Fifteen miles north of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 1800 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 28 days

Eric Stahl looked up at the sky. Daylight was vanishing. His team had less than thirty minutes before the sun dropped below the horizon. The Zombie Strike shooters and the Truth soldiers were trained and equipped to fight in the dark. The two sorcerers, on the other hand, would be lucky not to trip over the few branches and debris littering the forest floor. It was hard enough already to keep those two’s noise down to a dull roar compared to the rest of the team. Then there were the vampires.

The team was following the small copper amulet Father Rodriguez gave Stahl. Or at least, they were following it the best they could. The amulet didn’t actually point out the vampires, but gave odd pulses. It was kind of like playing hot and cold with a kindergartener, but with lethal consequences. The amulet kept pointing them up the mountains, but every time the team seemed to get close, the vampires retreated. Tredegar, the FBI special agent assigned as liaison to Zombie Strike, suspected the vampires were evading the team until the vampires were fully evolved into the creatures of legend. Stahl didn’t know what he was going to do if that happened. Zombie Strike didn’t normally pack silver bullets, holy water, or wooden stakes.

"I absolutely despise when an enemy refuses to go along with a decent plan," Evans said quietly as he walked over to Stahl. The lead soldier for the Truth was acting as Stahl’s second-in-command for this mission. Much as Stahl hated to admit it, he kind of liked the man. Evans was formerly of the French Foreign Legion before he’d joined the Truth. That experience showed in his steadiness under fire and tactical deviousness.

"It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway," Stahl said, looking at the map on his PDA. "I wish we could just fort up and call in airstrikes." Evans nodded in wry agreement. "Could your sorcerers do anything to help?"

"They say no," Evans answered, "Actually they say a bunch of gibberish I don’t understand, but it boils down to no." Stahl grimaced. Since the team lost Jane, the last two sorcerers balked at any plan that put them in possible danger. Stahl was tempted to use the two as bait, but Evans and his soldiers were sworn to protect them. Stahl didn’t want to kill Evans just yet.

"Chief, can you do me a favor?" Montgomery asked as she strode up to the pair. "Can you put that amulet away if you’re not using it?

"Why?" Stahl asked.

"Because it screams like a dog whistle on steroids to Billy," Montgomery said, planting her hands on her hips. The girl was hyper protective of the spirit wolf pup.

"He can hear it?" Evans asked, his voice rising slightly.

"Yeah," Montgomery answered, taking a step back from the Truth soldier.

"Not a problem, Jess," Stahl said, tucking the amulet under his armor. The girl nodded and went back to the others.

"That might just explain it," Evans murmured.

"What?" Stahl asked.

"We’ve been thinking that the vampires are running from us until they’re strong enough to just kill us. What if they were being driven off by that amulet of yours?"

"That doesn’t make any sense," Stahl said dismissively, "Father Rodriguez said that if I got too close, the amulet would draw them to us."

"You also thought it wasn’t working right because it was in your possession instead of a true believer’s," Evans said, "Imagine if this was another effect of you holding the amulet." Stahl nodded his head slowly as realization dawned.

"Let’s test your little theory," Stahl said, and then explained his plan. They waited until nightfall. Stahl led the team out along a game trail. The lack of a moon in the sky kept them hidden in shadows, but it also halved their nightvision’s performance. Stahl was tempted to switch to straight infra-red, but it occurred to him that vampires might be able to see infra-red lights. Not a good idea. The forest was quiet. Stahl couldn’t hear any of the birds, insects, or other of the myriad of sounds he expected. Sudden movement caught his eye. He didn’t try to twist towards the shape. Stahl focused down the game trail. The shiny face glowed green in the nightvision. Its eerily human face smiled as it looked directly at Stahl.

Stahl flipped on his weapon light. The beam of intense white light bathed the creature. It shrieked in pain and clasped its face with its hands. Stahl opened fire. Bullets riddled his target as it tried to flee. More gunfire erupted as his team engaged the other vampires. Montgomery and Billy came up next to Stahl. Montgomery and Stahl slowly advanced on their vampire, pouring fire into it. Round after round slammed into its body. Finally, the creature shrieked and burst into flames. Stahl turned to help the rest of the team. Montgomery grabbed Stahl and dragged him into the forest.

"What are you doing girl?" demanded Stahl.

"Look," she answered pointing towards the others. The team wasn’t fighting. In the center of the team stood a man maybe six and a half feet tall. The rest of the team stood transfixed as the man spoke. Stahl couldn’t hear the words, but there was something about the tone that gave him a nasty headache. The tall man pointed down the game trail. The rest of the team lined up in a single file and rhythmically walked past Stahl, Montgomery, and Billy. The tall man followed the team. As he past, a shiver ran down Stahl’s back.

"Now what do we do?" Montgomery asked once everyone was out of sight.

"Not sure, but I’m going to kill whoever that was," Stahl answered.

Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 72