Fifteen miles north of Redencion, Panama, 3 February 2011, 2005 hours local: Countdown: 10 months, 28 days

Eric Stahl threw all of his might behind the punch to the tiny vampire’s face. Pain shot up his arm as his fist landed right on the vampire’s chin. He almost dropped the amulet as he worked his hand. It felt like the time he punched the side of a tank. Okay, nothing was broken. He heard the whoosh of the air as the vampire sprinted back. Stahl sidestepped and punched with the amulet. This time he aimed lower and caught the small vampire in the center of her chest. A flash of brilliant light erupted from the strike as the vampire shrieked in pain. As his eyes cleared, Stahl watched the vampire pick herself up nearly ten yards away. Her chest looked like it had been hit with willy-pete.

“That HURT!” the vampire screeched, “How did you hurt me?” Stahl didn’t answer. He rushed the vampire. The forest blurred around him as he shot across the distance between them in an eye blink. He thrust his fist into her chest once more. His strike passed through her body effortlessly. Her eyes went wide and her mouth moved, but no sound came out. Stahl yanked his arm out of her body. The vampire collapsed to the ground. There was a brilliant flash of flame and heat as the body was yanked out of this world. Stahl whirled on the other vampires.

The monster vampires that had been ready to kill the Zombie Strike team and the Truth cultists charged him instead. Stahl picked out the monster in the lead and flung himself at the creature. Stahl leapt and met the monster in mid-air. Stahl felt his collarbone crack, but the intense energy swirling inside of him shielded him from the pain. The vampire whipped a claw strike at Stahl. The former soldier rolled under the blow and sprung up into the monster’s gut with a jackhammer blow. The vampire doubled-over and Stahl slammed it in the face with a right cross. As the amulet slid across the vampire’s face, it burned off fur and flesh. The vampire let out a rumbling growl as it stood back up. Stahl brought up his fist for another strike.

The world spun uncontrollably as all of Stahl’s energy vanished. Pain from the built up injuries flared angrily. He was on the ground without even remembering falling. The vampire loomed over him. It paused, almost as if gloating the sudden turn of events. Was this what Evans meant? That he only had a small reservoir of power, and he used it up fighting the female vampire. Well, he wasn’t going down without taking something with him. His hand slipped down his leg until it found the familiar grip. Stahl jerked the Ruger SP101 revolver out of his ankle holster. The vampire flinched as the red laser beam lit up its eye. Stahl exhaled and squeezed. The small revolver barked once, twice, and then three more times after that, emptying the cylinder. The vampire’s head snapped back five times as each .357 Magnum round hit. It swayed on its feet for a moment and then shook its head. It snarled angrily and took a step towards him. Stahl dropped the revolver and tried to drag himself along the ground.

“FIRE IN THE HOLE!” hollered a British-accented voice a bare instant before three thunderous booms rocked the clearing. The combined shockwave drove the vampire to the ground and pushed all of the air out of Stahl’s lungs. As the former soldier gasped for air, the vampire stood and charged back towards Zombie Strike. The vampire took maybe two steps before a dark form slammed into it. For a moment, Stahl thought Billy was finished with Pretty Boy and was taking down another vampire. Then the form materialized into the decaying corpse of a jaguar.

Stahl watched in horrified fascination as the various animal corpses stood up and charged the vampires. Collins, the cowboy, mentioned in passing the Truth had created zombies from animals, but Stahl had been skeptical. His shocked mind could only latch onto the fact that he now owed the cowboy five bucks. The zombie jaguar savaged the vampire with its claws and teeth. The vampire flailed uselessly at the undead animal. Its blows would knock the zombie jaguar off for the merest instance, and then the jaguar was back on the vampire. The jaguar finally grabbed the vampire’s neck with its jaws. The vampire screamed in pain and the two were consumed in burst of fire.

Stahl felt someone grab the drag handle on his armor. He craned his neck around to see Montgomery straining to pull him back to the tree line. A vampire dodged a charging zombie ram and lunged at them. Then there was a deafening boom and vampire bits rained down on the two. Stahl grunted as some metal splinters slashed across exposed skin.

“Sport, watch where you’re lobbing those things!” yelled Montgomery, “Chief, when did you get so heavy?”

“Montgomery, drop me and get behind some cover,” Stahl said with as much authority as he could muster.

“And let you pick up stray rounds and fragments? Not a chance,” Montgomery snapped back. Stahl wanted to argue with her, but he didn’t have the strength. She jerked him behind a copse of trees. Grunting, Montgomery propped Stahl up to see the unfolding battle. The Zombie Strike and Truth shooters formed a ring around the two sorcerers. Those two were busy chanting. About half the remaining vampires were fighting off zombie animals while the rest were trying to close with humans. Coordinated automatic fire punctuated with Sport’s grenades was making that a losing proposition.

“Where’s that wolf of yours?” Stahl asked.

“Fighting that other evolved vampire,” Montgomery answered, “Somewhere out there.” Montgomery nodded eastward. She unslung her rifle and took aim at a vampire fighting off a zombie bull. She casually placed two headshots. The two rounds weren’t enough to take down the vampire, but they distracted it long enough for the zombie bull to gore the vampire. The two creatures vanished in the blast of flame. Stahl wanted to join in, but he was completely out of weapons and ammunition. All he could do was watch. One by one, the vampires were brought down. The last two died when Sport dropped five grenades between them. The silence after a furious battle always seemed eerie to Stahl. It was an odd moment of calm after such intense violence. Minutes passed as the Zombie Strike and Truth people came to grips with the fact that they’d survived. Then yells of joy erupted across the clearing. Montgomery sank down next to Stahl.

“Oh my God, we did it,” Montgomery breathed.

“Yeah,” Stahl said, “You did good Montgomery. When we get back, I’m going to show you some new stuff. Think you’d make a pretty decent LRRP.”

“I have no idea what you just said,” Montgomery commented. “You know Chief, you can just call me Jess.” Stahl started to answer, but the last of his energy ran out. He could hear Jess screaming his name as the world went black.

[Zombie Strike Part 7 Chapter 75 – Epilogue]