St. Louis, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 0100 hours local; Countdown: 23 hours
Castle stepped out of the cab of the truck. The guards at the checkpoint didn’t even put up a fight against his Champions and warriors. They just stood in fear as Mikhail flayed them apart. So much for the vaunted courage of the American soldier. His hand-picked followers would show them what true courage was this day. As soon as Castle’s foot hit the ground of the city of the dead, he felt energy course up his body. Even now, the mystical forces were building. With each step, he could feel the energies increase. These weren’t the energies of Xipe Totec. These were from the Great Death pushing into this world. With the five focus points of the Ritual of Golden Protection and the Key, Castle would take all of the Great Death’s energy to destroy them and rebuild the world in his god’s image. Castle looked at the dark buildings of what was once one of America’s great cities. Now, it was his. Soon, the world would also fall into his grasp.
"Get down!" yelled a voice from behind. Castle felt himself pushed to the ground by one of his Champions. The Champion was so focused on getting Castle to the ground, he didn’t have time to raise his own shield. His head exploded as the bullet struck. Castle snarled as he felt his Champion’s body collapse on top of him. Two more Champions appeared at Castle’s side with magic shields sparkling in the night. Castle waited patiently under the body as his forces dealt with the threat. Better to let his enemies think they’d succeeded.
"You might as well get out from under that corpse," said the voice that alerted Castle to danger. The man sounded bored and annoyed. The two Champions pulled their dead comrade off their leader. Castle graciously accepted his Champions’ assistance as he got to his feet.
"Damn Zombie Strike. I thought they were sixty kilometers south of the city," Castle snarled.
"They are, and that wasn’t Zombie Strike," Collin DuBois said, watching the Truth’s forces attack the ambushers. "I think that was the Knights Templar. They used the same MO on you back in The Hague." Castle looked carefully at the man. As far as Zombie Strike knew, Collin DuBois was dead, killed when the Americans dropped two of their heaviest non-nuclear bombs on the Truth’s creature laboratory. The former SAS soldier was one of the focus points, which was why the Truth kept him alive. It cost Castle about twenty acolytes and two sorcerers in Collin’s various escape attempts.
"Foolish papists," Castle said. His intelligence said the Vatican was keeping its own forces out of this. Apparently, his intelligence was wrong. Castle looked back at Collin. "Why did you warn me? You’ve made no secret your desire to see me dead." The tall man didn’t say anything for a long moment.
"We’re past the point we could’ve stopped you by simply killing you. We’re going to have play this out," Collin answered, his voice a neutral cold.
Fort Deadhead, Festus, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 0100 hours local; Countdown: 23 hours
"General, Checkpoint Five North is off the net. Checkpoint Six North reports a large force just blew through Five North. At least two hundred strong," the major in charge of the command center reported.
"Castle and his people," Mateo Cortez observed from his seat in the command center. General Allen nodded thoughtfully.
"So it begins," the general in command of all forces of the St. Louis Quarantine Zone observed. "Earlier than we expected."
"To be blunt, it doesn’t matter. If anything, it gives us a larger window to work the plan," Mateo said. Mateo stifled a yawn. He should be asleep with the rest of his team, but he always had trouble sleeping the night before a major operation. He tried, but he kept having nightmares. He kept seeing Robyn torn apart by vampires. He shook his head to clear the image from his mind.
"General, someone just opened fire on the Truth," the major reported, holding his hand to the headset.
"Who?" Allen and Mateo demanded at the same time. Mateo gave Allen an apologetic smile as the general glared at him.
"Not sure. Our checkpoints are reporting the Truth is exchanging fire with someone. It’s not one of ours." The general looked over at Mateo.
"Not my people," Mateo said. "I checked on them before coming over here."
"Get a Predator over there. I want visuals," the general ordered. He turned back to Mateo. "Could it be some of the Great Death that leaked through? Like what happened in Panama?"
"I doubt it. We destroyed all of them in Panama, and Chief Stahl’s little amulet should let him know if more of the Great Death managed to come to this side," Mateo said. "If it is, then our best bet would be to let them kill each other. Makes our job easier."
"Well, we’ll know in fifteen minutes," the general said.
St. Louis, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 0115 hours local; Countdown: 22 hours, 45 minutes
The sudden gunfire startled the vampire awake. It took her a moment to realize exactly what woke her up. Then, she was furious. For the last week, enough of the master’s energies leaked through the thinning dimensional wall that she hadn’t been forced to feed on the pathetic humans. Now they were disturbing her slumber. That would make the wait until her master came for her seem even longer.
Her body cringed as the unnatural energy crackled. So, it wasn’t just the humans in the funny armor. The strange god’s clerics had finally come. They would try to stop the master from bringing the people into this world. The gods of this world had managed to stop the master before, but not this time. The master learned from his mistakes. The vampire walked back into the apartment she was using as her lair. She looked at the four other sleeping forms. She was the master’s scout. The one chosen to find the place of emergence for the master and her people. These others were the ones chosen to deal with the foolish human clerics. The ten vampires of the Master’s Guards stirred as they felt the energy being thrown about. They would sleep through the hated daylight of this world. It didn’t matter. This would be the last day the humans of this world saw.