Xarathon's rage grew as he stalked the halls of the abandoned high school, eight lesser vampires surrounding him.
It's the Harvest Moon, he thought savagely, one of the most magically potent nights of the year. I should be sacrificing virgins, not hunting children. Indeed, it was forty years to the day since the Harvest Moon where he had cursed the entire Earth, covering up the appearance of vampires and magic once and for all. He should be ripping the still-beating heart from the chest of the leader of these savages, that Nicky woman, not wasting his time looking in closets and stalking empty corridors.
Up ahead, movement, a fleeting blur as a teenager dashed across the lobby and into the gymnasium. With snarls of impatience, his troops dashed ahead, pursuing the youngster through the open doors and onto the hardwood floor.
When they reached the mid-court line, hundred of water balloons fell from the ceiling. He had hung back, suspicious of a trap; four of his troops were hit and soaked. One other was fast enough to avoid all but a few splashes.
There were no children in the gymnasium, though, and the far doors were locked. The vampires stumbled sheepishly back out into the lobby.
"These children have never gone to such lengths before," Xarathon growled. "What are they up to?"
Vincent shrugged, absent-mindedly scratching at his face. His talon came away dripping blood, and the vampire stared at his hand, mystified. Small sparks began shooting off from his skin, and he screamed in terror.
In moments, Vincent's body was engulfed in flames, and Xarathon backed away from the inferno. Hector ran screaming down the hallway, erupting into a fireball outside the principal's office and collapsing into ash. The other two who had been soaked by the balloons caught fire and collapsed as well.
One trap had cut his forces in half.
These children had figured out how to dissolve silver in water!
Nicky outlined the chalk circle and sprinkled it with salt and other powders. Just outside of the circle was the stool upon which the statue stood. The hole in the ceiling would bring the moonlight onto the statue shortly, and she needed to have read from the scroll by then.
She hoped the rest of the team was all right. Mitch would have said "it's for the greater good, and they know what they're sacrificing themselves for," but that didn't make things any easier. The counter-curse had to be cast here, where the original spell had been cast, and the vampires had to be kept busy while she did it.
Nicky didn't have much time, she knew. The vampires could get bored of the game and come home before she was done. She could mis-read a magical word, and totally hose the spell.
...or she could fall victim to it.
She was 17, a year past the point when most other Guardians had lost the ability to see vampires and magic. Nicky knew she was living on borrowed time, and often caught herself daydreaming of things that just were not in character for her.
All of the preparations were complete. She lit the tall black candles, and began to read the words of a long-dead necromancer.
She didn't--couldn't--sense the other presence in the room, an intangible sentry-spirit whose mission it was to prevent just what she was doing. It wasn't corporeal, could not harm her or even communicate with her. The master must be informed, it thought, and left it's post for the first time in forty years.
This has got to be a diversion, Xarathon thought.
Another of his troops had fallen to the children's traps, though three of the children hadn't run fast enough and were now nothing more than bloody smears on the floors and walls of the cafeteria. Ahead, a horrible racket was coming from the band room, but the vampires were wary of stepping through the doors.
"Get in there!" he growled, shoving them through the doors, and then stepping through himself.
The children had piled chairs and instruments all around the room, forming a maze. The low ceiling kept the vampires from leaping over the walls of brass and wood.
A boy, no older than 14, stepped out from behind the mess and hurled a water balloon. It splashed harmlessly off the door, and Bruce took off after the kid--who disappeared into the maze before the balloon even hit.
There was a scream. Bruce staggered back, holding his head in his hands; he actually made it three steps before collapsing into dust. Xarathon walked forward a few steps, and found the piano wire stretched across the maze. In the dimly lit room, there could be hundreds of these little tricks.
Only two minions left, and they headed for the exit as a rain of water balloons flew over the maze. He went out with them.
Master, came the tickling at his ear, She is here.
It was a diversion. The children were supposed to keep him occupied while the girl did something.
She has the figure, the voice continued, and he screamed in rage. He grabbed Mendoza, the smarter of the two surviving vampires, and shoved him against the wall.
"I don't care if you need to burn this hell-hole to the ground," he said, teeth clenched. "Get the rest of the pack here, now. No one gets out of here alive."
Then he was gone.
Mitch turned to Steve, sitting in a closet near the principal's office. He was listening to a headset plugged into the school intercom system. "Someone get on the phone to Nicky, and tell her she's got company coming. And there are more vamps on their way, so everyone get ready."
Nicky stood in her circle, waiting. The spell had been read. Hopefully she hadn't screwed it up.
She needed to wait until the light from the moon shone full on the statue, and then she could finish the spell. She stood, silently, impatiently, absently swinging a stake.
Shouldn't you be doing something else, came a whisper in her ear. As a matter of fact, there was something else, wasn't there...? She looked at the stake in her hand, but it wasn't a stake, it was a tennis racket.
That's what she had forgotten, today was her tennis lesson.
She gave the racket a few practice swings, and spun it around her finger. Yeah, that's what she needed, go whack a couple of balls over the net, burn off this frustration over...over...what had she been frustrated and impatient with, just moments ago...? Her brain was fuzzy, she was supposed to be doing something, not thinking about tennis...
She looked closely at the racket, and noticed the logo--a golden hand holding a tennis racket.
A tear rolled slowly down her cheek. Arik, she thought. How could I forget Arik?
She spun the tennis racket a few more times, and then reversed it in her hand.
Then she jammed it backwards, under her left arm, outside the circle--below the spot from whence the whisper had come. The shriek of pain and terror told her she had hit her target.
Xarathon staggered back two steps, screaming. The stake had been perfectly on target; he was dying. He could feel his insides filling with sand and dust. But thirteen hundred years of evil wouldn't die in an instant. He could still keep her from breaking the spell. He reached through the circle at her, felt his arm catch fire for breaking the protective barrier, caught her shirt in his decaying talons, dragged her away from the statue.
"You won't break the curse!" he spat, as the moonlight fell on the horrific little statue. She fought, struggled, tried to get away--and then froze. He had her! It was time and she was too far away!
She reached under her shirt, pulled off a pendant, and held it up--a feather, five inches long, solid gold. "This is for you, Arik," she whispered. She threw it, knife-style, at the figurine, while he screamed in impotent anger.
The heavy feather caught the statue high, knocking it off balance. It wobbled, rocked, finally toppled off the stool.
His last sight, as he crumbled into dust, was the statue shattering into a million pieces too.
Nicky stepped carefully out of the crypt, and made her way through the quiet streets back to the school. She was amazed at what she saw when she arrived.
The school principal, two teachers, and seven parents were taking on a vampire on the front lawn.
Mitch was standing on the statue in the front of the school, shouting orders, and amazingly enough, the adults were actually listening to him. Clumps of adults were taking down vampires all around the school grounds. Steve was helpfully and cheerfully handing out stakes, spears, and crossbows from the tailgate of his family's station wagon.
Mitch jumped down to stand next to her. "Not bad, for a girl," he said.
They watched the chaos in silence for a few minutes. "So, what now?"
"I don't know about you," she said, "but I know what I'm doing."
She turned her back on the adults and vampires, and walked home. There was no one there; odds are her parents and brother were out stomping vampires now too. She ignored the empty house, went straight up the steps, and slammed the door behind her.
Several minutes later, the door opened again, for just a moment. When it closed, there was a sign hanging on it, freshly painted in fingernail polish the color of blood, some of the letters dripping slightly.
It said Getting caught up on sleep for the next week. If you wake me up for anything less than the end of the world, you're risking instant painful death. Consider yourself warned.