.
He laughed like a maniac. Red, Yellow and Pink split in separate directions, but couldn’t get far enough as he bounced between them. Soon they would be dust, and Lord Nihilex would lift him up with the recognition he deserved.
To be continued…