We entered the castle just as the school bell rang. What a school bell was doing in a haunted castle was beyond me, but the cavernous brick halls were filled with students, most of whom I recognized from senior year. Except they weren’t people at all; they were freakings dressed as students, wearing masks in their likeness.
“I know high school was a special kind of hell, but this is ridiculous,” Lindsay said.
My hand went limp. The air turned heavy in my lungs. I made a promise that I would never see these people again, yet there they were in twisted, monstrous form. Such was the horror of the Abyssal Realm.
Lindsay shook me back to reality. “You okay?”
I nodded dumbly.
“We’re in this together,” she said. “Whatever they throw at us, we’ll get through it. Okay?” Never once did she come off as bossy or condescending; maybe that’s why I was so ready to follow.
The freakling-students ignored us standing there, and shuffled between their lockers and class. We were content to let them go about their business, until the crowd thickened. What was at one moment an orderly stream of traffic turned into a swarm with bodies crashing. They moved every which way, until Lindsay and I were wrenched to the furthest of our grip.
“Whatever you do, don’t let go,” I told her.
She held for dear life with both arms. The torrent of bodies swept her from her feet. Bit by bit, my fingers slipped.
I burst into the air, redoubling my hold of Lindsay’s arm. With all my strength I pulled her from the crowd, but the freaklings pulled back. No matter how hard they fought, I wouldn’t let them break us apart.
The bolts from my palm exploded in the crowd, loosening their hold. It was enough that I could lift us above the foyer. An iron chandelier made an ideal perch.
The number of freakings swelled. The pool of bodies arched back and extended high, like a tidal wave on the precipice of crashing. I shot away, firing blast after blast indiscriminately. That was enough to scare them away.
Lindsay laughed. “You’ve got some moves,” she said.
“We’ll need all of them before we get out of here.”
The castle was clear for the moment. Knowing our luck, an unliving hall monitor would jump out to demand a hall pass. High school really was a special kind of hell.
“So where to now?” I asked.
Lindsay shrugged. “Deeper into the castle, I guess.”
“You know this place?”
“I’ve been here every other day since I was a kid,” she said. “I was fascinated by stories about the Great Vampire King, so I spent every cent of my allowance going on the tour and buying merch. Then, one day, the curator offered me a job. He said the positon should go to someone passionate. The rest is history.”
“And that’s how you became a member of Fang Force.”
She shrugged. “Cassius and Luther were sleeping when I arrived. Vincent and Drake came later. But now we’re all here, and so’s Lord Nihi…”
Lindsay’s eyes narrowed on the top of the stairs, and mine followed. Standing under the portrait in the main hall was a figure in a purple whose cape dragged on the floor behind him. There was something about him…
She gasped with realisation. “It couldn’t be… The Great Vampire King?”
The stranger’s voice rattled my bones; this was no vampire – he was something much worse.
He stepped into the light and stared down with heavy eyes. His beard was trimmed around gaunt features, while his widow’s peak climbed to the point of no return. Though wearing a suit in place of his practical attire, Dr. Theodore Fellows was no less a threat.
Lindsay doubled back. “You know this clown?”
“Indeed she does,” he announced, beginning his descent down the staircase. “Once she knew me by the theatrical title of ‘Dr. Vortex’, but now I have something more fitting in mind.” Dr. Fellows lifted from the ground, carried by a force that defied physics. “For now you may call me the ‘Great Vortex King’!”
I clenched my fists. This castle was danger incarnate. We never should have stepped inside.
She stood at my side. “Yeah?”
The word tasted sick, but what choice did we have? “Run!”
* * * *
There are seven colleges of varying pedigrees within the Milestone city limits, some of which boast as many as three campuses across town. This, of course, excluded specialty schools for nursing, medicine, the arts, and so forth, which both vampires agreed were secondary options. Around each were dozens upon dozens of coffee shops where any young woman could satisfy her chai craving.
Cassius and Vincent had a lot of work to do.
They started at the Nancy Albright Women’s College for no other reason than to get any awkwardness out of the way. At each counter they were greeted with a smile, and they responded with the same order.
“One tall chai latte with soy milk, please.”
Vincent paid – it was always Vincent who paid – and after a short wait their drink was served. One sniff was all Cassius required to know if they were on the right track. After fifteen establishments, none matched the scent.
“You can’t just keep throwing them out,” Vincent said.
The other vampire frowned. “Why not? They’re ours. We can do with them as we please.”
“Yes, but…” Vincent sighed, and claimed the latest in a long line of beverages. “Quite a few baristas have put effort into serving us. The least we can do is have a taste.”
“Tasting it will interfere with my sense of smell,” Cassius told him. “I need a clean palette if I’m to do my work properly.”
“Then I guess it falls to me to enjoy the fruits of our search,” Vincent said, drinking down his first latte. It was a sentiment he came to regret when they moved on to their second major college, and his seventh cup.
By late afternoon they arrived at Milestone Academy, and the rush was on before evening classes. Vincent, somewhere between walking and sprinting, hurried his companion to the next location. Caffeine, it seemed, had a profound effect.
“This is my new religion,” Vincent said. “I kneel at the altar of the chai.”
“No more for you today.” Cassius broke into a jog to keep the pace.
First on the campus was a shop on the corner with vines growing over the brick foundation. A sign with a welcoming font read ‘The Lovin’ Spoonful’, and boasted a line that stretched around the block.
Cassius frowned. “Do you think they’d let us forward if we explained our situation?”
“You mean that our friends are trapped in a nightmare dimension, and the only way to free them is by sniffing their tea?” Vincent said, bouncing in place. “You could always give it a shot.”
Time was slipping away, and so was the last of Cassius’s patience. He clutched the arms of his blazer so tight it threatened to tear, but what did that matter next to Lindsay’s fate? Who knew what torments the Abyssal Realm inflicted upon her.
At that moment Cassius caught another scent; not of chai, but of the same laundry liquid and rosewater bodywash used by Glimmer Girl! He broke from the line and sniffed everyone in front of him, ignoring their protests all the while.
He came to the source; a decidedly handsome young woman with cropped hair and glasses, dressed in a manner Cassius would ascribe to a man. Yet this person had made the style her own, and given twenty-first century trends he would not slight her for it, despite the confusion.
The woman leered at him. “Can I help you?”
Cassius nodded. “I don’t suppose you’re a friend of Gli-”
Vincent kicked him in the shin. “Fool,” he whispered. “Our friend has a ‘secret identity’, remember?”
The young woman widened her eyes in realisation. She grabbed them both by the sleeves and led them to a corner where, she hoped, nobody would hear.
“Who the hell are you guys, and what do you want with me?” she demanded with the stance of someone not given to patience.
“Glimmer Girl,” Cassius said.
“What about her?”
“Do you know her?” Vincent asked.
“Never met her,” the woman said. “And even if I did, what do you care?”
The vampires consulted each other without words. Vincent took the initiative. “Glimmer Girl,” he explained, “is in trouble, and in order to set her free we need a friend of hers to complete an incantation.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Tell me who you are, and… and maybe I can help.”
Cassius and Vincent told her in the most flamboyant manner possible. They removed their phones and dialled the numbers 6-6-6.
The young woman watched as a storm descended into the secluded corner. Both transformed into bright costumes with animal motifs emblazoned on their helmets. The young woman didn’t so much as blink.
“We’re Fang Force,” the one who was Vincent explained. He offered his hand and the woman took it, gladly.
“I’m Tanya,” she said. “What do you need from me?”
* * * *
The Red Wraith stared with abject fascination as the sage went about his work. What transpired before him was an aberration to both God and man, forbidden through the ages, and willfully discarded by history. In other words, it was exactly the reason the villain had agreed to this partnership, and the opportunity to see primordial magic at work was a rare treat indeed.
“Peer through the crystal ball with your mind’s eye,” Wiseman told him, “and reveal that which you seek.”
His thoughts tumbled through the glass prism. There were three whose names echoed in the ether, and three upon which the ball became transfixed. It was then that they became apparent in the crystal.
“Yes! Yes, that’s them!”
“These are the ones who will stand against Fang Force?”
“They are my Society of Sin,” the Red Wraith said. “A motley crew, I’ll give you that; but each a raging storm capable of mass destruction. Bring them to me, Wiseman!”
Were it presumptuous to give orders, the old man didn’t say. Rather he continued with his dark work, chanting in a tongue shared only by he and the ancient powers, and guided the flow of energy pouring through the crystal ball.
Lightning raged, searing into the ground. A violent wind threatened near blew them from their feet. A sickly sweet smell filled their nostrils, and three gruesome forms bubbled from the ground. Soon they took the form of people, and solidified as such, inspiring a grin from the Red Wraith.
They stood in a line, confused, no longer dressed in prison orange, but in the attire of their crimes.
“Where the heck are we?” one of them asked.
The Red Wraith inspected them all, clasping their shoulders as he did. “Punching Judy,” he said of the clown; a muscle-bound woman with pronounced boxing gloves, make-up, and a hat with dangling bells.
He moved onto the second. “Mr. Fahrenheit,” he said to the leather-clad, moustachioed figure, who even without a shirt exuded a regal air.
“And the Carbon Man,” he said of the third; an unassuming fellow in a muscle shirt. All that would change when he exercised his power.
“‘Leon’ is fine, boss,” the Carbon Man said. “Did… did you do this? Bust us out, I mean.”
“It’s dark in here,” Punching Judy groaned. “And it smells like old feet.”
Mr. Fahrenheit remained tight lipped, as was typical.
“All will be explained in good time,” The Red Wraith said. He beamed with anticipation, and guided his comrades toward the outside. “But before I do, have you ever considered a career in ‘vampire hunting’?”
To be continued…