My nostrils were greeted, before the door was even opened fully, with an unmistakably familiar smell, that had no place whatsoever in South Texas. Perhaps I should have guessed it would follow Jin-Ju from her homeland. But truth be told, until that moment, I still hadn't allowed myself to believe the girl I had seen was my former lover. “Ah, it makes me homesick,” I deadpanned.
Val's response was to swat my arm on the way to covering her nose with her hand. “Can we go back to the sewer, please?”
“It's certainly a unique aroma,” my Dad agreed in a carefully neutral tone. “I'd never thought about what vampires would eat, but I should have imagined it would smell like this.”
I chuckled. “No Sir, most of Korea smells like this. It's kimchi, and it tastes much better than it smells.”
“It'd have to,” he replied with a sideways glance.
I wouldn't argue with that, given the smell of fermented cabbage augmented by garlic resulted in a stench not dissimilar from the stale water we just emerged from. But I always enjoyed it as a side to Korean-styled barbecued short-ribs. It was safe to say these vamps would be more inclined to give me garlic breath than run away from it. Which reminded me, we needed stakes. I should've watched Buffy before I went vampire hunting, shouldn't have I?
We were in a basement, only slightly wider than a proper hallway, with a single curly-Q energy-efficient bulb hanging in the center of the room with a pull string. The room was kept refrigerated, a bone-chilling shift from the muggy heat below. There was the requisite cabbage and garlic, but also boxes of peppers and pears as well. Also, in the back corner stood a fully stocked wine rack.
I pulled down a bottle to see its cork had been resealed with wire. The liquid was dark red that made my stomach churn. But I reached into my my pocket and found my Swiss Army knife. Alternating between the pliers and fish-hook, I worked the cage loose, and then applied the corkscrew.
The metallic odor rose from the bottle, mixing with the fermented cabbage and garlic to create a malodorous assault that made my eyes water and remember tear gas chambers in boot camp. Val moaned as she observed the viscous liquid.
Another door opened, at the far end of the basement, and boots thumped against stairs. Val leveled her pistol, and she watched with a sneer. But it was a boy, maybe thirteen years old. Her gun-hand lowered, and she took a cautious step toward him.
“It's OK. You're with friends now,” she soothed with her left hand motioning for him to approach.
The boy took two tentative steps, like he was frightened and submissive, with his eyes lowered. Then he raised his head, his jaws open in a feral smile revealing fangs as he threw himself at Val with an air-raid siren of a scream.
Caught flat-footed, she was steamrolled by the leap, crashing into crates of fruit. Val fended off the child's fangs with an open hand to his jaw, followed by a twist that sent him rolling to the floor. Father's pistol fired, and again the bullet's strike was followed by a burst of fire.
I glanced at the smoldering corpse and then shook my finger at the gun. “You told me you my magic wouldn't work on bullets, and I've never seen you work storm-magic either, Sir.”
“Yours, yes,” he replied. “But did you think I wasn't willing to use alchemy still?”
“I didn't even know you had a gun, Sir. Let alone how to make bullets do that.”
“I'm alright, dear,” Val said sharply while stretching her hand out to me.
After helping her up, I kissed her on the cheek. “Aivee darling, if I'd seen the fangs get that close to you, I'd have been scared shitless for you.”
Emotions swirled in her eyes. “You can be more apologetic than that, Mister Wizard. But I'll let you try again later.”
On parting, a machine pistol poked around the door and sprayed the cellar with bullets. We dropped to the floor as leaves and seeds scattered around us and the wall behind. I fired back, and then waited with my Mag Light. As the shooter reached around the door again, I threw lightning at the door, slamming its splintering wood back into him. The gunman staggered and fell down the stairs. Val waited for him to stop rolling before taking her shot.
Shouts of alarm rang from upstairs in both Korean and English. Val shifted to the left side of the cellar and crouched behind a stack of as-yet unperturbed pepper crates. I scooted to the right, closer to the wine rack, while Dad slipped to the rear stairs and kept himself prone along them, using his far-sight to watch the upward flight.
“There look to be a dozen of them, Victor,” he warned.
“Do you think we're better off holding here or retreating?” I glanced first at Val then back.
“We're sitting ducks in that passage, dear,” Val replied. “At least here we've something approaching cover against them.”
“Concur.” I nodded, while silently amending, Just so they don't have freaking grenades.
They didn't. But someone did have magic which bathed the cellar in darkness. Even the light from the fixture above was blanketed from sight by the pitch black. I debated using my magic to ignite the Mag Light, but decided that would be too likely to give me away at the moment.
The steps were made from the same concrete as the cellar floor beneath us. But I heard a faint squeak of shoes on rubber as they stepped on the mat at the landing. So I risked creating a different kind of light and hissed, “Blesk!”
It was not my brightest move. Soft tissue makes a good end terminus for my magical strikes. When I don't have that choice, I try to find a target far enough away to absorb the residual energy, so I don't get blown to Hell by my own sorcery.
But this time, with the far wall a mere fifteen feet away and solid concrete, I had gambled on finding a target. While I did, I also poured too much power into the strike. It blew through my victim, struck the wall behind, and then ricocheted back at my head.
I'd anticipated my stupidity just quickly enough to duck to the floor as the lightning crashed through the wine bottles above me and then continued kicking off walls around the room in a considerably less humorous version of the trash compactor scene in Star Wars. I probably had missed the joke because I was living the scene, instead of watching it from the safety of the opposite end of a movie screen.
“Victor!” Val screeched, a last ricochet illuminating the panic in her heart-shaped face's wide eyes, with her elbows folded over the top of her head.
Muzzles flashed red in the dark, followed by bullets crashing into the crates and bottles around me. I felt cool blood flowing over my arms and head. At first my fears convinced me into believing it was my own. But after patting myself down for bullet holes, and noting the general lack of pain or trauma associated with small caliber fire tearing through human flesh, I realized it was the shattered bottles of the vampires' nourishment above dribbling down over my body.
I flicked on my light, and saw a female figure leaping through the air at me. The only feature visible to me were her fangs and brick-colored eyes. Squeezing off two rounds, I saw her leap turn into a gasping fall as she reached at her stomach. Still she landed on me, and I had to kick her body away. When my hands were clear, I shouted, “Down!”
“Oh Hell!” Valerie screeched. “You can't be serious!”
But this time I called for fire, and aimed it where I remembered the top of the stairs. The blast back-drafted over the cellar, but we remained beneath it. The sorcerer who had conjured darkness had to have been killed or distracted, because when the billows of flame and smoke parted, we could see again. After a few well-placed rounds, we had dispatched no less than half the dozen Father had seen.
Sirens were sounding and the shouts of alarm were now to get out, with which I, for once, was in wholehearted agreement with the vampires as we retreated for the passage. Two vampires tried to follow us, but pistols barked and cut them down.
We slammed the door shut and my magic was the only light in the dark passage. We rushed back twenty paces and I turned to find the female vampire I'd shot before was trailing us again. One of Dad's bullets set it aflame, and silence settled over the passage.
I fumbled for one of the adrenaline-shots, as just the effort of maintaining my light was making my eyes heavy. I took the plastic bottle, twisted off the lid, and downed the thick liquid in a gulp. Whistling, I looked at the bottle. “That's strong stuff, Sir.”
“Good medicine rarely tastes good, Victor,” Father deadpanned.
“I didn't mean it was horrible tasting,” I grinned at him. “But it's like drinking a combination of whiskey, Red Bull, and a Double Mocha.”
“Good thing I'm driving,” Val jested. “But we should get back to the truck before the police figure out how we got down here.”
Following the passage back was simple enough, but just before we reached the clay pit, shots rang out. I ducked against the wall. One figure was about to leap into the mire, but he was caught by his fellows.
“Don't, they'll have to come to us,” one hissed.
Val cut short their debate with three staccato bursts of her Smith & Wesson. Then I threw fire behind them, but there were no screams to answer the burst. Rather, silence reigned once more, the acrid smell of fire added smoke to the renewed sticky heat of the passage.
The ground beneath us began to rumble, and chunks of dirt began to collapse from the ceiling above.
“Oh shit,” I muttered, and then raised my voice. “Out, now! Go!”
Val tried to leap the pit, but for once her legs weren't long enough, and she caught and wobbled in the clay. I clambered in to steady her, and then pushed her over the ledge into the storm sewer beyond.
“Vic!” she shrieked.
But I was focused on the maw emerging from the passage floor. It leaned over and stretched toward Dad. I leaned as far forward as I could and pulled him behind me. Then I summoned all the renewed strength the potion I'd drunk had given me, focusing it on the worm as it emerged, eyeless face and mouth chewing dirt as it approached.
“Blesk!” I shouted. My lightning ripped through the still-emerging worm, and crashed into the ceiling above, which began to collapse. My feet wouldn't budge and I couldn't muster the strength to pull myself loose.
Val stretched her hand for me, and screamed for me to leap for her. But before I could try again, the howls of vampires charging her forced her to turn aside from me, with a last helpless glance, and defend herself and Father. Rock or concrete fell from the ceiling, striking me in the back of the head, and my hat fell off as I tumbled into the clay. More earth fell over me, burying me in the dark under a cave-in my own magic had created. The clay preventing me from screaming allowed me to hear Aivee cry out for both of us. Then the pressure forced a rush of blood into my ears, and even her voice was lost to me.