Cold water splashed onto his face. Shocked awake, Scott coughed and sputtered, the harsh lights making him blink furiously in the gringy room.
“Huh? What?” He examined his surroundings. The walls and floor were bare, once white but now faded almost to yellow. There were no furnishings, making a 15x15 blank space. There was however a door, larger than he was, a wheel lock he’d only seen on back vaults, and it was sealed tight.
“Geez you sleep a long time. Everyone else woke up already.” Brian said, materializing in the air. Scott frantically rushed to the door and tried to open it, to no avail. Brian laughed, and Scott realized he was only in his underwear.
“What the absolute hell!?” he shouted, trying very hard to not consider the possible reasons he’d been stripped, and not hyperventilate.
“I know you. There’ll be no hidden tricks. You can’t have anything up your sleeve if you don’t have sleeves in the first place, huh? No pockets to pull crap out of, nothing to help you, no one coming for you, no hope at all.” Brian dismissed, grinning. “Plus, seeing you run around in nothing but your underwear is quite the revenge, wouldn’t you say? You’re ridiculous.”
“Bastard, where are the others?” Scott demanded, trying to look tough and failing. Even he could see he was shaking, and it’s impossible to look intimidating in underwear.
“In similar cells as you. But don’t worry, they won’t be there for long. I must say, you’ve done quite a number on the town and my army, congrats. I’m most displeased. Ordinarily, I would kill you for such an insult, but I thought it’d be more…fitting, shall we say, to see all your new little friends do the honors for me. After all, it’s only fair. You turned on me long ago, I’ll have the ones you replaced me with do the same.” He smiled cruelly down as Scott was aghast.
“You bastard!” he snarled. With nothing left, he charged and jumped, trying to reach his adversary. Brian laughed uproariously seeing his desperate flailing.
“Yes, yes! This is how I pictured it! A little naked money, trying so hard to reach up to his betters! Don’t you get it? There is no hope! There’s only blackness and despair everlasting for you, for the rest of your days and beyond! Scream and flail, and know that your new god has passed judgement on you!”
“Try not to cut yourself on that edge.” Scott growled, panting, seeing that his jumping around was pointless. There had to be a way out of this, there just had to. But how?
Brian gestured like cracking a whip, and Scott yelped as he felt a strike, a string of fire across his back.
“Little worm. You never learn.” Brian whipped him again.
“OW! Stop it!” The hell was Brian’s deal!? Scott could hardly think if Brian was…waaaaitaminute, what the heck was he worried for? This was Brian!
“Ow! Ow! Cut it out! I would’a thought you knew by now, I’m not gay!” Brain was about to strike him again, but froze.
“Yeah, kinda gay here. I mean, I just wanted to save the town, you’re the one who wanted to see me in my underwear.”
“I. Am. Not. Gay.” Brian said through gritted teeth. It was suddenly middle school all over again. He clenched his fists, to keep from trembling.
“Look, its cool if you are. It’s the 21st century, no one cares.” Scott said, rubbing his shoulder. “And let’s be honest, I am a rather attractive individual. But, uh, I don’t swing that way, sorry.” He shrugged nonchalantly.
“Wha? The hell are you on about!? I’d never go for your scrawny ass even if I was gay, which I’m not! That’s disgusting!” Brain thundered.
“Then why did you kidnap me and put me in a sex dungeon?” Scott accused.
“This isn’t a sex dungeon!”
“We’re locked in a room naked, I’m isolated form my friends, all to yourself and at your mercy, you haven’t killed me yet and you’re whipping me, what part of this isn’t a sex dungeon!?” Scott cried, flailing his arms exasperatedly. Brian glared down in apoplectic rage, his face blotching red.
“You…” He took a deep breath. “Perhaps some time to reflect on your idiocy will finally instill some respect for me in you.”
“Again, sounds like you’re trying to get your rocks off!” Scott said. Brian flipped him off and disappeared. The necromancer collapsed to the floor, heart hammering in his chest. He’d been playing a dangerous game, and his nerves were shot. But he grinned. He’d gambled and managed to send Brian away, probably wasn’t even watching now. Now he had some time to plan.
“Thank god for teenage insecurities.” he muttered, laying on all fours trying to calm down and think of a way out. After a moment, he shook his head and sat down. “Crap. This is not good. But I’m still alive. I still know all my dark rituals, even if there’s nothing here.” He looked at the door, solid steel. He put his hands together, thinking deeply. “There must be a way out somehow. I have everything I need. I merely need to think of it.” He closed his eyes and mentally reviewed the spells he knew. Bizarre, eldritch designs of magic circles and arrays drifted behind his eyelids. “There’s nothing here but concrete, steel, and me. I could…hmm, that could work. But then again, that’s merely a method. There’s nothing here to affect. I could try and pump necrotic force into the whole building all day, it’d make no difference to inorganics. Rrg, if only Amber or Leo or Kevin were here. There’s only me. There’s only…”
His eyes snapped open. He’d have to get it right first thing off the bat, otherwise it’d all be over. He grinned. It wouldn’t be easy, and it wouldn’t be pretty. He had to visualize the necessary sigils and designs in his mind, and alter and combine the different elements of them, all in his head. It would be nearly impossible. But Scott had said it before, he would say it again.
“I am a necromancer. Fear my genius. Whelp, no time like the present.” Hesitantly, he raised his index finger to his mouth. He stoically bit down hard enough to draw blood, inscribing the magic circle with his own ichor like a badass. Or tried to.
“Owww!” he complained, shaking his hand in pain. “How do those guys in movies do this kinda thing?”
Meanwhile, in a dimly-lit cell that was an exact copy, though its occupant was fully dressed, Kevin hung his head in his hands. This was it, the end of the road. There was nothing left. Everything had been taken from him; his friends, his family, his home, and now even his revenge. His mask dangled from his fingers uselessly.
He wasn’t crying. He’d have to have something left in him to cry out.
“Useless.” he muttered, without passion. That’s all he was. Even if he didn’t like the method, Scott had managed to keep the town safe from Brian’s foul clutches. What could he do that even came close?
His failed assault on Brain replayed over and over in his mind. He’d hit him with everything he had. It had been completely useless. Worst of all, it wasn’t something Kevin suspected he could fix. He didn’t even know what happened really, let alone how to stop it. The malign magician had liquefied and flowed around his fists like water, forming again no worse for the wear. How could you fight something like that?
And of course, Brian hit them all for an instant K.O. at the same time on his first spell. Kevin sighed. This…this was beyond anything he could imagine. It was all so draining. He was so tired. Everything was so…
“Useless.” The mask slipped form Kevin’s fingers as he curled up in a ball.
“Do you really believe that?”
“Huh?” Kevin, empty-eyed, looked up, only to see no one there. He rubbed his eyes. “Must be imagining things…aah!” He started as his mask bumped up into his hand.
“Huh. Amber was right. This is kind of cool, but I’d much rather be breathing again.” With silent footsteps, the ghost of Leo Manning walked in through the wall. He was frowning in concentration as he focused on telekinetically lifting Kevin’s mask.
Kevin blinked in astonishment. Scott, had he been there, would have explained that each soul had a color to it, an aura corresponding with any magic they might wield; Scott’s was green, Amber’s was gold, Stephanie’s had been purple, Brian’s was white, and Bess’s was orange. What Kevin saw now put all of them to shame. Leo hadn’t one, or even two colors to his soul. His was an incandescent, resplendent rainbow, each color shifting and pulsing softly, lighting up the dim room like an invincible candle standing tall and proud against the crushing darkness.
“What? Something on my face?” Leo said, cocking his head. Kevin stared at him, openmouthed. He was literally speechless. “Anyway, I think we’re in a tough spot here. This place seems to be linked up to bank vaults, I’m not sure how that happened. One second I was in an office building, the next I’m in my bank, it’s weird. There’s no easy way through.” He glanced at the ceiling, remembering how easily he’d gotten in. “Well, I suppose unless you’re incorporeal.”
“You’re glowing.” Kevin said dumbly. Leo chuckled.
“Yes, I’ve noticed. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I think it brings out my eyes.”
“But…I saw you die.”
“Indeed you did.” he said, folding his arms and nodding. “That part wasn’t fun. I remember burning, then it was dark, very dark. It felt like I was…moving? That’s the best way I can describe the sensation. I was moving somewhere, then all of a sudden I felt this big, big, thing appear.” Leo shook his head. Mere words couldn’t describe the sheer vastness of whatever had come forth. “I didn’t see what it looked like, only that it…pushed is the best word I can come up with. It pushed me back. I’ve been floating around for the last couple of hours, trying to remember what Amber said she could do when she was a ghost, and replicating that.”
“Huh.” Kevin said. This was the most unexpected conversation he’d ever had.
“Yes, it’s very strange. But well, life has been a bit unusual lately. Speaking of which,” Leo sat down on the floor in front of him. He frowned as he phased through, then lifted up to compensate. “What’s wrong? I got the general idea of what happened earlier, but you look more dead than I am.”
“Oh. You know what happened with Will and…my mom?” Leo nodded solemnly. “Do you know what happened when Brian caught up with us?”
“You got captured. I only caught up with you guys when the vampires were carrying you off.”
“Yeah. I fought him. Brian. I dragged that monster down to earth, laid into him with everything I had. He melted and healed like it was nothing. All my strength, all my vampiric power, and I can’t even scratch him. I…I can’t avenge anyone…I can’t stop him…I, I can’t do anything. Everyone is going got die, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I tried. I tried my best. But I’m still…useless.”
There was a moment of silence. Leo could practically feel the despair radiating off of the vampire. The air was stale and thick, muffling both sound and hope. Leo scowled.
“Is that really it, then?” he asked. Kevin nodded, not looking up. “Tell me, then. If this had happened in a comic, which hero would give up?”
“Doesn’t matter. This is real life. Things don’t work out the way you want them to.” Kevin replied dully. Leo shook his head.
“That doesn’t answer my question. Which superhero, any worth the name, would just sit down and die?”
“None of them, I guess. But it still doesn’t matter. I’m not a real superhero. I’m just a crummy vampire running around in a shoddy mask.” Hearing that, seeing the lifelessness in his eyes, Leo lost his temper. He smacked Kevin’s head as hard as his ghostly hand would allow. “Ow!”
“Listen to me.” Leo commanded, Kevin staring at him in wide-eyed shock. “Who was the one that saved that girl last week when she was being mugged?” Kevin looked down, shifting uncomfortably. “Answer me.” he said in a tone that brook no argument.
“I did.” the vampire muttered.
“And who managed to keep the three of us at bay while we tried to catch you?”
“And who saved that child from that burning apartment?”
“I guess it was me.”
“Who helped us hunt down Genevieve? Who was it that saved everyone in the school by pulling the fire alarm? Who prevented the total destruction of the building via mutant vampire worm? Who unflinchingly fought his best friend when he betrayed humanity? Who saved his mother from a cruel fate as a monstrous slave?”
“I-I did.” Kevin said, curling up tighter. His chest began throbbing, and it wasn’t from sorrow. Leo nodded.
“And who never gave up?” he asked simply.
“I did…hey, wait, you tricked me.” Kevin frowned, uncurling. Leo grinned.
“Maybe. Or maybe there’s something you need to admit to yourself. After all, the second you found yourself an undead monster, your first instinct was to don a mask and take up the mantle of a superhero. Would the you from a week ago give up? How about the you of tomorrow?” Leo levitated the mask again. With a sigh a shake of the head, but a small smile, Kevin grabbed the mask. He stared at it for a moment, reflecting on all he’d seen and done, in such a small period. He slipped it on, and Nightfang stood up, looking at the ghost.
“I get your point. Now, how do we get out of here?” he said confidently. He breathed in the stale air. His chest was lighter than it had been.
“I think I may be able to help with that. I’ve been practicing moving things a bit, and Amber managed to figure it out, so I probably can too. The locks are heavy, but I might be able to jigger the mechanisms to unlock it. I need you to help open the door.”
“Roger.” Nightfang grabbed the wheel and braced, preparing. Leo faded into the door. Five minutes, ten minutes passed; Nightfang’s sensitive hearing picked up the faint clicks of the lock. “Once to the left…no, three to the right. Little more, little more…” With Nightfang’s guidance, there was a click. The vampire pried open the door and quietly slipped outside.
“Okay, now we gotta rescue everyone else.” he said.
“Before that, I suggest we open the vault door over there.” Leo said, pointing to one down the hall.
“Because it’s where I saw a vampire put everyone’s stuff, including the bag of jewels with the souls in them. I think it’s best to make sure that’s not in Brian’s hands any longer than necessary.” Leo said, wincing at the implications. Nightfang shivered.
“Right. You can go into solid objects, right?”
“When we make our way out, go into my mask or something. If I can see you, I’m betting they can see you, and you’re kinda…noticeable.” Nightfang put delicately. Leo noticed his aura, brimming brightly with vibrant color.
“Indeed, on a stealth mission…I gotcha. C’mon, let’s bust this door open.”
“Let me go! Rrggh! Haah!” Amber pulled this way and that, but it was useless. There was nothing to struggle against; Brian had her floating in midair. All she managed to do was turn herself upside-down.
“Oh, no way that’s happening.” Brian said as he waved his hands at the far wall. He could feel the spatial coordinates in his mind, it was child’s play to connect them. Amber watched in amazement as the wall…shifted, melting like snow and folding back, merging into nothing away to reveal a grand laboratory.
Huge tanks filled with turquoise liquid sat in the corner, a vampire floating in one of them with his eyes closed, occasionally, he twitched and his skin rippled, like something was burrowing underneath it. On the far table, strangely-colored fluids bubbled and sloshed inside perfectly still beakers. The opposite wall was pure white…at first glance. When Amber examined it more vigorously, she saw it was actually covered in mysterious, ever-changing sigils, like she’d seen Scott make before. A group of small, darkly-robed figures stood around a circle in the corner, muttering in an incomprehensible language. When she stared at them, they turned and disappeared, but not before she caught a glimpse of chitinous skin and antennae. She rubbed her eyes. The room was a square, but she had counted at least three corners on one wall.
“Ahh, the philosophers of Neptune. Their researching abilities have come in very handy.” Brian said, drifting them into the room. She looked down in horror to see dried, splotchy bloodstains on the floor. They hovered over the tanks. “Now then, for you my lovely, a rank-and-file grunt won’t do. Let’s see…” He flicked his wrist and several pages of notes whipped up from the table to float in front of him. “I combined the vampires with modified flea DNA. It was easy, ‘cause they both already fed on blood, and it gave them incredible jumping power and resilience. The added muscle power was a bonus, can’t tell you how hard it was to mix that in. ‘Cause it wasn’t, not for me! Ha!”
“You made them into monsters!” Amber denounced, righting herself after a struggle. She was incredibly glad she’d chosen jeans over a skirt.
“Please, they were already predatory monsters before I approached them.” Brian snorted, moving pages like a touchscreen.
“You made them worse!”
“Hmm. Can’t really deny that.” he shrugged. “To be perfectly honest, though I’m happy with the results, they kinda freak me out a little. I mean, have you seen their faces? Did not expect their mouths to stretch like that. If anything, I thought they’d grow proboscises or something. Then again, you’ve got nigh-indestructible, super-strong minions who can spread the vampire infection like a virus. Speaking of which…” He drifted down and adjusted some knobs on the console of an empty tank. Amber watched helplessly as tank hummed, the fluid began to bubble and light up, turning a luminescent lime green. Cold realization dawned on her.
“That…that’s the vampires’ spit!”
“Indeed it is, my dear Amber, indeed it is. The fluid circulating through them in addition to their blood, at least. Vampires need only inject their blood to turn others. The superior breed needs a little more.” Brian chuckled. Amber flailed and thrashed, trying to get away, screaming. “Oh, don’t be so melodramatic. After you’re dipped, you’ll take a little nap and wake up refreshed, with an upgrade to a superior undead body. Scott could never give you something like this. And you’ll thank me for it.”
“No! No! Let me go! No! Scott! Detective Cross! Kevin! Anybody, help me! Please, no! Noooo!” Amber shook as the top of the tank slid open, frightful tears dripping in the corrupting salve. Brian grinned and motioned to drop her in.
Scott slowly traced the remaining third circle with his finger, completely focused on the task at hand. It wasn’t easy, as his new dark ritual circle was over ten feet in diameter, not counting the various runes and inscriptions he’d had to incorporate into the design. The end result was that he was feeling quite lightheaded, but paid no heed to his weakening body as he walked around the circle, muttering to himself, almost in a trance.
He kept going over it again and again, as one misstep would be oblivion. The knowledge the Necronomicon had given him always seemed to rest heavy in his mind, retaining details and whole pages far more easily than any schoolwork, or even any other memory he had. But this...he had to simultaneously recall the information that he needed, and then pluck the appropriate bits to combine all mentally. He licked his lips. Oh, what he wouldn’t give to do this in controlled conditions, with the book there to double-check every sigil he made.
“But no, I have to live-fire test this.” he sighed. This was literally the only thing he could think of to work. There was nothing dead to animate in here. Necrotic energy insertion was useless. There were no ghosts to aid him, nor could he use the collected power of the town’s souls to blast down the door. He was utterly alone. He sat down in the middle of the circle, surrounded by his own blood. He clapped his hands together and began to chant.
“Allleb kath, Allleb kathe. Zu etsu spirituous ebnin senkh zow’thu’glu aBne’orn fltatmzgm moh hingh uthelbtom noe heiz. Iä! Iä! Spiritous! Allleb kath, Allleb kathe. Zu etsu spirituous ebnin senkh zow’thu’glu aBne’orn fltatmzgm moh hingh uthelbtom noe heiz. Iä! Iä! Spiritous! Allleb kath, Allleb kathe. Zu etsu spirituous ebnin senkh zow’thu’glu aBne’orn fltatmzgm moh hingh uthelbtom noe heiz. Iä! Iä! Spiritous!”
The blood circle lit up red, the sigils beginning to waver. Scott glanced from side to side worriedly, but kept chanting. The air began to hum and take on a violet hue. “Iä! Iä! Spiritous!” Though he couldn’t see it, his eyes were glowing a solid toxic emerald green, shining like headlights. It felt like the words were leaving his mouth of their own volition. The sigils left the ground to circle around him. “Iä! Iä! Iä! Iä! Iä! Spiritous!” He felt a tug, not in any particular place on his body. He grinned.
Necromancy was an unparalleled art. However, it absolutely required the use of outside materials, unlike the other magic philosophies. There were no bodies to affect, no souls to manipulate. That only left him with his own.
“SPIRITOUS!” he roared. His veins bulged and pulsed with emerald light, as he began to channel his own soul into his body. “Hrrrrnnnnggg-!” It was simple, really. After all, that was basically what happened with vampires. Of course, they died before the process happened, so the effect on a living being was unknown. However, Scott was desperate and willing to gamble on his half-mad theory. “Ahh-aaaaahhhhhhh!”
The necromancer stood. His heart was jackhammering in his chest, his blood racing magma-hot through his body, yet he had never felt so calm and clearheaded as now. He looked down at his hands, then turned his head in marvel. He could see each mote of dust floating in the air. He turned to the door, the light of his soul crackling along his body, and drew his fist back.
The metal bent and crumpled around his bare fist. He threw a kick at the door, bare foot meeting solid steel. The steel gave way on impact. He grinned.
Before Brian could drop her, the buckling of metal drowned out all other sounds in the combined room. He gasped and Amber yelped as the vault door flew off its hinges and embedded itself in the far wall, making a large hole through the bookcase. All eyes were on the necromancer as he strode through, the marble floor cracking under each step.
“Let her go.” he said, an odd reverb in his voice.
“S-Scott!?” Brian said. “What have you done to yourself!?” Ignoring him, Scott leapt, grabbing Amber and landing feet-first on the wall, backflipping onto the ground with ease. He had never felt so light, so strong, so controlled, so invincible as he did now.
“H-He’s right. What did you do, Scott?” Amber asked in astonishment as he set her down. Scott glared at Brian, and raised his fist.
“We’ll settle this n…ohcrap.” The glow faded as the spell ran out and he felt his soul recede into its proper metaphysical place. It had only been roughly a minute. His body however, immediately responded to the massive strain he had put it under and collapsed to the ground. “A…Amber. If you would be so kind to facilitate our escape, I would be very grateful. I seem to be unable to move, and am in a great amount of pain.” he said calmly, unable to properly express the storm his muscles were raging upon him. Every cell had been taxed for energy, and it was all his body could do to keep itself alive.
“Some rescue!” Amber shrieked, scooping him up. “Why are you naked?”
“You will not get away!” Brian snapped, aiming two of his fingers at them. Screw Riepaimva’s warning! Scott had crossed him for the last time! His fingertips warmed, plasma forming on them, and he smiled viciously as they tried to flee. Amber jumped, zigged and zagged, but the deadly glow tracked their every move. Brian fired.
“No!” At the last second, Nightfang came flying onto the scene, jumpkicking Brian’s arm to the side. The plasma hit through the wall in a massive explosion, knocking everyone away and erasing the concrete in a huge hole. Amber perked up.
“C’mon! Let’s go!” she cried, filled with hope at long last. Brian, closest to the blast, was spinning in the air trying to reorient himself, and the other vampires dared not to get close to Brian when he was fighting. It was now or never.
“Right!” Nightfang agreed, leaping out from a pile of rubble to dive out.
“What?” Scott said loudly, only able to hear a ringing noise. The explosion had been loud, and he didn’t have undead durability. Amber and Nightfang soared out the hole…and immediately started plummeting to the ground, thirty stories up.
“YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Amber screamed, paralyzed with fear. This was not happening, why was this happening! Why were they so high up!?
“Not good!” Nightfang’s head spun around, looking for something, anything that would get them out of this predicament. And it had to be fast, the pavement was coming up quickly.
“Holy crap! Why did we jump out of the building!?” Scott said, unable to really hear the wind whipping past him.
“B’achn!” A long, thin red line arced over them, separating into three strings that hooked around them, and they were pulled back like fish on a reel.
“Waaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!” Amber was still screaming and she wouldn’t stop until her feet were on the ground. The lines lowered them gently to the sidewalk, then zipped back from whence it came.
“G-Guys? What was that about?” Scott stated, unmoving. The last twenty minutes had been very hectic. Suddenly, the pavement shook underneath their feet. “Wha-yah!” They fell into the sinkhole opening beneath them, and the hole was covered by a car, pulled by more of the mysterious red strings.
Just in time, as Brian soared overhead, cursing up a storm and casting futilely about for his wayward captives.
“H-How!” he boomed, the windows of the business district rattling in their frames. “They should have gone splat! Where are you!? I’ll kill you! Scooooooott!”
Back in the vaults, Cross folded her arms irritably, huffing. There was no way out. There was some commotion outside, but the walls were too thick to make out anything other than some far-off thudding. Without warning, the floor cracked and she gasped as she was grabbed and pulled into the crevice. A vault over, Genevieve screamed as she found herself yoinked just as quickly.