I only heard Preston’s voice telling me to wake up.
It is strange that I ended up sleeping along the way to the exotic pet store, and along with that odd dream. Were those my memories? If something like that has happened, it probably means we are getting closer to the chest I seek.
“Doc? I know that the traffic jam on the freeway was intense, but are you okay?” Preston asks me as I try to orient myself with the surroundings. It was a bad idea to go during the evening rush hour. “I thought the night made you feel alive?”
“I am fine, Preston. It must be the thing we seek that is causing it.” I frown at my servant who is still behind the wheel. “Are we at the destination?”
“Just one block away from it.” Preston says as he leans closer to the windshield. “It looks like that wimpy hunter and the other Houses aren’t here yet.”
“We might as well go in and see what this pet store is like.” I say as I notice Park in the back seat asleep. “Wake up, Park.” I speak in Koguryeon as Park shakes his head. “We’re here.”
Park nods and gets out of the car with me. Preston drives off to look for a safe place to park, and hopefully somewhere that won’t get us a parking ticket. The last time I let Preston park the car, we received a hefty fine, and the car got towed. It came out of Preston’s salary, of course. Park, still groggy from the nap manages to catch up to my pace as we arrive in front of the store.
The store has no sign indicating that it is Remigio’s Reptiles and Oddities, but I’ve told our allies that this is the destination. There must be something hidden in it, and I need to confirm that. I ask Park for a small pack of plasma fruit kimchi wrapped in plastic and consume the contents. Which reminds me of what happened earlier tonight.
“Fifty packs, Doctor?” Park asked me as he prepared the plastic packs.
“Jars are too bulky to bring, and bringing plasma juice or blood packs might stain our clothes bad.” I explained to Park in Simlish to help him get more used to the language.
The idiotic Preston raised a hand. “Are we that concerned about our laundry bills tonight, Doc?”
I just stared at him for a few seconds before slapping him on the head.
Remembering that scene just made me frown as Park and I entered the shop. Aside from your typical pets like rabbits, hamsters, and birds, the store was also selling lizards, snakes, and insects imported from different parts of the world. The smell is appalling as we hear tropical birds squawk in chorus.
“Welcome!” a friendly voice greets us as we approach the cashier. I look behind the counter and see an old woman with a warm smile. “We’re about to close, but I think we can accommodate one last customer.”
“Good evening.” I greet her cordially. “The animals that you sell in this establishment are amazing, but I was wondering if I can contact your manager.”
“I AM the manager.” the old woman replies. “Joy Jolly, at your service!”
“A fitting name for carrying such a wonderful smile!” I flatter the old woman with my vampiric charm. “But I simply must speak with the owner. Do you happen to know the name of the owner of this establishment?”
“I’m very sorry, but I can’t give out their name. I can give you my calling card, however. Is this for a business opportunity? We’re currently open for franchising.” the old woman looks for something under the desk and presents a calling card. I look to my right and see a door that gives off a strange energy, as if it is repelling me.
“May I know what is behind that door?” I ask, hoping to confirm something. “Does it lead to another section with more displays?”
“Sorry. That’s for authorized personnel only.” the old woman says flatly as she eyes Park, who was mesmerized by the little turtle swimming in a tank.
“Oh, hi there! May I interest you in a jumping spider from the southern jungles of Sudestajia?” the old woman tries to beckon Park. “They’re friendly, and I can let you hold one if you come closer.” Park attempts to get closer, but I raise a hand and stop him.
“Just tell me what is behind that door.” I press on as I massage my neck from frustration. She is clearly hiding something. “Is it your staff room?”
“Yes, sir. Employees only.” she says coldly and loses her once warm smile. “We’ll be closing in a few minutes, but I think I can give a bit more time to your scrumptious companion over here.”
“What is she saying, Doctor?” Park asks me in Koguryeon. “I don’t like the way she’s talking.”
The old woman laughs. “And a foreigner, too! How exotic!” She licks her lips, which confirms my hunch that she is not what she appears to be. “How about I bring you to the back and show you more interesting animals to pet?”
“So you do have something behind that door.” I put my arms behind my back, believing that I have confirmed what she really is. “What is behind that door?”
“Just the staff room! Now let me bring this delicious young man to the back.”
“I’m afraid I cannot allow that, ghoul.”
The old woman gives me a look of surprise as it quickly turns into apprehension.
“It took you a while, didn’t you, vampire?” the old ghoul reveals her true colors as her voice becomes more low-pitched and her eyes turn black. Sharp canines also appear from her mouth, perfect for ripping flesh. Ghouls are basically humans who have died but managed to revive with the help of a vampire. It happens when the vampire’s blood is not compatible. I dislike having ghouls as minions; it is like taking care of flesh-eating zombies that pretend to be human. Another annoying thing is that there is a group of ghouls that opened an underground human restaurant in town. Thinking about all that wasted blood makes me angry.
“I haven’t eaten yet, so don’t stop me from having my dinner!” the old ghoul lunges for Park and flips the heavy counter over like it was nothing. All sorts of folders and papers fly as the register ejects all of its cash.
“She wants to eat you, Park.” I tell Park in Koguryeon. “Stand back. I’ll handle this one.”
“Are you really going to hit an old lady, Doctor? I respect my elders where I’m from!”
“She may look like an old woman, Park. But she is no longer the kind that bakes you cookies or kisses your boo-boos.” I explain as I repel the old ghoul by giving her a roundhouse kick to the chest as she flies towards the displays at the back. “And ghouls are beneath vampires like me.”
The old ghoul shrieks like a banshee as she gets up and charges toward Park again with an angry scowl, but I block her way this time by catching her right arm to throw her overhead towards another display of small pets. As the ghoul crashes into the display, more critters break out of their cages in the confusion.
“Die, vampire!” the old ghoul snarls as she gets up and attempts to slash me with her sharp claws. I dodge each slash but did not expect her ramming me into the wooden wall as I get pricked by the splinters coming out from behind. The crash almost breaks my spine.
“Doctor!” Park shouts from afar.
“I’ve got you now, vampire.” the old ghoul extends her jaw beyond normal as I see all of her sharp teeth. “You’ll make a suitable appetizer before I feast on that Koguryeon. It’s been a while since I’ve had something spicy!”
“Know your place.” I stress each syllable as I perform my favorite fighting move: the headbutt. I ram my head right onto her nose. The old ghoul, stunned, tries to regain balance as I grab her by the neck with my left hand and pin her to the wall where I was seconds ago.
“I have no time for games, ghoul.” I raise my right hand as my fingernails on it become razor-sharp and glow like crimson. “Let us pass and I shall spare your life.”
“Pity for an old lady like me, huh?” the ghoul says with mockery. “Master Antares has given me an important task! You’ll never get through that door without the seal!”
“Which you hid under your stack of calling cards?” I tell Park in Koguryeon to search the stack of calling cards from the fallen counter. He manages to find a piece of paper with runes on it. “Thank you for putting that information at the top of your mind.” I smile.
The old ghoul’s arrogant expression changes to one filled with fear. “Wait! W-We can talk this out, can we? Please spare me, o great vampire! You already got what you wanted!”
“And risk the chance of you summoning for more help? I don’t think so.”
“But you said you’ll spare my life!”
I perform a heavy slash that severs the old ghoul’s neck as black sludge oozes out of her headless body. The head flies into a nearby fish tank. The now lifeless ghoul slowly drops from the wall and gets nipped at by a few of the critters that escaped. I cannot spare the lives of any enemy, especially when we’re dealing with the goons of Don Antares.
“Are you all right, Doctor?” Park comes up to offer me a pack of plasma fruit kimchi.
I raise a hand to decline. “Nothing but a few scratches from the splinters and ghoul blood stains, Park.” I say as I dust my suit that is littered with splinters. I’ll send my suit to the cleaners after this is all over. “But I pity those little critters nipping at the ghoul’s body. Ghoul flesh is highly toxic when consumed.” A critter suddenly writhes in pain and dies.
Park just stares at the ghoul’s lifeless body as I take the paper rune from his hand. I throw it onto the door as it opens by itself. The repelling aura from earlier disappeared as I call Park to follow me.
We find a staircase that leads down to a dark basement. I help Park down the steps and give him a bit of time to adjust to the darkness.
“I can see a bit now, Doctor.” Park says as he blinks his eyes slowly.
“Excellent. Now you can see the first obstacle in front of us. They have probably anticipated our arrival.” As I finish speaking, a couple of lights at the end of the hall suddenly light up.
“A pool of water?” Park asks as I move closer to the pool and touch the surface with my index finger. It burns, as if the skin on my finger was being peeled off.
“Holy water.” I say with disgust to myself and turn to Park. “Which is why I brought you here.” How could the Don have amassed this much holy water? It’s also too dangerous to jump over it. As Park scratches his head while looking at the pool of holy water, a voice from behind calls me as I hear footsteps coming down.
“Vampire. We have arrived.” the voice says with irritation.
I just look behind me and smile at the newcomers.
Store Credit: Pet Store by smellywolf