Chapter Eleven: Diving in the Deep End
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Two days later, Alice was cleared from the hospital wing.  She would have to take iron supplements for the next two weeks but otherwise was cleared to be inducted into the Night Hunters and begin basic training.  By this point, the only hint that she’d been attacked were the two pricks on her neck and the three scratches on her cheek.  The bandages had been removed, but the wounds had scabbed over and still looked pretty ugly.  Still, that wasn’t going to stop Alice.  She was ready to begin.

            The standard uniform of the Night Hunters was almost identical to a U.S. Military uniform, only it was pitch black.  That made sense, Alice thought.  Their job would likely take place at night most of the time.  She would also be expected to work in various clothing in preparation for different cover stories, but for now, she had this uniform, which she changed into inside a bathroom.

            Once changed, Alice met agent Walker in his office, where he briefed her on Night Hunter protocol.  The office itself was pretty innocuous, with file cabinets to the side, photos and a lamp on his desk, and a computer to his right.  The protocol was almost indistinguishable from U.S. Military protocol, which made sense to Alice.  This job was probably as demanding as the military, if not more, due to the things they fought.

            Before Alice officially started training, Agent Walker asked, “Any questions?”

            “Just one,” said Alice. “The Night Hunters fight vampires a lot.  Right?  Why don’t the uniforms have crosses on them?  It seems like that would protect you for a little bit.”

            “They do have crosses,” said Walker, grinning, pressing a button on his desk.

            The lights went off, and a black light lamp on his desk turned on.  Alice, looking down, quickly realized that the black light was illuminating crosses on her uniform.

            “Those are invisible to the human eye,” said Walker. “But to a vampire, they’re like cross shaped lights.  It protects us while allowing us to remain somewhat inconspicuous.”

            He pressed the button again, and the lights returned to normal.

            “And this Agent Phoenix?” asked Alice.  “Why does he wear them so openly?”

            “He had them before he joined us and is…as you may have noticed…rather stubborn.”

            Yeah, thought Alice.  Arthur could be pretty stubborn.

            “Speaking of the Phoenix,” said Walker. “Our people finished their audit of the vampire Kenneth Noble.  I can’t go into detail about our methods until you get a higher security clearance, but we were able to track his movements to California, where someone got a picture of a child traveling with him at the time.  Agent Phoenix already told us that Noble took him there and reluctantly admitted that this child was him.”

            He handed Alice a photo of a boy being led into a car on a busy street corner.  Alice took one look at the boy and almost choked up.

            “Yeah,” said Alice. “That’s him.  That’s Arthur.”

            “Then there is no doubt,” said Walker. “Agent Phoenix is your brother.  What are you going to do?”

            Alice thought about it and thought of her mother still in the hospital wing.

            “Right now,” said Alice. “He doesn’t want anything to do with me.  I think, for now, I’ll just focus on training.”

            “That’s probably wise.  Now, that leaves one more thing.  You need to contact your Chief of Police.”

            “Yeah,” said Alice. “It’s going to be strange if I just quit my job.  Have you people prepared a cover story or something?”

            “That won’t be necessary,” said Walker. “A few police officers other than your partner have gone missing.  We’ve been forced to inform the Saint Vivia Police department of the situation so they can better prepare themselves.  That’s not a decision we take lightly, but I’m sure you don’t find this surprising.  Regardless, you can tell your chief of police the truth.”

            He offered Alice a phone.  She took it but hesitated.

            “Is something wrong?” asked Walker.

            “Not really,” said Alice., “It’s just…being a police officer has been my life for a while now.  It just feels like a point of no return.  You know?”

            Agent Walker nodded, and Alice took a deep breath before dialing.

            “Police Chief Dalton,” said the familiar voice.

            “Hey, Chief,” she said. “It’s me.  Alice.”

            “Alice,” said the Chief, relief flooding his voice. “Thank God you’re alright.  I heard about what happened at your uncle’s farm.  I was told by…people…that you’re okay, but...”

            “I’m okay,” said Alice. “More or less.  I was told by those same people that you know what’s really going on in Saint Vivia.”

            “Yeah,” said Chief Dalton. “I can’t imagine how you’re taking that.”

            “I’ve decided to join them.”

            “Oh.  Really?  Well, given your history, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  Are you sure this is what you want?  And that you’re up to it?”

            Alice paused, but only for a second, “It is…and I am.”

            “Alright then.  I’d normally ask for two weeks' notice for this sort of thing, but given what’s going on, I suppose you can do more with them than you can do with us.  We hate to lose you.  Good luck, Detective Hayes.”

            “Thank you, sir,” said Alice, hanging up.

 

Soon Alice found herself in a wide white room, standing in a row of other recruits.  The room appeared to be some sort of gym with a stone floor.  There were three rows of people in the room, one with eleven people and two with twelve, making a total of thirty five recruits.  As Alice stood in the front row, her eyes were drawn to something painted on one of the walls.

            It was a coat of arms with a shield depicting three swords, a large one in the center and two smaller ones on either side of it.  All three had their points sticking into the ground, a starlit sky behind them, and a crescent moon above them.  Was this their symbol?  Alice asked herself.  It made her wonder just how old this organization was.

            “ATTENTION!”

            Alice and the other recruits stood at attention.  A group of people walked into the room, and as they walked to the front of the group, Alice realized something odd.  She could feel the floor beneath her shaking, just a little, in time with someone’s footsteps.  When she saw the group, she picked out who was shaking the floor immediately.  One man stood a head taller than the others, towering over everyone there.  He had blonde hair and a thick beard that reminded Alice of a lion’s mane.  Alice noticed Agents Thompson and Walker in this group and a woman with dark hair, but this man stood out literally and figuratively.  They then turned to face the recruits, and this tall man stepped forward, the recruits giving him their full attention.

            “So,” he said with a big, booming voice with a hint of a German accent. “You’ve decided to join the Night Hunters.  Think you have what it takes to fight monsters of the night, do you?  Well, that remains to be seen.  Make no mistake, kids, you are not Night Hunters yet.  That title has to be earned.  This is an audition.  Plain and simple.”

            Alice nodded her head once.  She was ready to prove herself.  This agent, whoever he was, started pacing back and forth, keeping his intense blue eyes trained on the recruits.

            “Now I know what some of you are thinking.   We approached you, so why should you have to prove yourselves?  The answer is simple.  Some of you are completely untested.  Even those of you who’ve actually faced the supernatural have only scratched the surface of what’s out there.  You’ve been swimming in the kiddie pool, and now you want to join the grownups.  Well, kiddies, it’s high time you were tested for real.  We’re going to show things that make grown men weep and make soldiers flee in terror.  The horrors we face can even make a psychopathic killer who chops people up for a living cry for his mommy while whimpering in a corner.  And by the end of the day, I guarantee that some of you, if not all of you, are going to need a change of pants.”

            He stopped pacing, looking right at them.

            “I am Captain Richard Wagner,” he said. “These men are agents Carl Thompson, Theodore Walker, and Laura Swan, and we’re here to separate the wheat from the chaff.  You kids have been swimming in the shallow pool, and now you’re about to dive in the deep end.  Do you understand?”

            “Yes, sir!” Alice cried with the other recruits.

            “Alright then,” said Wagner. “Let’s get started.  Agent Thompson, if you please.”

            Agent Thompson pulled out a remote and pressed a button.  The room went dark as a slot in the wall opened near the roof.  From that slot, a projector cast an image on the wall before the recruits.  Alice saw a still image from a camera in an interstate rest stop.  There was a parking lot before them, the highway behind that with a few cars passing by, and a thick line of trees beyond that.  The scene was in the dead of night, the parking lot barely visible under street lights.

            “You kiddies probably go to the movies, right?” said Captain Wagner. “I’m sure you’ve seen all sorts of fantastical things brought to life with state of the art special effects.  Haven’t you?  Well, kids, the footage and images you’re about to see weren’t made with props or computers or any tricks.  What we’re going to show you is one hundred percent real.  Better brace yourselves.”

            Alice watched as the footage started playing.  The rest stop was quiet for a moment, and then someone ran into view.  This person ran as fast as he could until something big and fast practically flew by in a blur.  The man stopped under a street light, cradling his right side, and it took a second for Alice to register that his arm was gone.  Alice did her best not to flinch as the man fell to his knees, blood dripping from his wound.  Soon the thing that attacked him slowly stalked into view under the street light.

            Alice’s blood ran cold at the sight of the creature.  It was a wolf.  That was easy, but it was bigger than any wolf Alice had ever seen, its muzzle wet with crimson.  The man tried to get up and run, but the massive wolf tackled him, biting into his shoulder and shaking him like a rag doll.  The wolf kept going at it for a few minutes until the man lay in pieces on blood soaked floor.  Alice felt nauseous.

            Five of the other recruits had to run out of their line and vomit on the floor.

            “That’s alright,” said Wagner, his voice booming. “That’s quite alright.  Just let it all out.”

            He walked over to those recruits.

            “If you don’t think you’re cut out for this,” he said. “Now’s a good time to bow out.  Door’s over there.”

            Two of the recruits actually did turn and walk away.  Alice wasn’t sure she blamed them, but she was determined to see this through.  The three remaining recruits decided to stay.

            “Very good,” said Wagner, pleased. “I’m always happy to see people stick it through.  Now, agent Thompson, get these recruits some cleaning supplies.  You three are cleaning up this mess.”

            The recruits didn’t look happy about it, but they didn’t complain.

            Once the floor was clean, the recruits were shown more footage.  Alice saw some of the most gruesome, disturbing things she’d ever seen in her life.  Alice had only just gotten used to the existence of vampires, but now she was shown the existence of other creatures.  She saw footage of zombies tearing the top of a man’s head off to get to his brain, images of men with fish scales and gills dragging someone under a lake, images of a woman with pale skin screaming at the top of her lungs and making people’s ears bleed.  Each new monster was as gruesome as the last, and more than a few people left.  By the time they were done showing this footage, only twenty two recruits remained, including Alice.  She was one of the few who managed not to throw up at some point.

            “So,” said Wagner as the projector turned off and the lights came on. “This is the cream of the crop.  Is it?  Well, don’t be too proud of yourselves.  That was just a mental test.  The real work begins now.”

 

Agent Wagner oversaw the recruits as they did basic training exercises like pushups, situps, jogging, and sprinting.  Alice was already pretty sore by the time this was over, but this was apparently only the beginning.  They also got a course on the equipment they’d be expected to use.  This included night vision goggles no bigger than swimming goggles, a shoulder high device that projected high pitched sounds, and even a mist machine that spread holy water.  There was more, but Alice had trouble remembering it all.  Hopefully, she’d get more familiar with everything as training progressed.

            Soon the recruits were led to another room, showing a rack of guns hanging from the guardrail of a balcony, as well as pairs of those small night vision goggles.  Alice and the other recruits stepped up to it, and below this balcony lay a long room with a vaulted ceiling.  Beneath the balcony, about thirty feet below them, Alice could see steel pens filled with goats.  Alice could see more pens at the far end of this room, but she couldn’t tell what was in them.  Something about the way those animals in the distance moved made her feel uneasy.

            Captain Wagner paced behind the recruits, and Alice swore she could still feel the floor    shaking with his every step.

            “This one of our shooting ranges,” said Wagner. “An atypical one, to be sure, but what we hunt is also not typical, as I’m sure you’d agree.  Many supernatural creatures can move wickedly fast.  Being able to shoot them will require more refined skills than many of you are used to, hence this atypical shooting range.”

            Below them, Alice heard the creaking of the steel pens being opened.

            “As you can see, there are goats below you,” said Wagner. “But at the other end of this track are monsters known as chupacabras.  They can only be killed by hitting the brain or the heart.  Though you do not need specific materials, they will still be hard to put down.  You will need one shot to stop their running, and when you get an opening, a second shot to their weak spots to put them down for good.  With that in mind, you have one job.  Protect the goats.  Also, considering this job, you will often have to do your shooting in the dark, so grab your weapon and a pair of night vision goggles, and get ready.”

            Alice grabbed a pair of goggles, putting them on.  Then she grabbed the rifle in front of her and raised it, aiming at the pens in the distance.  She couldn’t see the creatures they’d be shooting, but just knowing that something unnatural was out there was already giving her goosebumps.  Alice didn’t know how well she would do here.  She did go to a shooting range at least once a week, but Saint Vivia was a low crime city, so she didn’t have to use her firearm on the job all that much.

            Furthermore, to shoot her first vampire, she had to do it at point blank range.  She’d missed completely when it was a room away.  Would she be able to do this at this distance?

            The next moment, the lights went out.  Alice reached up and pressed a switch on the goggles to turn on night vision.  The track appeared in green, and Alice could barely see the pens in the distance.  After a few tense moments, Alice heard the metal creaking in the distance saw movement at the other end of the track.  At first, it looked like a shifting mass of darkness moving towards them at incredible speed.  The closer they got, the more they started to resemble dogs, specifically great danes.  They were certainly big enough.  The way they ran, however, was all wrong.  Not like a dog, which ran by alternating front legs and back legs.  These ran like a lizard, crawling along the floor with those long, spindly limbs.  Below the goats started bleating in panic, running to the back and trying to get through the wall blocking them off.  Alice aimed her gun but felt frozen.  None of the other recruits had fired as they looked on nervously, sweat running down their faces.

            “Well?!” shouted Wagner.  “What are you waiting for?!  An invitation?!  Shoot!”

            Alice and the other recruits opened fire.  Some of the creatures fell as bullets struck their flesh, but they rolled over and continued running.  Furthermore, they started zigzagging, making them even harder to hit.  They were just so fast, and it would take less than a minute for them to reach the goats.

            Alice kept shooting but only got one or two lucky shots, and not a single recruit seemed to hit the head or the heart.  Soon the monsters were close enough to see clearly, and despite the general shape of a great dane, they had dark brown scales like a lizard and long spines sticking up from their back.  Soon their long lizard snouts opened as they came closer to panicking goats.  It was right about then that Alice ran out of ammo, and she heard a few clicks from nearby recruits showing that they were out as well.  The recruits hadn’t managed to kill a single one of them, and the poor goats paid for it.

            The lizardlike monsters descended on the frightened, bleating animals and began tearing into them.  Soon blood splattered everywhere as the goats were ripped apart.  All the recruits ran out of ammo as the bleats were cut off.  It was a mess down there, and many of the recruits started vomiting upon seeing the carnage.  Alice felt pretty nauseous herself but couldn’t rip her eyes off the gruesome sight below her.

            “You had one job,” said Wagner, shaking his head. “What an utter failure.”

            It was at that moment that Alice’s stomach decided it had finally had enough, and she just couldn’t keep it down.

 

Alice had to clean up her mess, and they spent the rest of their day in a normal shooting range, just to refine the basics.  Alice did fine, but she was hardly hitting with pinpoint precision.  By the end of the day, Alice was exhausted, both mentally and physically.  Once the recruits were dismissed, they showered and took their meal in the mess hall on level three.

            The mess hall was almost indistinguishable from a cheap cafeteria.  A kitchen lay in the back, a serving line stood before that, and tables with benches decorated the room.  Alice got a tray, waiting in line with everyone else, and then looked at the room for a place to sit.  Everywhere where she looked, people sat with other people.  The only sounds were those of utensils scraping against the trays.  No one was really talking, and Alice figured that everyone felt like she did.  They’d seen some disturbing things that day, and Alice didn’t feel like socializing after that.  She went and found a seat by herself, forcing herself to eat something.

            After a few minutes of eating alone, Alice stopped.  The sound of utensils had stopped, and when Alice looked up, everyone was staring in the same direction.  When Alice looked over, she flinched.

            Agent Phoenix stood at the entrance, his fierce eyes scanning the room.  He struck an imposing picture in his black trench coat and tattoo covered face.  Moments later, he spotted Alice and walked straight towards her.  Alice felt her entire body stiffen.  What did he want?

            He stood next to her and looked down, his eyes cold and stoic.

            “So you joined the Night Hunters,” he said.

            “Obviously,” said Alice. “Do you have a problem with that?”

            “It’s not really any of my business.”

            Yes it is, thought Alice.  You’re my brother.  She didn’t say it, though. She got the impression he didn’t really care.

            “So what do you want?” she asked.

            “I just want to make sure you didn’t join as a misguided attempt to get close to me.  I can’t afford the distraction.”

            Alice clenched her fists.

            “Distraction?” she asked bitterly. “You…No.  I joined for my own reasons.  Saint Vivia is my city, and my people are in danger.”

            Agent Phoenix regarded her coldly for a moment.

            “Alright then,” he said. “So long as we’re clear.”

            He turned and walked away.  Alice closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  When she opened her eyes, she frowned.  Everyone was staring at her.

            “Mind your own business,” said Alice.

            She resumed her meal, and moments later, everyone else did too, the sound of utensils starting up again.  As Alice tried to eat in peace, she wiped a single tear from her eye.

 

It was in the dead of night as a waning moon cast its light over the forest.  In the center of this forest lay a derelict mansion, every outer surface of which was covered in a blanket of kudzu vines.

            Victor Sorenson stood atop the roof of that mansion, the kudzu crunching beneath his feet.  His eyes were closed as he drew the other vampires closer.  He had drawn them to Saint Vivia for a singular purpose.  He could also sense his thralls inside the house, his gentleman servants, and his maids.  He could also sense the girl, Penny.  She was a curious one.  The name he’d chosen for her, Miranda, wasn’t sticking as much as it should.  She was resisting.  Maybe the Hayes bloodline was just stronger than normal, but it mattered not.  She would serve him in time.  Everything was just a matter of time when you could live forever.

            He could also sense the partner of Alice, this Gary Frasier.  One of the newborns had successfully captured him.  There was a chance he’d be useful, but Victor still decided to let the newborn have him.  He had more important concerns, like the vampires he was summoning.  Four other elders were on their way.

            First, an elder vampire flew in from his left.  When she landed, her wings wrapped around her legs, her glamour disguising them as the skirt of a fancy red dress that suggested a curvy figure.  Her platinum blonde hair practically sparkled in the moonlight as she regarded Victor with a cold stare.

            “Fara,” said Victor. “Welcome.  You’re looking at beautiful as ever.”

            “My glamour or my true form?” she asked, eyebrow raised.

            “Both are works of art, my dear.  You know that.”

            She seemed satisfied by this answer, but kept a haughty air as if she didn’t really care what his opinion was.

            The other elder landed on Victor’s right, his glamour disguising his wings as a suit jacket.  His human disguise showed a dark skinned man with a sharp haircut and a stoic expression.  His suit made him look less like a monster of the night and more like a CEO.

            “Harold,” said Victor. “You seem vexed.”

            “Not vexed,” said Harold, crossing his arms. “Just skeptical.  Do you really think we can pull this off?”

            “We’ll never know if we don’t try,” said Victor. “And you know as well as I do that things can’t keep going the way they’re going.”

            Harold grunted.

            The final two elders arrived together, landing on the roof in front of Victor.  These two, a man and a woman, wore similar clothing.  They had pure white skin, dark hair, and piercings just about everywhere, including their ears, lips, and nose.  Their clothing was pure black, the woman in a tank top and short skirt, her wings draped across her shoulders and disguised as a lacy shawl, while the man wore a black shirt and black jeans, his wings folded against his back disguised as a black backpack.  She had slick boots and thigh high socks, while he wore black cowboy boots.  The woman also had a white rose tucked behind her ear.

            “And with Cassandra and Axel, we’re all here,” said Victor.

            “Here, pumped up and ready to kill,” said Axel, grinning.

            Cassandra just licked her lips as she wrapped her arms around Axel, and he put his arm around her shoulder.

            “Are we sure about this hiding place?” asked Harold.

            “Trust me, old friend,” said Victor. “This place is perfect.  It used to belong to a family of witches, and a descendant of those witches just so happens to be one of my thralls.  This place has so many concealment enchantments on it that the Night Hunters haven’t found it in the hundred years they’ve operated in Saint Vivia.  We’ll be perfectly safe here.”

            “Is that so?” asked Harold, smirking. “I should have known you wouldn’t leave this to chance.”

            “Of course not,” said Victor. “And now we’re almost ready to begin preparations.  All that’s left is to address the troops.”

            Victor looked towards the entrance to the estate, a stone wall with a gate, also covered in kudzu.  Vampires passed through the gate, followed by human thralls with glassy eyes.  Some of them were completely docile, but the ones who’d been captured more recently walked in lockstep with their vampire masters with fear in their eyes.  Soon about a hundred vampires and even more thralls filled the courtyard of the overgrown estate, and a further two hundred vampires waited outside that courtyard.  Lord Victor and the other elder vampires towered over them from the roof.

            Lord Victor stepped forward.

            “Friends!  Vampires!  Fellow creatures of the night!” he shouted, his deep voice captivating his audience. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why you were drawn to this place, why we’ve summoned you to the city of Saint Vivia.  The truth is, we vampires have seen better days.  The younger of you won’t remember this, but long ago, our kind could become kings of this world, ruling with an iron fist, resisting humans holding us back by the skin of their teeth.

            “But that was a very long time ago.  In the time since vampires first walked the earth, humanity has obtained more knowledge, more tricks for defeating us.  Over time, their knowledge and technology have made them more and more powerful.  The humans who fight us, these Night Hunters, are more able to fight us than they’ve ever been.

            “And to this, I say enough is enough.  We’ve been fighting the humans as equals for far too long, and It’s high time we vampires took back the night for ourselves.  By the time we’re through, we’ll have ground the Night Hunters to dust and made humanity our prey as they were always meant to be.  Soon, my brothers and sisters, we will be kings of the night once more!”

            The crowd of vampires cheered, their shouts echoing through the estate and the forest surrounding it.  Lord Victor put his hands up.

            “Please, friends,” he said. “Let’s not celebrate too quickly.  First, we must make preparations.  I will summon a select few of you for a special project.  Those of you I summon, step forward.”

            Lord Victor selected about one hundred from the crowd, a few spectacularly mediocre newborns who had to borrow thralls from others because they couldn’t get any of their own.  They would be useful for his purposes, though.  And that was all that mattered.  Those hundred walked forward, feeling honored for being chosen.

            “Do you think they’ll be upset?” whispered Cassandra. “When they realize what we’re using them for?”

            “By the time they do,” said Victor. “They won’t be in much of a position to argue, now will they?”

            The elder vampires standing on the roof all chuckled, doing so quietly so the vampires below them wouldn’t hear them.  Within the mansion, peeking through kudzu covered windows, both Penny and Gary could barely see the army of vampires, their faces filled with dread.

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