Concord Apartment Building, Downtown St. Louis, Missouri; 31 December, 2011, 2110 hours local; Countdown: 2 hours, 50 minutes

Former Chief Warrant Officer Eric Stahl braced as the small female vampire blurred towards him. The amulet in his hand burned and glowed. Time slowed, and the vampire went from a blur of motion to a sprinting girl. Stahl spent a precious moment to study her attack. Her body posture told him what he was facing. The vampire wasn’t a skilled fighter. Probably a brawler used to using her speed and strength against those who had no defense. Stahl knew had to deal with those.

Evan opened up with his M-240. The normal rattle was slowed down to a steady pounding, reminding Stahl of the old World War II pom-pom guns. Tracers lanced behind the oncoming vampire. Evan just couldn’t keep up with how fast the vampire was actually moving. As the vampire crossed the line in his mind, Stahl exhaled and launched his attack. The vampire’s large brown eyes went even wider in surprise. Her pace slowed as her mind tried to catch up with the shock that Stahl was moving just as fast as her. Stahl took half-a-dozen steps, crouched, and launched his attack. The vampire tried to dodge, but she was about a half-movement too late. The hand with the amulet jabbed hard into the vampire’s middle. There was a blinding flash as his fist contacted and the vampire was thrown back like she’d hit a cement wall.

"Who are you?" the vampire hissed as she leapt to her feet, "You are no cleric. You have no god to protect you. How do you make me hurt?"

"The fun part of being a free agent is that I have all the teams bidding for me," Stahl answered. The vampire gave him a quizzical look. She didn’t like being confused and immediately attacked. Stahl easily dodged her first punch, but didn’t even see that he’d stepped neatly into her second. The tiny fist cracked his armor’s hard ceramic breastplate and drove it into his chest. The amulet burned and Stahl felt his rib cage compress from the blow. Stahl staggered back gasping. The vampire was smart enough to press her attack. She hopped up and Stahl’s head exploded in stars and pain as the vampire nearly ripped his helmet off with the blow. Someone managed to tag the vampire with a burst of gunfire giving Stahl a much-needed second. The stars cleared from his eyes.

"Stahl, get her to hold still for a moment," Collin called out. Stahl nodded and closed with the vampire. The vampire snarled as Stahl grabbed her. She bared long fangs and snapped at his neck. Stahl jerked the vampire around and locked her arm behind her back. She slipped the lock and tossed Stahl to the ground. He felt the air whoosh out as he hit the asphalt. Then Collin was standing next to the vampire with a monster revolver in his outstretched hand. The gun boomed twice. The vampire’s head and chest vaporized into a black mist as the bullets shredded through her.

"What did you use? High explosive?" Stahl coughed, getting to his feet.

"Silver," Collin answered, "Once the Little Death evolve that far, they become like traditional vampires. Much more powerful, but vulnerable to little things like stakes through the heart, fire, holy water, and silver."

"I thought that was werewolves," Stahl said as The Steve checked him over. The team medic gave Stahl a thumbs-up and triggered the armor’s on-board drugs. Pain started to melt away as the happy juice started flowing into his blood.

"Don’t know about werewolves. Never came across any," Collin replied. Stahl half-chuckled at the Brit’s dry tone. He started to put the amulet back around his neck. He stopped as he realized two things. One, the chain snapped sometime during the fight. Second, he didn’t need the chain because the amulet was now melted into his hand. It didn’t hurt. If anything, Stahl felt a warm pulse from the slightly glowing piece of bronze in the center of his right hand.

"Dude, you have the Hand of God now," The Steve said. Stahl wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or just punch the medic. If he survived this, Stahl was definitely going to find one of the angels and demand some answers – and not the cryptic BS they always seemed to give him. Stahl solved his dilemma by walking over and picking up his machinegun.

"Casualties?" Stahl asked.

"None of ours," Jess answered.

"Three of my Champions and the two warriors are dead," Collin said. When Stahl gave him a level look Collin translated, "Three minions and the two gollums. Another four of the gollums are missing their medallions."

"They’ll still be useful as fodder," Stahl grunted. Collin answered with a barely perceptible nod. Stahl looked up at the building. The small battle was bad enough. He didn’t want to think about fighting in the close confines of the apartment building. Fortunately, the vampires decided they didn’t want the same fight.

Eight of the tall, massive monsters burst from the front of the building in a shower of glass and concrete. The minions reacted better this time and threw up mystical shields to deflect the fragments. As the dust settled, the eight vampires were standing before the assembled group in a V-formation. At the front was the biggest vampire Stahl had ever seen. The others standing behind him were between seven and eight feet tall. The one in front was easily over ten feet tall. There was something about its bearing that screamed "leader" to Stahl. Collin took a step towards the monsters.

"Leader of the Little Death, I have been tasked with giving you a chance to stop this without further death," Collin said, "The Golden Rite can send you back to your horde without injury. If you refuse, we will have to kill you, and you will be separated from your people for all eternity." The lead vampire made a sound that could generously be called laughter.

"You have few paladins with you, and most of your little constructs are no longer invulnerable to us. The avatar with your allies might pose a problem, but there are eight of us. We are the Master’s Guard. You will not defeat us. Prepare for death." Stahl hated pompous speeches.

"Okay Burger King, you can have it your way," Stahl retorted. On cue, Sport rapid fired all five grenades out of his XM25. As the explosions tossed the vampires back, the gollums launched into action. They swarmed over one of the vampires like wolves pulling down a caribou. They hacked wildly at the monster as it fell under their mass. Stahl realized the mistake a moment before the vampire was consumed in fire. Six of the gollums simply staggered away before attacking their next victim. The gollums without the protection of their medallions were charred skeletons before they themselves melted away. In an odd twist, Stahl found himself leading Billy and the minions as they closed with the vampires while Collin directed the gun fire of Zombie Strike. The spirit pup leapt at a vampire, growing from his normal wolf to the size of a Clydesdale. The vampire froze perplexed as Billy landed on it with a thunderous crash. As he attacked, Billy glowed brighter and brighter. The other vampires backed away, even the leader. Stahl motioned for everyone to hold. Something new was happening. Then, the spirit pup spoke.

"Abominations, we will no longer tolerate your presence on this world," the spirit pup said. From the reaction of Jess, it must have sounded exactly like the pup’s namesake, her fallen boyfriend.

"Avatar, you will fall now," the lead vampire spat out, shielding its eyes from the light emanating from Billy.

"I am not an avatar of my father. I am now my own being, a full member of the Pack of Wolf," Billy said. One vampire lashed out at the glowing spirit pup. Billy looked at the creature and howled. The vampire disintegrated under the sonic power. The vampires cowered, unsure of how to deal with this new threat. All except the leader. A blade of shimmering black energy suddenly formed in his hand. Without a sound, the leader sprinted at Billy. The spirit pup tried to dodge, but the leader was much faster than even the evolved vampire Stahl fought. The blade danced around and slashed at Billy’s shoulder. The moment the blade touched Billy’s pelt, Stahl was blinded and deafened by an incredible blast. When his vision cleared, he realized he’d been thrown several yards from the battle. He looked up to see Billy and the lead vampire staggering up.

"Sport, HE!" Stahl called out.

"No, Billy needs to do this alone," Jess yelled back.

"We’re a team girl," Stahl replied.

"If Billy doesn’t prove himself worthy of his dad, we’ll all die," Jess said forcefully. Sport looked back at Stahl. The chief waved him down. He had to trust the girl knew what she was talking about. Billy and the lead vampire circled each other. Simple feints were ignored. Probing attacks were launched and countered. The tension in the air felt like hydrogen gas waiting for that fateful spark. Billy darted in. The lead vampire slid to the side and brought down the energy sword. Stahl smiled as the sword passed harmlessly through the air as Billy completed the feint. Then, Billy bellowed a roar louder than anything Stahl had heard in his entire military career. Including the time his squad got a little too close to a BUFF’s carpet bombing. The lead vampire stood like a statue, bracing against Billy’s attack. Except this wasn’t the main attack. Stahl couldn’t hear the gunshot over the roar, but he could see the puff of black mist as it struck the vampire perfectly between the eyes. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The lead vampire was engulfed in a brilliant fireball. Without stopping, Billy turned his roar against the remaining vampires. There was a brief wall of fire and then an odd silence filled the street.

"I thought he had to fight this one on his own," Stahl said as his hearing recovered. Jess just smiled at the chief as she slung her suppressed SCAR.

"Slight exaggeration," Jess admitted as the spirit wolf trotted over to her, "He had to lead the pack against the vampires. I’m part of the pack. The rest of you aren’t."

"Thank you Little Sister," Billy said as he nuzzled against Jess. Turning his golden eyes on Stahl, the spirit wolf said, "It’s time for us to return. If my father is correct, then the path is about to take a very interesting turn."

Zombie Strike Part 11 Chapter 117