The village of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 1120 hours local : Countdown: 10 months, 28 days
Former Chief Warrant Officer Eric Stahl followed Father Rodriguez into the church. He felt a wash of unfamiliar energy as he crossed the threshold. For a moment, Stahl felt warm, cold, blissful, and alone all at once. It was perhaps the weirdest sensation he’d ever encountered. This, after over a year fighting the undead and their minion masters. The chief looked back at the others as they walked through the threshold. Cortez, McLintock, the Brits, and the cowboy, Collins passed through without any sign of discomfort. Tredegar looked queasy, but stepped through without an issue. The Steve looked as if someone hit him with a live wire. He actually flinched as he stepped into the church. The strangest one was the girl, Montgomery and her pet dog. They just stood at the threshold.
“Come on Jess,” Cortez said.
“Um, I can’t. Neither can Billy,” Montgomery said, motioning to the dog. Father Rodriguez turned around in surprise at the comment. The tiny priest studied the girl for a moment and then shook his head.
“I am sorry, Little Wolf,” the priest said. Stahl could hear the capital letters as he addressed Montgomery. “I wasn’t very specific when I called down the blessing on the church. I was trying to protect my flock, and I only asked for believers to be allowed in.”
“I believe in God,” Montgomery protested.
“Yes, but your loyalty is to Wolf, and you are bonded to one of his sons. That takes precedence,” the priest explained. “I will try to modify the blessing on the church, but it may take some time.” Father Rodriguez sounded contrite over the incident.
“Don’t worry about it,” Montgomery said, “Billy and I will keep watch outside.” Before anyone could stop her, Montgomery and Billy trotted back out into the town’s plaza.
“Mountain, go with them,” Stahl ordered. He didn’t want the girl out there on her own. Granted, that dog of hers was scary, but the chief would feel better with one of the other shooters out there.
“The Steve, Chief,” Mountain corrected. He cocked his head suspiciously at the door way before bulling his way through. The medic let out a yip as he went through the invisible barrier. The boy may not be right in the head, but he was solid enough. Plus, it kept the medic from making another stupid comment to the priest.
“Father, Zombie Strike killed eight of the vampires so far,” Tredegar said, “That leaves another fifty-eight in this world. According to the papers you sent, we need to move quickly to kill them before they grow too powerful.” The priest nodded absently as he led them out of the narthex. The sanctuary was crammed with people. The pews were pushed to the sides so that they could spread blankets on the stone floor. Several of the people rushed up to Father Rodriguez as he led the team across the sanctuary. He blessed them in Spanish and sent them back to their families. The chief felt the villagers’ suspicious eyes on them as they walked. It was obvious they didn’t trust heavily armed men, especially those walking on sacred ground. Behind the sanctuary was Father Rodriguez’s quarters. It was a plain affair, true to the spirit of Jesuit order. The team crammed into the small space as the priest sat on his small cot.
“How did you seal the tear?” Stahl asked after everyone was situated.
“I didn’t. Others did,” Father Rodriguez answered cryptically.
“Who?” Stahl pressed.
“The ones chosen by God to complete that task,” Father Rodriguez said, as if that explained everything. “You have been chosen to remove the host remaining on this Earth.”
“Chief, stand down,” Cortez ordered. Stahl traded looks with his team leader. The chief nodded slightly. He didn’t like it, but orders were like that sometimes. He’d talk it out with Cortez later. “You were saying Father?”
“Thank you, my son. The ones you killed were the weakest of the host. The others fed on some of my flock before I could banish them. Unfortunately, I could not destroy them. They have their link to this Earth, and that is all they need. That, as they say, is the bad news. The good news is that this host is supposed to be the eyes for the rest of them. Spies, if you will.”
“Why does the Truth need vampire spies?” asked McLintock, “They have plenty of human ones.” Father Rodriguez looked at the big man quizzically.
“No, the host holds no loyalty to Xipe Totec or the Flayed One’s chosen acolytes,” Father Rodriguez answered.
“What?” Cortez asked, surprised, “Is this something from Satan then?”
“No, Lucifer follows the plan set out by God,” Father Rodriguez said, “This host is beyond the realm of God or man.” A cold, unsettled feeling ran down Stahl’s spine. As he looked at the faces of his teammates, Stahl could see they were just as uneasy about the priest’s words.
“So how do we stop them?” asked Tredegar. “Your notes aren’t very clear on that matter.”
“Until they change, you can kill them by inflicting many deadly wounds on them. Their corporeal bodies cannot take the stress. Holy power will also cause their Earthly bodies to immolate and destroy themselves.”
“If holy power can kill them, why didn’t you bag any?” Collins asked. It wasn’t accusatory, just a simple question.
“I had a choice. Kill a few of the host or protect my flock,” Father Rodriguez answered. The cowboy nodded in appreciation.
“Okay, so we have to do this the hard way,” Cortez said. “Not the first time. Father, do you know where the vampires are?”
“I can do better than that,” the priest said, digging into his jacket. He withdrew a tarnished locket wrapped with a silver chain. “Let this swing on its chain, and it will lead it to you to the host. When you get close, you must wrap the amulet and hide it away. If you don’t the host will know you are close as well.” Father Rodriguez handed the amulet to Cortez. The team leader reverently tucked the amulet into a pocket.
“Boss, you need to get out here,” Mountain said, over the radio, breaking the solemn atmosphere. Instinctively, the team gripped their weapons.
“What is it?” Cortez demanded.
“Giant’s out here, and he brought along some friends.”