Gateway Arch, St. Louis, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 2000 hours local; Countdown: 4 hours
Former Chief Warrant Officer Eric Stahl unconsciously rubbed the melted bronze amulet between his fingers. The metal was unnaturally warm in the cold night. That wasn’t really surprising considering the amulet was some sort of holy artifact that could burn vampires like a brand. It did something to him as well when fighting those monsters. Stahl was faster, tougher, and more capable. Which was a good thing in the chief’s opinion. Zombie Strike fought two of the vampires, and Stahl was sure there were more running around St. Louis.
"Well that’s odd," Special Agent Tredegar murmured, looking at the monitor of his C3I device. The C3I looked like a netbook computer, but it was wired into the U.S. military’s battle network and gave Zombie Strike access to the latest intel feeds as well as the ability to call for support. As Stahl looked over the lanky FBI special agent’s shoulder, he could see the countdown until the military unleashed the Omega directive, the continuous nuclear bombardment of St. Louis if Zombie Strike failed.
"Define odd," Stahl said, looking out at Zombie Strike’s small defensive position in front of the Gateway Arch. They cobbled up some pre-fab armor into a four-foot wall around their position. Stahl and Tredegar were in the center. Tredegar was there because he was the one who would call for air and fire support. Stahl was acting as the team’s defensive commander. Mateo, the field commander, was working on exactly how Zombie Strike was going to finish this. Stahl let him cover the team’s rear facing the cold, black waters of the Mississippi.
"There’s some weird distortion according to the AWACs," Tredegar answered. The FBI special agent froze for a brief second before launching into furious tapping on the C3I’s keyboard.
"What?" Stahl asked quietly, searching the darkness. He knew that the Truth’s minions and gollums were out there somewhere. Were they coming in to attack?
"I looked at the direct feed. Same kind of distortion as when someone’s throwing around a lot of magic," Tredegar said, manipulating a video clip. From the angle, it was taken either from a recon plane or satellite.
"Was Quentin wrong about the site?" Stahl asked, keeping his voice barely audible outside the two of them.
"I don’t think so. I think this is the Truth fighting off more vampires," Tredegar said, almost excitedly.
"Too bloody right," answered a familiar voice from just past the perimeter. Stahl’s head shot up as he berated himself for not watching the perimeter. Not that he intended to be nice to the ones who were supposed to warn him. Stahl was paralyzed for a moment as he saw the man standing in front of them. That was impossible. The man was dead. He was killed by the biggest non-nuke bomb the Air Force could throw.
"Collin?" Mateo asked from behind, his voice shaky. The rest of the team was staring in muted shock. Well, everyone except Evan. The young soldier had been looking the wrong way and was quickly bringing his carbine to bear on Collin.
"Yes Mattie, I’m alive. Been in the care of the Truth since that little episode in Italy," Collin said with that typical British understated tone.
"You finally escaped?" Jess asked excitedly.
"Not exactly," Collin answered, cryptically. "Would you ask the boy to lower that gun? I worked hard to stay alive just to have him scatter my brains about this night." Stahl motioned and Evan brought his weapon to low ready.
"What are you doing here Collin?" Stahl asked, finally overcoming the shock.
"The Truth was attacked by vampires. Tougher than the normal ones the Truth have been skirmishing with for a while now. We think these were sent here specifically to stop the Golden Rite from being initiated."
"We? Are you working for the Truth now? Is that how you’re here now?" Mateo said his voice a tightly controlled neutral. Collin knew the rage behind that tone better than most.
"In a matter of speaking," Collin said. He held up a hand to forestall Mateo’s eruption, "Mattie, I’ve been fighting them since they took me. Until we came here. We need the Golden Rite to save the world from the vampires, and the Truth is the only ones who can do it. Castle asked me to trot down here and ask for your help in hunting down these vampires before they can stop the Rite from being performed."
"Well, I guess we know who the Betrayer is now," Jess said.
"It’s not the role I wanted girl, but it’s the role I have," Collin replied. He turned back to Mateo. "So what’s your answer?"
Concord Apartment Building, Downtown St. Louis, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 2045 hours local; Countdown: 3 hours, 15 minutes
Chief Stahl looked up at the tall, dark building and swore under his breath. If what Tredegar told them was correct, he was going to be lugging the heavy machine gun up ten stories. The M-240 weighed enough on its own. Add four hundred rounds of 7.62 NATO in the box and another box on his back and Stahl was feeling his forty years. It didn’t help that Evan didn’t even look bothered under the same weight.
"Why couldn’t we have just let the Air Force drop twenty or thirty JDAMs on this place?" Stahl muttered. Tredegar turned to answer, but Stahl stopped him. He already knew the answer. They had to make sure this nest of vampires was wiped out, and that meant invading their little hidey-hole. At least they had a pretty heavy force. Like the last time they fought the vampires in Panama, Mateo wasn’t with them. He and Giant were back at the Gateway Arch acting as sort of mutual hostages. Stahl was commanding the Zombie Strike contingent as well as in overall command. Collin was leading the Truth’s ten minions and dozen gollums. Shattering glass brought everyone’s heads up. Two forms were plummeting out of what looked like the fifth floor. Zombie Strike and Collin immediately spread out. The gollums screeched with battle lust. The minions stood in the street unsure of what to do.
"Get out of the bloody way you pikers!" Collin yelled at the minions. They were barely moving when the two vampires landed with an explosive thump. The vampires cut down two minions before anyone could react. The minions stampeded away from the monsters.
"Let ’em loose," Stahl told Collin. The tall man nodded and pointed his ring at the two vampires. The gollums launched themselves at the two monsters. Stahl finally understood why the gollums were created. The five-foot tall wiry humanoids were almost as fast as the vampires, completely fearless, and almost indestructible. Zombie Strike learned how to take away their mystical protection by breaking the gollum’s stone medallions. The vampires couldn’t do that. The medallions were holy symbols of Xipe Totec. When one of the vampires managed to grab ahold of one, it burned like Stahl’s amulet.
The slightly shorter vampire was quickly buried under eight gollums. Each of the Truth’s attack creatures hacked wildly at the vampire with their obsidian-bladed axes. Finally taking enough damage, the vampire collapsed to the street. It was engulfed in a burst of intense flame. The gollums wobbled off the burnt shadow of the vampire but were otherwise unhurt. Stahl was impressed. If the Truth’s gollums could dispatch a vampire this easily, why did they need Zombie Strike? His question was answered as something blurred into the fight. Stahl heard the familiar screams of gollums who’d lost their medallions and their protection. Two of the rune-covered creatures were torn off the last vampire by something moving too fast to be seen. The rest jumped back in what seemed to be terror. Nearly half were missing their medallions. The amulet suddenly blazed with heat. The blur stopped and dropped two decapitated gollums.
The girl standing before his team was so perfectly beautiful, that it almost hurt to look at her. Even covered in the messy remnant of gollum, she looked exquisite. Her dark straight hair framed a china-white face. Large dark eyes scanned the people around her. As soon as she saw Stahl, her eyes locked on to him. The amulet burned hotter forcing Stahl to take it out from under his armor. The girl – the vampire – cringed when the amulet came into view.
"I thought you might be down here," the girl said, with a slight Spanish accent. "I saw what you did to my sister in the jungle. I will not make the same mistake she did." The girl fell into a fighting stance.
"If you’re thinking you can fight me, then you’ve already made the biggest one," Stahl said, unslinging the machine gun. As he did, he slipped the amulet from around his neck and held it in his hand. He raised his fists just as the girl blurred into action.