“G-G-Guys?” Amber said nervously. It was pitch black, she couldn’t see a thing. She remembered falling, then being dropped underground, then something had grabbed her and carried her at a fast pace through the darkness, until it had finally dumped her here, wherever here was.
“Amber? Where are you?” Scott said, cleaning his ear. It stank in here, but at least his hearing was coming back. It had only been maybe a few minutes, but he could tell they had moved far. He could finally hear something, and he didn’t like it.
“Hold on.” Nightfang, getting up from where they’d been unceremoniously dropped, pulled out his mom’s lighter, the last memento of his old life. He flicked it on.
Amber and Scott were plainly visible now. Also plainly visible between them, was a two-and-a-half foot doglike snout panting between them. Amber and Scott turned slowly to see a humanoid head covered in pinkish-brown skin with long, floppy ears. Its grey eyes looked at each of them in turn, and they were exactly like a humans’.
“Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!” they screamed.
“Yaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!” it screeched back. A fist came from behind it and smacked it on its head. “Ahh!” it cried, holding disproportionally large hands with long, claw-hooked fingers to its head. It scampered away from the other creature behind it. If they weren’t crouched, Scott estimated them to be eight or nine feet tall, resembling dirty, muscular humans wearing loincloths.
“Akcha-k! Know better than that!” the second one barked, stepping into the light and frowning at the first.
“See-zee! Thun is sorry!” The first creature turned to the shocked teenagers and bowed its head low. “Thun is sorry, yes. G’tak, zg’urk. Thun mean no harm.” They glanced at one another.
“Uh…apology accepted.” Amber said uncertainly. Thun leapt up and clapped his hands.
“Cuz not mad! Good, th-sss-kkk, that very good!”
“Ng’rth. Thousand pardons for Thun. He…special.” the second one said, then bowed low, his spine curving unnaturally. “Me Gh’mat, sent to get cuz, iscnass’m, and vimtah away from nasty iscnass’m. He bad, very fuulnmb, bad. We douth-sorry, we smell. If he go around, no more meats.”
“No meats veeeerrryyy bad.” Thun nodded sagely. Nightfang nodded, then leaned over to Scott.
“What the hell are these things, and what are they talking about?”
“Their English is mostly just broken, but they said they were sent to get cuz, the magic-user, and the longtooth away from the bad magic-user.” Both Nightfang and Scott turned to stare at Amber. “What?” she said, shifting under their attention. “It’s what Blackclaw said.”
“Blackclaw? He said his name was Gh’mat.” Nightfang said, and Amber nodded.
“Right, Blackclaw. He’s not exactly quiet.” she said, watching Gh’mat berate an inattentive Thun. It clicked in Scott’s mind.
“That’s it! Oh my god, I never thought I’d actually meet one!” he exclaimed.
“What?” Nightfang said.
“They’re, I can’t believe this, they’re the subterranean species of ghoul!” They watched as Thun and Gh’mat started fighting, clearly not serious yet an errant swipe of a hand rent deep gouges in the stone around them. Amber stared at them, agape.
“Holy-wait a minute. If you’re the magic-user, and he’s the longtooth...I thought, but, c-cuz…I’m cousin!?”
“Y’mmn-k! Welcome home, sun-cuz!” Thun said happily, effortlessly tossing Gh’mat behind him. The other ghoul growled and pounced on his back.
“…that’s short for surface-cousin.” she said faintly. Scott struggled to his feet and pulled her away from the wrestling pair, as she looked like she was in shock.
“Fascinating. I never thought there were any underground ghouls around here. Usually they make their tunnels beneath older, more populated cites or far out into the countryside.” Scott said. He clapped his hands, and at his command Tarantulas scuttled over, the Necronomicon on his back. Scott took it and leafed through it, rereading the information on ghouls. “As a rule, ghouls aren’t that sociable with other species. I wonder why they went out of their way to save us?” he said, putting the tome away.
“Dat ist an easy vun.” The ghouls stopped nipping at each other, and bowed low to the tunnel up ahead. Out of the darkness came Harvaste, the lighter’s flame sputtering and dimming at his approach. They saw his arm was bleeding, but the blood actually was flowing in reverse of gravity, being sucked back into his arm. He glared down at them imperiously. “I see you haff elected to ignore mines varning.”
“Look dude, it’s been a really long day, and I am not wearing pants. Could we do the whole, ‘you should have listened to me, despite the situation’ spiel later?” Scott said. Nightfang coughed and handed him his backpack and clothes. “Thanks.”
“Intdeed.” Harvaste said, raising an eyebrow. “Vell, come. Dis vay ist da exit.”
He ushered them, after Scott had put his clothes on, into an enormous cavern. There was light, electric mining lamps giving off pale white light, dozens of them rigged to a portable generator and strung up along the walls. Dozens, if not hundreds of ghouls scurried and milled about, digging into the ground, making new burrows. Stones flew and tons of fights broke out and were either resolved quickly, or escalated as more joined in. Amber ducked as a smaller ghoul, one of their children, sailed over her head, giggling. It landed on a pile of rocks, and got up to waddle over to jump in again. She saw another having a snack, absently munching on an old, rotten human arm. She shuddered, but not with revulsion, and that made her scared.
“What…what is this place?” she asked, trying to focus on something else.
“Dis ist da underground, a burrow dey haff made to conseal demselfs from da sun und prying eyes. Such a cavern ist nothing to dese creatures, und can be qvickly made und collapsed upon need. Now dat I haff answered you, perhaps you shallt ansver me: verefer ist mines student und your detecife?” The trio froze, realizing that in their haste they had forgotten to free Cross and Genevieve from Brian’s clutches.
“…we hadda go back anyway.” Scott said in a small voice.
“I um shure.” Harvaste said dryly. “Vortunately, you vere qvite da distractshun.” He gestured behind him, two more ghouls approached, carrying the women. Genevieve was livid.
“What’s the big idea, leaving us behind like that!? If it weren’t for Lord Harvaste, we would’a been goners by now!” she shouted, her voice slipping briefly into a Midwestern accent rather than the careful, precise pronunciation she’d been conversing with.
“Simmer down, girl. I don’t like it either, I really don’t like it, but I’m afraid they made the right call.” Cross said, folding her arms. She turned to glare at the ghoul carrying her, and he abashedly set her down. “Getting out to launch a counterattack is better than staying behind and risking capture again.”
“What about no man left behind!?” Genevieve rounded on her.
“Admirable, but too risky in the situation to stick to. If it’s between leaving me and no one getting out, I’ll take the former, thank you. Besides, we have our foreign friend here to thank for our freedom, so it all worked out in the end. Isn’t that right?” she said to a red-faced Genevieve, and shot a wry smile at Harvaste. “Thanks for that, by the way. Even if your friends area little rough.”
“It vas nosing, Madame. I hat employed diese ghuls to rescue all ov you, but plans change.”
“Speaking of which, how the heck did you get these guys?” Scott said, zipping up his hoodie. He sighed in relief; it was very cold out.
“I haff mine vays.” Harvaste said mysteriously with a cruel smile. Unfortunately, Thun tumbled out of the tunnel and perked up.
“Oh, gaadnk! Dis guy great! Dis vimtah strong, prove in lach’malachagza, stronger than Hhplinth! We zz-gh! All pile on, da big vimtah hit back with his big iscnassa! Fresh blood! Thun never have fresh blood before!”
“Quiet, you kt’lachnat!” Gh’mat picked Thun up and threw him head-first into the ground, to the braying of the other ghouls. Thun dug his way out, and the two were fighting again, the others joining. The group shuffled around them and started going back down the tunnel.
“They said Harvaste proved himself stronger than their chief and the rest of the tribe in…ritual combat’s the best way to describe it.” Amber translated, the knowledge she never realized she had always known since the resurrection bubbling up inside of her. “And apparently he used some kind of magic to do it.” Scott stopped dead in his tracks, staring at the elder vampire.
“Whoa. Magic? What arts do you know?” he asked, eyes wide. He had never met another wizard who wasn’t trying to kill him.
“I see dat mines secrets vill not remain secrets vor wery long vis you people.” Harvaste growled. “Howefer, it vould seen dat ve vill be vorking togedder vor da time being. Wery vell. Mark vell mines generosity, young human.” Genevieve gulped. This…this was major. Unprecedented. Lord Harvaste shared his secrets with no one, not even members of his own clan. She gave Scott a subtle glance; what was it about this kid that warranted this treatment, when even his own clan didn’t? However, she wasn’t foolish enough to say that out loud. Harvaste merely gave a small snort when he saw her face. She was as easy to read as a book. Speaking of which…
He reached into a very special leather case strapped to his back, like a knife might be for a quick draw from concealment. Scott’s eyes got even wider as he pulled out a supremely ancient battered black book. Though the binding was thin and faded, the ruby-red letters of the title stood out as thick and bright as the day they were inscribed.
“Beholt. A scripture I haff come across a wery, wery long time ago. The Recordum Et Mors Sanguis.”
Scott went very still. He suddenly felt very cold, and had to push down the compulsion to grab the Necronomicon and pull it out for…some reason. Harvaste frowned himself, thick brow furrowed.
“Dis ist a secret I haff kept to mineself vor a wery long time. You vill tell no vun about dis. Espeshully da clan, right, Genevieve?” he said, turning to her. She nodded vigorously, eyes wide. It was a well-known fact that Lord Harvaste was the most powerful vampire in the clan, perhaps the entire world; was this tome the key to his strength? “I am not efen sure vhy I show you dis,” he said, putting it away. “But I sink dat ve must put our cards on da table, oddervise dat accursed child shall haff his vay vit da town, mine clan, und more. Dis vill not happen, I vill not permit it. Do you understand? Und I vill haff mine revenge vor using mine clan in dis manner.”
“We all owe him one.” Nightfang said quietly.
“Yeah, not touching that. But anyway, I also happen to be in possession of an old, rare volume. It’s what I learned my necromancy from.” Scott explained, mulling things over. Once was chance, twice was coincidence, three times was…a conspiracy? How did it go? Anyway, the existence of one ultra-rare, literally one-of-a-kind text of magical knowledge dating back to single-digit centuries, in any single spot on the planet was astronomical. Stephanie had acquired the Libris Arcana Malefactorum within city limits as well. And now looky here, someone waltzes up with yet another grimoire. He narrowed his eyes. Something was rotten in the town of Craven Falls.
“Intdeed. I haff learnt ov your…exploits vrom mine new companions here.”
“Yeah! He mzz-uk, get all meats to beat cv’vgngh biggest time! He put back, good, and when we get meats they very good! Even more tastier! Gvv-ap!” Thun piped up, plodding down the tunnel and flopping on the ground. The sounds of violence could still be heard from behind him.
“Uh, Thun? They seem to be fighting a lot. Is…is everything okay?” Amber asked the ghoul nervously. Thun gave a high-pitched bark of laughter.
“Cuz no worry, no worry! We gdumvph ghouls, we tough, we strong!” He reached out and grabbed a handful of dirt and squeezed it. He dropped it into her hands, and she was astonished to find it packed tighter than if a steamroller had run over it, nearly a rock. “We like fight, all gdumvph ghouls do! We fights all day, we digs all day, we eats meats all day! You sun-cuz, you wimp. But Thun save! We save sun-cuz and nekky-man who get meats more tastier!” he said with the widest smile she’d ever seen.
“Thank…you?” she said uncertainly, casting about for help. Scott was coughing over being referred to as ‘nekky-man’.
“Da ghuls here underground are da strongest dere ist. He means you no insult, mistress Amber, but dey are not wery, ciwilized, shalt ve say.” Harvaste explained. “Thun, go und alert da odders. Ve musht make haste, wampires become stronger during da night. I veel mineself gaining strength, so I vear dey vill be ready soon. Ve do not haff much time to prepare. I shalt lead da ghuls against da wampires. It pains me, but dey are no longer part ov mine clan. Howewer, all vill be vor not unless dat thrice-accursed magician can be brought to heel.” he said with a scowl.
“I don’t like this. I really don’t like this. There’re too many variables.” Cross said, holding a hand to her chin. “First of all, how will they strike? At what? Us? The town? I can’t really get a read on that kid, I don’t know what his next move will be. One moment, a tactician would laugh at his flailing, the next he stumbles onto something scarily effective.” She shook her head. “It’s pointless to lead an army where your opponent isn’t. And from what I’ve seen, he’s nigh-omnipotent. I…don’t think a gun’s enough to stop him.” she said doubtfully, checking hers over.
“Intdeed. Dough I vould like to ewicerate him, slice him to ribbons, und cause da remaining blood to boil, I am avraid it vill be ov little use. I haff heard of his regenerashun.” Harvaste said, a red aura briefly flickering around him.
“Actually, I’ve been working on something for that.” Scott piped up, pulling out his phone. After a moment, he got a signal and the videochat connected. There was a zombie on screen, stringy-haired with the skull poking through its browned, shrunken flesh.
“Uuuuugggghhh.” it moaned.
“Ahh, excellent! Put the screen close to the tanks and designs, I want to check on their status.”
“Muuugh.” The screen was clumsily shuffled around, and the phone was awkwardly carried over to the bubbling fish tanks, filled with some kind of sludge-like substance. It lurched over to the magic circle the other zombies were working on, nearly complete.
“Scan the whole thing.” Scott commanded, and as the phone went over it he started cackling. “Heh heh heh ha ha! Yes, yes! Good, very good! Soon the plan will be complete, and it is I who shall be victorious!”
“Is…does he always talk like a supervillain?” Nightfang whispered to Amber nervously.
“You have no idea.” she replied, rolling her eyes.
“How are the raw materials coming along?” Scott said, and the group crowded around the phone in morbid fascination, at least until it showed the pile of…
“Nooo!” The whole group save Scott and Thun recoiled in horror, Genevieve dry heaving in a corner.
“Why?” she pleaded. “W-Why do you have s-so many dead puppies?”
“I think I might be sick.” Nightfang said. He recalled footage he’d seen of the Holocaust, mounds of bodies being thrown into a pit. There were far too many similarities for comfort.
“I-I think there was a pile of kitties, too.” Amber said, nearly in tears.
“I should haff your head vor dis!” Harvaste declared. He’d had several hundred canine companions over the centuries, and each one was buried with love and honor on the castle grounds.
“Ah! Good meats!” Thun said, and every wide eye turned on him.
“Thun, go get da resht ov da ghuls.” Harvaste said.
“Okie-dokie!” Thun slammed his hand into his head as a salute, and loped off.
“What are you guys complaining about? This’s a necessary part of necromancy, no matter the spell.” Scott said, trying to defend himself. “I mean, yeah, it’s not the most pleasant of options-”
“Understatement of the year.” Amber said dryly, and he stuck his tongue out at her.
“But this one’s on a bigger scale than normal. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later. I got inspired by the filk song.”
“Song? There’s a song?” Nightfang asked without thinking.
“Yeah, the Ogden Edsl song.” The necromancer cleared his throat. “Deeeeaaad puppies, (dead dead dead) dead puppies…My puppy died, late last fall, he’s still rotting in the hall, dea-mmph.” Amber had mercifully put her hand on his mouth.
“No. Just no.” she said, shaking her head. “Dear child, you have much to learn, and the first thing is no.”
“Good boy.” She uncovered his mouth and sighed. She was torn between laugh-crying at the song, or being horrified he took it literally.
“Ugh. Anyway, we should get out of here. We’ve got a lot to do, so we should get prepared. Kid, you good to go?” Cross said.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Scott answered. This did nothing to reassure Cross. He was swaying back and forth, blinking slowly and moving stiffly, like an old man. She sighed to herself; they were all getting old before their time.
“Really? To my understanding, you got no sleep last night and nearly killed yourself with sucking the souls out of the town.”
“I got some rest when I was knocked out, don’t worry.” he said with a grin. Cross didn’t need to be a detective to know he was lying, and her frown deepened. “Trust me detective, I’ll be able to handle it. It’s not going to be pleasant, but I’ll manage. We don’t have the time to be concerned with my health right now, and I will be okay.” If he said it often enough, he would believe it.
“Is that a fact?” Leo said, making himself known. “You are one of the lynchpins of the operation. You need to be in tip-top shape.” The others gasped in amazement at his appearance. Scott snickered at his aura.
“Yo, good to see ya. Don’t worry ‘bout it, I’ll live. Probably,” he amended worriedly, “if we, y’know, live through this.”
“I suppose that’s the best we can hope for. Unfortunately, I seem to have become deceased before we could consolidate on a plan. Is there a plan?” he asked, and the necromancer grinned and rubbed his hands together.
“Boy oh boy oh boy, is there ever. And if we got a tribe of ghouls to help us out-” he nodded at Harvaste “-then we don’t even have to hit up the zoo.” More silence followed his proclamation.
“…do I even wanna know?” Cross said tiredly.
“No. You do not. Anyway, let’s break for now. We can use the ghoul tunnels to move around, so let’s reconvene at my secret lab around…He checked his phone. “Seven sounds good, right?”
“Wery vell. Iv you giff me da address, I can haff da ghuls dig to anyvhere in da city. I shalt retreat vis Genevieve to mine hotel und make preperashuns. Dis ist acceptable?” Harvaste said with a raised brow.
“Perfect. I wanna go home first, as my lab is stocked with many things, but a refrigerator is not one of them.” Scott said, then considered. “I should get a mini-fridge.” he muttered.
“Alright. We’ll see you then.” Cross shook the vampire’s hand, and motioned for the teenagers to follow her. “Alright people! He have less than three hours before we meet up and move out. If you have anything you need to do before then, get it done as quick as possible. I’m going to have a stiff drink and pray to God we make it through this.”
“Just make sure you get the right god.” Amber said gloomily, considering their foe.
“It doesn’t matter. It’s a hero’s duty to save the world, no matter form what. We’ll win. I believe it.” Nightfang reassured her, gently pumping his fist.
A troop of ghouls soon came up and escorted them through the tunnels, digging a new route with their bare hands with alarming acceleration, laughing and smacking each other jovially. In no time at all, Cross’s group emerged from the ground in Scott’s backyard, hustling to the door casting fearful glances at the sky. Once they were in, they breathed a sigh of relief.
“Hey, if someone’s who’s got super strength could move my family into like the living room or something, that’d be great.” Scott said, filling up the undead members of the group with necrotic energy. “It’s okay if you wanna leave my brother there though.” Amber rolled her eyes and took his family to their beds upstairs. It was a little strange; except for the slight motion of their chests, she would believe they were dead.
Once she’d put them away and looked around at the rooms she was once again intruding in, only this time tangible, she made her way down to the living room, where Scott had detailed the rough plan to defeat Brian. Leo was looking troubled, Cross’s mouth was hanging open, but she couldn’t be sure about Nightfang with that mask of his.
“So that’s what the fish tanks were for.” Cross muttered, crossing her arms worriedly.
“Are-are you sure this’ll work? I mean, this…wow, that’s nasty. I’m pretty sure it violates some international laws.” the vampire said. Amber sighed. Scott had already filled her in. The plan was radical, but at this point she expected nothing less from him.
“I’ll be concerned about breaking the rules of the law when I’m concerned about the rules of reality.” Scott shrugged off, downing his third cup of coffee. He was struggling to stay awake, the caffeine had replaced his blood at some point. He opened a pack of Pop-tarts and devoured both in two bites.
“Well, it’s extreme. Make sure you don’t mess it up.” Cross said, giving him a hard look.
“I’ll be careful.” Scott said dryly, and stood up to stretch. “Okay, since everything’s gonna start up later, I’m catching a nap. Get me up an hour before we meet up with Lord Stuffyfangs, I’ll need to make some adjustments to the sigils.”
“‘Lord Stuffyfangs’?”Amber said in amusement, eyebrow raised. Scott waved her off.
“I’m tired, you don’t get my A material.” He stumbled up the stairs.
Once in his room, he tossed his backpack on the bed and yawned. He shook his head. Every muscle ached.
“Tarantulas, put my bag in the closet.” he said, never more grateful for minions than now. The rat-headed monstrosity crawled out and pulled the pack off the bed, retreating through the closet door. The Necronomicon slipped out though, plopping on the bed. Scott rubbed his face.
“Get what you pay for, I guess.” It was easier just to put it away himself. When he reached for it, the lights flickered, a cold wind rushing through the room to flip the pages with a dark rustling. Scott sighed. “Look, it was scary the first time, unsettling the second, but by the fiftieth time it gets old.” he groused, picking it up and looking at the page it obviously wanted him to read.
He wasn’t prepared for the tentacles that sprung forth from the tome, engulfing his head. Pain blossomed as they pierced his eyes and ruptured his eardrums, the wriggling tendrils forcing themselves up his nose. He opened his mouth to scream, but another one shoved its way into his throat, and he knew no more.