Alicia did her best to act casual as she moved through the building, hoping that no one would spot her and try to stop her. As she moved, she pulled out her phone and sent a text to Mara and Ulla.
"Where are you?"
"We've found your wax, but it stopped." Quickly came the reply. Alicia looked around and quickly headed back towards the entrance, doing her best to avoid the area with sleeping vampires. Eventually, Alicia looped back to the ride and pushed the cup open.
"Girls!" she whispered, only to see Mara and Ulla poke their heads out from a bush. "Pre-warning: I have fangs! But fake!" Alicia smiled as she quickly removed them before putting them back in.
"Fangs?" asked Ulla as she walked out of the bush. "How did you?"
"Mom gave them to me," replied Alicia. "She broke the gum injectors off."
"Very clever!" Mara marveled.
"Follow me," Alicia led with a smile. "We're doing prisoner transport."
"On it!" nodded Ulla as the girls climbed back down into the tunnels. The girls moved as quickly and as silently as they could. These rougher tunnels seemed to be not as well-designed as the ones they had dealt with previously.
In fact, the many dead ends suggested that the vampires were not great at tunneling or construction and had merely extended or hastily fixed already derelict areas of the park's existing tunnels and maintenance hatches.
"Where are we going?" inquired Mara.
"I have no idea," replied Alicia. "I just know Mom and the Courtesan moved this way, so it makes sense this would be towards their bunker location."
"Right," nodded Mara.
As the group continued to wind through the tunnels, they found more junk and more debris. However, there was little sign of the vampires or the mysterious Courtesan.
After several minutes of walking, the girls came across a door with a vampire stationed outside it. The vampire immediately turned and glared at Alicia.
"Where are you going?" they hissed.
"Prisoner transport." Replied Alicia.
"No one told me about it. I don't recognize you," added the vampire as they moved closer.
"I'm the new Thirteen," smirked Alicia.
"Thirteen has fallen?" The vampire spat out with surprise as Alicia moved closer.
"Yep," chuckled Alicia, "so I outrank you."
"But," mumbled the vampire.
"I. Outrank. You," growled Alicia as her eyes turned silver. "I am thirteen. I am a higher rank than you. You will obey me. Obey your superior," she stated firmly as the vampire started to sway on the spot. The vampire tried to stumble back but it was hopeless, she couldn't escape the glow emanating from Alicia's eyes.
"I..I.." moaned the vampire as her mouth dropped open slightly as her eyes started to cross. "No. No," she groaned as she grabbed her head, "No, please."
"Please respect my authority," smiled Alicia as she gazed deeply into the trembling vampire's eyes. Traces of silver formed in the vampire's eyes as she continued to sway.
"No, I," groaned the vampire. She tried to lunge forward, but she was too dazed to muster anything more than a clumsy swing. Alicia grabbed the girl's arm and pulled her close until their noses were rubbing. Alicia's eyes drilled a hole into the vampire’s.
"Yes. Respect my authority. Feel my will crushing you like a heavy lead weight. Pushing you down," growled Alicia as she gripped the vampire's shoulder and pushed down on it. The vampire let out a soft groan as her knees trembled before giving way. She let out a low moan as silver-filled her eyes and she crumpled to the floor. "Do you respect my authority?"
"I respect your authority," groaned the vampire in monotone.
"Good. Now, go out. Go into the forest. You've been assigned a job. Sort the fallen leaves by color. Am I understood?"
"You are understood," responded the vampire.
"Then, get to work! Quick march!" shouted Alicia as she got ready to clap her hands, only to stop before she did. "Empty your pockets first! Then work!" That done, she clapped her hands. The vampire instantly jumped off the floor and yanked her pockets inside out, causing the contents to clatter to the floor before she ran off down the corridor.
"Very firm!" chuckled Ulla as Mara bent down to look at the pocket debris.
"They have a hierarchy. Major deference to authority thing going on," nodded Alicia. "Mesmera is Thirteen, so I'm playing them at their own game."
"Huh," mumbled Ulla as she tapped her chin. "Thirteen is Mesmera. The one we met earlier was Twenty-Seven."
"I've met Fifty-Two and Thirty-Six." Added Alicia as Mara clambered up off the floor with the loot in hand. Sifting through it, Mara smiled. "I found a key!"
"Awesome!" Ulla grinned. "Something's up. No way they can have all these numbers. They've got a lot, but you would think by now we would have encountered two in a similar range."
"Also, the minions aren't numbered," interjected Alicia as Mara unlocked the door and pulled it open.
Ulla blinked. "What?"
"Yeah, they have like. Two ranks?" explained Alicia. "Revenants who've been zombified by the Queen, and then the normals."
"So, they've got gaps. No way they have enough vampires to cover up to a minimum of fifty."
"So, they're faking their numbers?" asked Alicia.
"Something about this reeks of Kabuki theatre," said Mara as she looked into the room, only to gasp. "A lab!" Mara’s eyes went wide as she ducked inside. Alicia and Ulla followed along before closing the door behind them.
As Alicia looked inside the lab, she realized that Mara was being really generous. This place, while full of equipment, was rough and decayed and everything was balanced on top of wobbly if not broken tables.
On the far side of the room was the door to a second room. A flashing red light could be seen under the frayed curtain that hung over the window. Mara went and lifted the curtain only to let out a groan as her eyes went wide.
"Huh?" Alicia frowned as she ran over. As she turned to see what was happening, the red light pushed into her eyes. It was so bright. It was like someone had set a flashbang off in her brain. She couldn't think, her whole body was tense. It felt like her muscles were turning into stone. The cogs of her brain whirred fruitlessly. She tried to speak, but her jaw was locked and she couldn't think of the words. She couldn't come up with the words.
She tried to grunt or groan, but she couldn't. Nothing seemed real. She felt depersonalized. She wasn't sure where she was or who she was. Everything seemed wrong. Alarm bells were ringing in her head, but she didn't know what they meant. She couldn't think. Just the red flashing light. Flash red light. Digging into her. Digging into her soul.
Alicia felt a sharp pain in her side as her body fell sideways. The light vanished from her vision as she crashed onto the floor with a thud. Her head was throbbing and she felt so dizzy.
"What happened?" groaned Alicia.
"That light did a number on both of you," replied Ulla firmly. "Had you both mesmerized. You wouldn't respond to me."
"It felt so weird. Like I couldn't think," groaned Mara.
"What even is it?" asked Ulla.
"I don't know," moaned Alicia. "I couldn't think about it enough to know what I was seeing," she added before suddenly gasping. "Idea!"
Alicia reached into her costume and fished out her phone before fiddling with it. She then lifted it to the window and tapped on the screen. The distinctive camera shutter sound echoed around the room as Alicia pulled the phone down and looked at the screen.
"Does it affect you?" Asked Mara.
"Seems to be safe," nodded Alicia as she turned the phone around to show it to the other two. The picture showed a large screen with a group of three chairs facing it. On the screen was the Lamia Queen's face, her eyes glowing a deep red as strange patterns danced behind her.
"Brainwashing," said Ulla as she clenched her fist.
"The Lamia Queen's power works over video," deduced Alicia. "This seems to be the effect it had on the vampire I saw her use it on. It made them into a husk."
"Right," agreed Ulla, "It working over video makes it dangerous."
"It working over," began Alicia, pausing to think, "video."
"Huh?" Mara looked Alicia over.
"I think I've just realized what they're doing," groaned Alicia. "Why they're releasing people. Why not everyone is turned. They want to get on TV."
"So they can," started Mara.
"Raise an army," interjected Alicia. "They're putting out stunts to get people to come here. Vloggers, local news. Anyone with a camera."
"They broadcast, and it brings more people to see the Lamia Queen who can then turn them!" exclaimed Mara. "This is why they kidnapped so many people. A whole group missing means the press will swarm here tomorrow."
"There won't be a castle tomorrow," said Ulla firmly. "We're putting an end to this."
"Right!" Alicia agreed. "But first we need to make sure no one is in this room and deactivate it."
"On it," said Mara as she flipped some switches on her suit. "Ulla, pull the door open without looking, I'm going to try to shoot behind me with my claw."
"Got it," Ulla replied as she slowly opened the door. Mara turned and slowly started to back up, pointing her fist backward over her head and pressing a button. Instantly, a large claw on a chain flew out of the arm of her suit. It smashed the screen with a large crash as the flashing turned to strobe before stopping instantly.
"Get it?" asked Mara.
"Direct hit!" Alicia cheered as she ran into the room and checked the chairs. Two women were sitting in them. Their muscles were still tight, and drool totally coated their chins.
Alicia gently lifted one of the girl's lips and saw a pair of fangs. "Emergency! Fang removal!" shouted Alicia as Emergency retracted her claw.
Ulla ran in and started to search the place, obviously looking to see if she could find anything of use. As Mara looked over the pair, she sighed. "They've really had a number done on them." She said as she gently removed the fangs. "I'm not sure if we can move them safely."
"Think they'll recover if left?" asked Ulla.
"Vitals seem okay," Mara reassured.
"We'll press on," said Ulla. "We can't risk them infecting more people."
"Right," said Mara. "If you see red, shoot it down."
"Got it," Alicia smiled. "Let's keep going with our prisoner transport. I think we’re getting somewhere."
"Right!" agreed Mara as she got behind Alicia. "Lead the way, jailer."
"Okay!" Alicia replied with a smile. "No idea where we're going though, this place is a labyrinth."
"Well, I guess we roam, try and find high concentrations of vampires," Ulla thought aloud, just as Alicia let out a gasp.
"Or!" Alicia said with a grin, "We have a duel."
"A duel?" Mara blinked.
"Their system seems to be based around you beating the person who holds a number. The winner gets the highest one. Mesmera beat the old Thirteen and thus became Thirteen," Alicia explained.
"So, we want to fight Mesmera?" asked Mara.
Alicia nodded. "At least we can try and challenge people to fights to see if they'll take us to where the higher-ranked vampires are? Though, there is already a flaw in this plan."
Ulla listened closely. "Which is?"
"Mesmera is Thirteen, yet she is hanging around with the cool kids. So, this doesn't seem the fairest system." Alicia noted.
"Have we met anyone above Thirteen?" wondered Mara as she rubbed the side of her helmet.
"Not that I know of. There might not be anyone above that," surmised Alicia. "Especially if they're skipping numbers."
"Right," sighed Mara.
"But, hey. We find vampires, or we cause so much chaos they come to us." Alicia grinned.
"I like that plan," Ulla agreed with a nod as the group started to move through the twisting corridors of this second tunnel system.