A hundred families had prepared eulogies for the ones they’d lost. Despite the horrors that beset Crescent Valley these past months, none struck so deep as the tragedy of Oldtown Junction. History would tell of the dark day when Fang Force failed in their duty.
However, it was also a time of miracles, and history was not yet written.
A little boy clung to a statue and screamed as the men in uniform took her into the back of a van. ‘For safekeeping,’ they told him; ‘we’ll keep her safe’, as though any assurance could be enough. Nothing could soothe the vision of a mother’s leaving, save perhaps her return. Though even a child, for all the wonder they held, knew how likely that was.
The fighting in the distance stopped, and the tremors stilled. Fang Force stood victorious; they didn’t need a TV or radio to be sure. On any other day it would be a cause for celebration.
Then something peculiar happened. The air became warm, and so did the surface of the statue. Throughout the vehicle, grey faded into pinks, browns, and creams of all shades and tints. The workmen were careful not to leap back as the stone in their fingers turned soft, and once rigid figures began to move.
Pale eyes shone with color. The woman blinked at what to her was the sudden appearance of a pair of men in overalls, and dozens of others huddled in the back of a van. Then she saw the boy tugging at her dress, choking on sobs.
She didn’t know why, but the boy needed her. That was reason enough to wrap him tight. He could sob for as long as he needed, until relief had run its course.
What started as a time of tragedy would pass without incident, and fade into a cautionary tale about taking your loved ones for granted. No immortal symbol remained to mark the statues of Oldtown Junction.
In its place was a blessing in those who survived.
Not a day passed before the clinking of weights returned. Lindsay followed the rhythmic grunting to the basement where the straw-haired vampire lifted a metal disc over his head. She stopped to admire the way he held a dense object almost half his size.
Luther set it down with a thud. Seeing him like this, muscles near bursting, it wasn’t hard to imagine needles bouncing to no effect. He was the very image of a warrior out of his armor.
He struggled to move upright.
“Don’t stand on my account,” she told him.
Luther accepted, and slowed his breathing. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I’ve been hit by a truck,” she said. “Anyone catch the licence plate?”
Another modernism. Luther shook his head. It was staggering to him the sheer number of permits required in this age, but given the danger of human invention he more than understood. One didn’t need to be an anachronism to be overwhelmed by it all.
Luther noticed the way she was dressed. In place of her uniform blouse, vest and pencil skirt, Lindsay wore a loose tee and tight fitting shorts. They would have been immodest back in his day, but Luther was not the shy sort – at least in regard to the human form.
She wandered to where a series of dumbells were set out in a row, ranging from light to heavy. Her fingers ran along the handles, lost in thought, as though she were rattling the keys of a xylophone.
“I’m surprised to see you down here,” he said. “After carrying stone arms and stone legs, I’d have thought any weights would be furthest from your mind.”
She laughed. “Yeah, I guess. But still…”
Luther hesitated a moment before placing his palm on the back of the young woman’s hand. She started, but quickly eased, before guiding her to the far end of the table. Lindsay followed his lead, and took the smallest of the weights.
“Are you sure about this?” he asked.
Lindsay furrowed, but considered the relative ease of the dumbbell. “I want to be stronger,” she said. ‘Like you and the others,’ she didn’t say. The young woman forced a grin. “Can’t let you boys have all the fun, right?”
The vampire smiled. “Absolutely not,” he agreed. “It would be my honor to train with you, if you’ll have me.”
She laughed. “Duh!” Which, in modern speak, meant ‘of course’.
Despite her exhaustion, Lindsay set herself on the bench and positioned the weights at arms length. “No pain, no gain,” she uttered, and stretched her arms wide.
“Remember,” Luther told her, “though there’s a time to push, you needn’t always push to the limit.”
This was the start of a new ritual, and one which made them stronger; both together and apart.
When the tempest had passed, and rage smoldered into embers, even the eternal unliving bowed their heads and searched for refuge. For Lord Nihilex, it was the makeshift altar at his queen’s beside. He sat on his knees, as he was wont to do for hours on end, speaking to her over a distance incalculable by any metric.
The day Queen Lacuna talked back could not come soon enough.
He reached under the veil and stroked her talons. Though devoid of intent, their tips scraped across his flesh, prompting memories of a time long passed.
Queen Lacuna was cold to the touch, but that cold lacked the icy bite of her revived form. Instead she was scarcely cooler than the surrounding caves. Her connection to the void remained fickle.
He traced around her jagged bones, dreamed up by the most twisted of imaginations. She was truly a horror, whose face reduced the bravest to frightened children. Truly the world was lacking without her.
“I promised to stay an eternity by your side,” he murmured, “and while I shall never waver, a mere handful of centuries are enough to wear on my patience. How long must we wait, my love? Every moment without you is agony – agony best suffered by humankind, not us!”
She did not answer. Could she hear? The countless words spent hoped that she could.
“It was galling enough battling the Great Vampire King. It should have been done after our last encounter! Once we crawled back out of the primordial dark, the world was ours for the taking! But alas, no. There was another. Less powerful, less experienced, but who still makes short work of our forces. Fang Force endures!”
Lord Nihilex stopped, only realizing his grip was too tight. He stroked his queen’s hand in apology. Though powerful in her own right, it would not do to test it in her sleep.
“Perhaps Fantom was right, and I’ve been idling,” he mused. “Though I would never give him the satisfaction of telling him so. Only you may know these thoughts, dear Queen. That blasted son of yours…”
He seethed quietly, allowing the frustration to release.
“I have done all I can to withstand his presence; his arrogance, his smug superiority. He pledges words of fealty, but his actions tell another story. What you see in him, my love, is beyond my understanding. But he has become much too much. Much too much. You may resent me for what I must do, but now is the time for action.”
Only a handful were allowed to enter the Queen’s personal chamber. Nowhere in the catacombs was more private. Even servants and Wiseman himself required explicit consent before stepping into her presence. With that knowledge it seemed likely that Lord Nihilex was alone with his wife…
…but he was not.
Silent as the grave, an unseen figure emerged from a curtain. His breath stopped, lest it betray his presence. With a shining blade in hand he crept toward the bedside, and turned the thirsty edge to the kneeling despot.
“It will be better this way,” Lord Nihilex continued. “You and I are the top of the world, without anyone – not even your offspring – to defile it.”
This was not a dream the assassin could abide. Fantom raised his scimitar high and brought it down with a swish. This, he decreed, would be the final day Lord Nihilex walked the earth.
End of Episode 6