For Fantom, moving through human civilization proved no mean feat. They were, after all, sensitive creatures, and prone to alarm. Thus he deployed subterfuge, traveling away from crowded population centers. Hiding spots were plentiful if one knew where to look, though served him for very long.
He found refuge in the bushes in an undeveloped lot. Garbage lay strewn in the grass. Who knew how long since this land was touched? It suited his needs, for the moment.
Fantom unclasped his armor, and with a sudden hiss of pain removed the plates. Viscous, incandescent purple flowed freely, stirring an icy fog. He pressed the wound, but it did little to stem the flow running between his fingers.
What a fool he’d been. Lord Nihilex proved more than his equal. Now he was paying the price.
The prince closed his eyes, for how long he couldn’t say. Thoughts melted into one another, never quite reaching culmination. Time lost meaning.
When he next looked he was not alone, and in the most unlikely of company.
Across from him sat on her knees was a tiny human, with hair twisted into pigtails and dragging a stuffed rabbit. She blinked at him, not with fear, but with curiosity.
Fantom bore his talons. “Boo!”
The human did not jump. In fact she frowned at him, and was utterly unimpressed.
“Are you okay?” she asked. And now she was talking to him!
Fantom groaned, and attempted to sit upright. It was in vain.
“I’m fine,” he snapped.
“You don’t look fine,” she said. “You look like you’re bleeding, a lot, except your blood is a funny color.”
“Monsters bleed all manner of colors,” he said with all the menace he could muster.
The little human tilted her head. “Are you a nice monster, or a mean monster?”
This time it was Fantom’s turn to be startled. “What are you talking about? There are no nice monsters!”
“What about Frankenstein? He’s a nice monster,” she said. “Or the Great Vampire King. He helped people, though most vampires don’t.”
This, Fantom decided, was a special torture devised by the fates; worse than anything his step-father could dream. ‘Good monsters.’ Bah! What delusions would humankind think up next?
Purple oozed into the soil, and his head swam. Removing his armor was a mistake.
“You need a bandage for that,” the little human said.
“What do you know about it?”
“One of my daddies is a nurse, and he showed me how,” she said. “He also said you should call an ambulance, but I don’t think they look after monsters in a normal hospital.”
“You’re right about that,” Fantom scoffed. “Well, do you have any bandages?”
She shook her head. “Sorry.”
‘Sorry’ was no help. Fantom tore strips from the fabric of his legs, and offered them to the child sitting.
She stared, agape. “What’s wrong with your skin?”
To the human eye, Fantom’s flesh had no shape or definition. When light struck it vanished forever into the shade.
“Nothing’s wrong with it,” he said. “It’s just how it is.”
“Do all monsters have skin like that?”
“And why do you only wear a mask on one side of your face?”
Fantom seethed. “Are you going to continue bothering me with questions, or are you going to be a good little nurse and tend to my wounds?”
The little human shrugged and set to work. If his tone offended, it didn’t show. After all, her Daddy said that even rude patients deserved help.
As Fantom allowed her to tend him, he wondered; what curious happenstance that he was reduced to this, and that a human – one so small and vulnerable – should be the one to aid him.
Oh, what Queen Lacuna would think if she could see her son.
“Do you see anything?”
Drake poked his head above the trees and scanned the distance. No sign of trouble; not even a whiff, or Cassius would have scented it.
“Nothing,” he said. “Just mundane people leading mundane lives.”
The vampire let out a wide yawn and curled into the leaves.
Cassius smacked the branches beneath him. “No sleeping. We’ve got a job to do.”
“But it’s the middle of the day. We’re supposed to be asleep,” he whined. “Besides, it’s so comfortable up here.”
Vincent rolled his eyes. “Maybe we should just leave him up there.”
“Alright, but the rest of us need to keep searching,” Lindsay said. “We’ll give it another hour, then go home. Let’s split up.”
Luther snapped to attention. “I’ll go with Lindsay!”
Vincent raised a curious brow. “Is that so?”
The straw-haired vampire stopped. “I mean, you and Cassius make such a good team…”
Neither appeared convinced by his argument.
Lindsay placed her hands on Luther’s shoulders and smiled a tight smile; the kind that had little patience. “Actually, you and Vincent should pair up,” she said. “It’ll be a good bonding exercise. I’ll go with Cassius.”
“Unless,” she continued, “you have a good reason not to.”
Luther opened his mouth, but stopped. All he had were excuses. He turned to Vincent, who appeared nonchalant about the whole business. That they should be alone in close proximity was suddenly unbearable.
However, this was no time for that sort of drama.
“As you wish,” he said.
They were about to part company when a voice cried in distress. Without a second thought, Lindsay sprinted toward it with the others in tow.
Only a block away, in the back streets of suburbia, was a neat looking man in polo shirt and khaki shorts, clasping his hands together to amplify his cry.
“Abigail! Abigail, where are you?”
Whether it was the sign they were looking for or not, Fang Force had a responsibility to aid those around them.
Lindsay stopped at his side. “Hey. What’s wrong? Ned any help”
The stranger was puzzled, but too fraught to question their interest. “It’s my daughter, Abigail,” he said. “She was playing in our backyard, then I turned my back for two seconds and…”
Poor guy. He was on the verge of tears.
“She must have found the loose plank in the fence and crept out,” he said. “I’ve asked all the neighbors, but they haven’t seen anything. I know she can’t have gotten very far, but-”
“We’ll help find her,” Lindsay said. Cycling through worst case scenarios didn’t help anyone.
The stranger furrowed his brow, unsure of what to make of their generosity.
“Your first mission,” commanded Lord Nihilex, “is to seek out the traitor, Fantom, and to wipe his existence from the world! Do this, and prove yourselves worthy! Then all will rejoice when I call you ‘son’ and ‘daughter’.”
There was a time when such a task was impossible. The twins, as they were, stood as great a challenge to their half-brother as an insect stood against a boulder.
But that was before, and much had changed.
Vultera charged through the sky, beating multiple wings, scouring the landscape with unblinking, supernatural eyes on the tips of her feathers. They poured over every detail with a sense far beyond vision.
What a rush to see in such a way! To know all that she surveyed. Fantom had done well to cover his tracks, but even he could not conceal himself from vision tuned so finely. At best he could delay the bird, before she and her brother tore him to shreds!
“He will be mine,” Vultera squawked, “and we will be worthy!”
She arced toward the ground, and perched on the bar of a metal frame of a half-completed structure. Vultera screeched with fury, sending the neon-garbed mortals scrambling for cover.
“Ain’t no vest is gonna protect me from this!” one of them squealed.
Vultera spread her wings, and beat them against the air. “Hear me, brother! Where are you?”
A chill ran through the air as it folded like paper. With a tear it opened into darkness, and from that yawn emerged a terrible body; four arms, a mask of bones, and countless snakes. Feareus rose like a tidal wave, and rolled the muscular expanse that passed for shoulders.
He hissed. “The traitor is near.”
“Let’s make a swift end of him,” Vultera chirped, beating her wings in anticipation.
By ground and by air they stormed in the direction of their foe, paying no mind to the humans in their path. Not they, or the machines they inhabited, were any obstacle for their like.
“Enjoy these moments, Fantom,” Vultera crowed, “for they will be your last!”
The bandages were firm, but not tight. The human had skill for one so young, Fantom thought. His ego would survive her aid, along with the rest of him.
“Do you need help getting up?” she asked.
Fantom grunted, “no.” His body, however, struggled beyond hands and knees.
The small human propped her head under his shoulder, and guided him to his feet. His balance was more than a little compromised, but he was able to support himself.
“You’re cold,” she said.
“I’m a child of the void,” Fantom explained. “It is a realm of entropy incarnate, where space, time, matter, energy, exist in absolute zero.”
“Is that colder than Antarctica? I heard it’s really cold there.”
Fantom drew a deep breath. “Much, much colder.”
They emerged into the long grass, where the afternoon sun beat down. Fantom wouldn’t last for very long in his state, torn between the need for rest and a new shelter; somewhere Lord Nihilex’s minions wouldn’t find him.
Suddenly there came a man’s voice, along with several others. “Abigail!”
“That sounds like my Daddy,” the small human said.
Fantom raised his hand to hush her, but it was too late.
“I’m over here!”
It was one thing to be discovered by one so young and naive, but to be seen by one old enough to fear him ran too great a risk. Fantom dropped to the ground. He’d crawl away if he had to!
“Eww, you got purple on me,” the small human complained.
“Get away from me,” he rasped, fumbling through the grass.
The blades bent as a figure emerged. He bore a slight resemblance to the smaller human, and was most likely her father. He reeled at the sight of Fantom, and snatched the young one away.
“Sweetie, get away from him,” he said. A wise warning, indeed.
“But Daddy, he’s a good monster!”
The stranger was not alone. Others emerged; four in total, wearing the colors of the enemy. Lindsay, Cassius, Luther and Vincent stopped, equally stunned by the presence of the abyssal prince.
“Fantom?” Lindsay gasped.
He summoned his scimitar and held it tight. With renewed vigor – or desperation – he came upright again. No matter his plight, he would battle to the end.
“I see you, Fang Force,” he said. “Do your worst!”
To be continued…