“I know you’re unlikely to hit the ideal performance within a year,” said captain Wagner, his voice booming. “Honestly, that’s normal. But you could at least try to kill one without emptying an entire clip.”
Once again, Alice stood over that atypical shooting range, trying to nail a chupacabra. The previous day someone managed to actually kill one, but that just made things worse. The monsters were now dodging, bobbing and weaving across the track, making them even harder to hit. The recruits kept shooting, though, and today a few people managed to kill one. Including…
“Got one!” said Marcia under her breath. She stood to the right of Alice, who hadn’t managed to kill one yet.
At least someone’s making progress, though Alice, frustrated as she kept shooting.
Alice sat in a classroom setting with images projected on the far wall as Agent Swan went over the weapons they used on vampires specifically. In addition to the sonic device and mist machine, their guns would be armed with silver bullets, crosses etched into the metal. Killing them was almost exactly like killing a chupacabra. One bullet to stop their movement, and one more through the heart to kill it. Silver was rare metal compared to others, so they couldn’t afford to go full auto when using silver bullets, hence the training. Two bullets were ideal, but only the most elite of the Night Hunters did that consistently. It would be a long time before they reached that level, if at all. The easiest way to kill a vampire was by letting sunlight into their hideout during the day, something they wouldn’t always have the luxury of doing.
Agent Swan also went over the mental abilities of a vampire; how they could control those they fed on and how their glamour worked, how a vampire could alter its own image in people’s minds but had to drink someone’s blood to gain complete control over them. Once they had control over a person, they could even extend their glamour over that person, slightly altering his clothing or physical appearance. Only slightly. They couldn’t make someone look like a completely different person.
Most of this was familiar to Alice, and as Agent Swan talked about this, Alice tapped her pen on her desk. Something had been on her mind lately, and while she diligently paid attention and took notes, she waited eagerly for when Agent Swan would ask for questions. Alice had a particularly important question to ask.
But before she could ask, agent Swan went over a subject that interested Alice greatly.
“There are four classes of vampire,” said Swan, pacing back and forth at the head of the classroom. “First is the newborn class, those that haven’t been vampires for very long. These are easily repelled by crosses and completely disabled by loud sounds, bright lights, and strong smells. They also have limited mental abilities, only able to control humans.
“Next is the feral class. These are rare and result from a vampire being unable to access human blood. You see, a vampire can survive on the blood of animals but requires human blood to maintain human intelligence. A diet of only animal blood degrades a vampire to the mental state of an animal, driven purely by the instinct to feed. These lack any sort of mental abilities or human intelligence but are dangerous in a different way.
“Many supernatural creatures, such as vampires, witches, or even goblins, require an invitation to enter a place of dwelling. If they enter a home uninvited, they leave their power behind, which can make them helpless. A vampire, in particular, is susceptible to this because vampires are effectively dead already, their power being the only thing keeping them animated. For that reason, entering a house without an invitation will kill most vampires instantly, which is something to keep in mind.
“This rule, however, doesn’t apply to supernatural animals. Animals can’t understand the concept of an invitation, after all. Thus things like werewolves, yetis, or wendigos do not require an invitation, nor do vampires that have gone feral. Ferals also don’t recognize the significance of the Christian cross and are thus not repelled by it, though bright lights, loud sounds, and strong smells will still disable them. You will recognize feral vampires by their lack of any sort of glamour.
“The third type of vampire is the warrior class. Warriors are vampires that have mastered their basic abilities. They can communicate with each other telepathically and are more able to dominate human thralls. These are also more resistant to the image of the cross, loud sounds, and bright lights. The cross won’t hold them off as long as a newborn, and while overloading their senses can catch them off guard, they can recover quickly and fight through the pain.
“The final class of vampire is easily the most dangerous, and that’s the elder class. Elders have learned to completely resist the image of a cross and don’t even flinch from loud sounds and bright lights. A vampire becomes an elder when it survives one hundred years, and when that happens, they become faster and stronger and grow wings. Furthermore, they have advanced mental abilities. An elder has the potential to feed on and enthrall that person without that person even realizing something is wrong. This can only be done when the victim doesn’t realize they’re dealing with a vampire, but it is possible if the elder is careful. The best way to deal with an elder is to retreat to the sunlight during the day and let sunlight into the house, fill it with holy water mist, or even burn it down. If you ever encounter an elder in the darkness, use every trick at your disposal to get away. Now, are there any questions?”
Several recruits raised their hands, including Alice, but Agent Swan called on someone else.
“Do vampires use the feral class to get into houses they can’t?”
“It’s not unheard of,” said Swan. “But vampires can’t control ferals like they can humans or other vampires. The mind of an animal is just too different from the mind of a human. If they sent a feral into a house, then the feral would just kill everyone inside. Vampires are more likely to use ferals against the Night Hunters. In fact, you’ll find that vampires will more often just kill us outright rather than waste time trying to enthrall us or drain our blood. We’re too much of a threat, so keep that in mind. Next question.”
Alice raised her hand again but pursed her lips when Swan called on yet another recruit.
“Is it true that vampires have no reflection? I’d find it reassuring if I could see them around corners when possible.”
“Vampires do have a reflection,” said Swan. “You just can’t see it when their glamour is up. It appears to be an idiosyncrasy of that power that they appear however they want to when you look at them directly, but you can’t see them at all when looking at them indirectly. That includes photos and cameras. We know it’s just the glamour, as when a vampire’s glamour goes down, you can see the reflection of their true form just fine. Next question.”
Swann still picked another person.
“Can vampires reproduce?”
“No,” said Swan. “You’ve heard that vampires have no heartbeat, yes? Well, that’s because a vampire is a type of reanimated corpse. It’s not any biological process keeping them alive, it’s a curse, and their reproductive system is no more functional than their cardiovascular system, or any other system for that matter. The only time I’ve known vampires to exhibit any sort of sexual behavior is when luring victims into traps. They’ll outwardly promise someone a,” she made air quotes, “good time,” that elicited a few chuckles from the recruits, “only to sink their teeth into that person’s neck. If a vampire ever flirts with you, then I guarantee you it isn’t genuine. The only thing vampires want from humans is their blood. Any more questions?”
Finally, Agent Swan pointed to Alice. Alice took a deep breath and asked her question.
“Why is the supernatural world kept a secret from the general public?”
Agent Swan didn’t answer right away but gave Alice a knowing look. The room became suddenly quiet for a few moments as a few heads turned to look at Alice. Alice, for her part, didn’t flinch. She wanted an answer to this.
“Why do you ask?” asked Swan.
“I was attacked by vampires on my Uncle’s farm,” said Alice. “And while I’m grateful for what the Night Hunters did, it occurs to me that we might have had a better chance to survive had we known vampires existed and prepared accordingly.”
Agent Swan nodded.
“A fair point,” the night hunter said. “But it’s not such a simple subject. Tell me, when you killed the vampire who attacked you, what happened to it?”
Alice remembered, the image still haunting her.
“She turned back into a human,” said Alice.
“Exactly,” said Swan. “One thing that separates the supernatural world from the natural world is that supernatural things leave no trace of their supernatural nature when destroyed. A newborn vampire will look like a freshly dead person, a warrior will turn to a desiccated corpse, and an elder will turn to dust completely. The real problem comes with newborns. Imagine you catch someone in the act of murder, having driven a wooden stake through a man’s heart. If you interrogate him and he says, ‘I had to kill him, he’d become a vampire,’ how do you know if he’s telling the truth or not?”
Alice considered it.
“I suppose I wouldn’t,” said Alice.
“Not without great difficulty. A long time ago, at the dawn of the medieval period, the supernatural world was, indeed, common knowledge. At that time, it was a common murder tactic to kill the victim as one would kill a vampire and claim that the victim had become one. This tactic works with werewolves, zombies, and even witches, using the various methods to kill such threats. Sorting out the true monster killers from the liars was a long, troublesome process.
“Over time, however, the Night Hunters got better and better at dealing with supernatural threats. As supernatural forces like magic slowly faded from the world, ordinary people interacted with the supernatural less and less, and over time they stopped believing such things existed. When that happened, the Night Hunters realized that people weren’t using that alibi for murder anymore. Knowing it would solve a particularly difficult problem, the night hunters simply allowed people to stop believing. For the most part, it’s not a problem. The vast majority of people will go their entire lives without ever encountering something supernatural. What’s going on in Saint Vivia is, I think you’ll find, rather unusual.
“Of course, without knowledge of supernatural threats, that makes ordinary people more vulnerable to them. I can’t deny that, and there are many members of the night hunters who feel this should change, even in the Night Hunter High Council. If such information were to be revealed, however, you’d have to deal with the monster alibi problem, as well mitigate the inevitable panic that would ensue should people learn what’s out there.”
Alice thought about it.
“Alright,” she said. “I suppose I’ll have to accept that for now. I just have one more question. How old are the Night Hunters exactly?”
Agent Swan grinned.
“Well,” she said. “Let’s just say they used to be part of another organization. The Knights Templar.”
Despite learning about vampires a few days ago, Alice was still surprised by this.
“The Knights Templar?” she asked. “Seriously? How come I’ve never heard of a Night Hunter faction of the Templar?”
“Night Hunter was more of a rank than a faction back then. Most people knew Night Hunters as just Knight’s Templar. After the Templars were dissolved due to their fallout with the King of France, the Night Hunters formed into a new faction, the rank became their official name, and they kept a low profile to continue doing their work.”
“So,” said Alice. “Are you actually the ‘Knight Hunters?’ As in night with a k?”
“Oh no,” said Swan. “We haven’t been the night with a k hunters for a few hundred years now. We dropped the k when knights became an antiquated concept a few hundred years ago. It was an easy change to make, though. ‘Night Hunters,’ as in those who hunt creatures of the night, does describe us a little better. Any more questions?”
“No,” said Alice. “This has all been very informative. Thank you.”
And Alice would have to give things some serious thought.
“Hey Alice,” said Marcia. “Over here.”
In the mess hall, where people were in line to get their meal, Marcia waved Alice over. The other woman sat with a group of recruits, and for a second, Alice thought to politely decline. She thought better of it, however. She knew she’d probably need the moral support long term, given what they were fighting. Taking a deep breath, Alice turned and brought her lunch tray to sit with Marcia and the other recruits.
“Everyone,” said Marcia. “This is my roommate, Alice.”
“We know,” said a man nearby. “Alice Hayes, right? You’re the one that guy with the cross tattoos talked to.”
As Alice sat down, she cringed. The man who’d spoken was an incredible dark skinned man with a cocky grin and a military style buzz cut.
“You’ve been talking about it?” asked Alice.
“Actually,” said Marcia, a guilty sound in her voice. “Everyone’s been talking about it.”
Alice sighed. Of course everyone was talking about it.
“That’s not something I want to talk about,” said Alice. “My relationship with…” she almost said Arthur, but said, “Agent Phoenix is…complicated.”
“Say no more,” said the man. “I’m Jamar. Recruit Jamar Williams, former Navy Seal, now professional vampire hunter.”
“Not yet, you aren't,” said Marcia, smirking. “None of us are full hunters yet.”
“Ok, fine. Just give it time,” said Jamar confidently.
Alice couldn’t help but smirk.
“Hi,” said a nondescript, brown haired man with a distinct British accent, “I’m Terry Caldwell. British Army until recently.”
He had a weary sound in his voice like he’d been having a bad week. Alice could relate. At this point, a round of introductions began.
“Harry Halpern,” said a very tall, very blonde man with a dimpled chin and a friendly expression. “U.S. Marines.”
Alice wasn’t surprised that most of the recruits were in various armed forces. They probably wanted the best for this line of work, but it was making Alice feel like the odd one out. However, there was one more person at their table, a quiet man who kept his eyes down. He had thick, burly arms and a thick but neatly trimmed black mustache.
“Robert Jones,” said the last man. “I was a trucker.”
That took Alice off guard, and her look of surprise made him laugh.
“Yeah,” said Robert. “I wouldn’t peg myself as a vampire hunter either, but I managed to kill a vampire on my own, so I guess that’s worth something. Picked up a hitchhiker that turned on me. I barely held him off before I could reach my pistol and empty the clip into his head. When he didn’t die, I put two and two together when I saw the fangs. I had to drag the guy into the woods and ram a branch through his chest. Honestly? I don’t feel like I did anything that that special. I was completely panicked, and a part of me is wondering what I’m even doing here.”
“Hey, man,” said Harry. “You did a difficult thing under pressure. Don’t ever count that out.”
“He’s right,” said Marcia. “The Night Hunters wouldn’t have recruited you if they didn’t see potential.”
“Yeah,” said Jamar. “It’s still more vampires that the rest of us have killed.” He smirked, “For now.”
“Oh, is that right?” said Harry, amused.
“Yeah,” said Jamar. “That’s right. That being said, I’m not above taking advice from someone with practical experience. So how about it, Robert? After facing a vampire firsthand, would you have any advice for us?”
“Oh, yes,” said Terry excitedly. “By all means, please share.”
Robert shrugged, his face uncertain as he said, “Nothing to say, really. At least, nothing the Night Hunters haven’t already told us.”
“Hey, C’mon,” said Jamar. “You’ve killed a vampire. Show some confidence. You want to accomplish anything, you have to believe it’s possible.”
“I don’t think confidence is just a switch you can just turn on,” said Marcia skeptically.
“Sure it is.”
“The bottom line,” said Harry. “Is that we’re all rookies when it comes to the supernatural. I think we’ve all found this a bit overwhelming.”
“Speak for yourself,” said Jamar snidely under his breath.
“And Robert,” said Harry. “I’m pretty sure you’re not the only person here who wasn’t in the army. I think four or five of the recruits are people just like you. You know? Normal people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time but still came out on top.”
Alice shared a knowing look with Marcia, who winked at her.
“Yeah,” said Alice. “I’m one of them. I was a police detective. Got attacked by vampires on my Uncle’s farm.”
“The scars?” asked Harry, pointing to her cheek.
Alice touched the scars. It was easy not to think about where the vampire had scratched her. By now, the scabs had rubbed off, leaving three white lines.
“Yeah,” said Alice. “That was a vampire.”
“Nice scars, too,” said Jamar approvingly.
“Honestly,” said Robert. “Even a police officer sounds like a better fit for vampire hunting than a trucker.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Terry, smirking. “Now that we know the Night Hunters were once Knight’s Templar, I can’t help but think that ‘Sir Robert Jones’ has a nice ring to it. Don’t you think?”
Robert thought about it.
“Yeah,” said Robert, nodding his head. “I can see it. Guess I missed my chance to join the ‘night with a k hunters,’ huh?”
Everyone laughed. As they talked from then on, they jokingly referred to each other as Sir Terry Caldwell or Sir Marcia Perez, and it just became a running joke. It had been a while since Alice talked to people like this, and it was nice. Even when they asked for the story of how she killed a vampire, it was almost a relief to talk about it with people. Bringing up the deaths of Ryan and Aunt Betty wasn’t easy, but they were all sympathetic.
Alice didn’t know these people well yet, but they felt like they might be people she could trust to watch her back. For a moment, just one moment, the monsters they’d seen in that footage seemed a little less scary when she thought about them.
It was the following day that Robert scored his first kill against a Chupacabra.
From the corner of her eye, Alice saw Jamar and Harry congratulate him for a moment before they went back to shooting. Alice was still struggling. She seemed to anticipate the chupacabra’s movements better than before, but her clip still came up empty before she could hit the brain. As happy as she was for Robert, this was getting on her nerves.
To make matters worse, Penny seemed more and more dejected during their little midnight dream meetings. Gary was putting a brave face on things, but Penny was quiet, repeating her name in a distant monotone. Alice didn’t know exactly what was going on in that den of vampires, but it couldn’t be good.
She was running out of time.
Sparks flew as the swords collided, swung by arms stronger and faster than an ordinary human’s. Jaiden Blau, the redheaded dhampir, sparred with Agent Phoenix, who fixed Jaiden with an intimidating stare. As they sparred, each clang of their swords rang in his ears loudly, far more so than it would for a human. It had taken Jaiden a while to get used to the sound, but he could handle it fine now. The swords they trained with now were blunted, which was a relief when Phoenix caught Jaiden on his side.
“Ow!” cried Jaiden, cradling his side.
“Stop complaining,” said Phoenix. “You’ll heal.”
“I’m guessing you were never a doctor,” said Jaiden, cradling his side. “You’re bedside manner is terrible.”
Phoenix’s harsh glare never faltered. To the side stood the other dhampirs. The dark skinned man with a grizzled beard was Gordon Brand, the oldest of them. He just smirked as he watched Jaiden and Phoenix spar. Next to him stood Cora Mires, the Greek looking woman with a distinct tan who pursed her lips, amused. She was a strikingly beautiful woman but was apparently much older than she looked. Last but not least was Jasmine Ross, the dark skinned girl with cornrow braids in her hair. She giggling at Jaiden’s quip, which reinforced Jaiden’s opinion that she had a great sense of humor.
Jaiden was easily the youngest of the dhampirs, though his story was the same as the others. Their mothers were fed on by vampires while pregnant with them, passing on some of the vampire’s powers like speed, strength, and enhanced senses. They weren’t burned by sunlight, and you didn’t need specific materials to kill them. You just had to cut off their heads or stab their heart with anything. None of that mattered, though. Jaiden would have traded all that power away if he didn’t have this constant thirst for blood.
He didn’t require blood to survive, but that thirst was always there, in the back of his mind. To make matters worse, his own enhanced senses, usually a blessing, often betrayed him. The sight of a blood vessel on someone’s skin, the sound of someone’s heartbeat, and the scent of blood in the air all reminded him of his constant thirst. He couldn’t give in, though. He knew that if he did, he’d become a vampire fully. It was a constant danger all of the dhampirs shared.
It was even worse with this Agent Phoenix. The scent of the crucivire’s blood was sweeter than any human’s. It was driving him crazy, just a little, but crucivure blood was apparently toxic to a vampire. If he or a vampire tried to drink directly from him, it meant instant death, which was a good incentive to avoid drinking blood.
The only one in that room who didn’t thirst for blood was Agent Phoenix. As the man glared at Jaiden, the young dhampir was convinced that this man thought he was better than the rest of them. Well, that didn’t matter. Jaiden would break the ice eventually. He liked to think of himself as a likable guy who could make friends with anyone if he tried hard enough.
“Come on,” said Jaiden, lifting his sword. “Let’s go again.”
“You’re gonna lose again,” said Jasmine, a teasing smirk on her face.
“She’s right,” said Gordon. “But keep trying. You’ll get there eventually.”
“Sure,” said Phoenix, raising his sword.
“Well, maybe you could give me some pointers?” offered Jaiden hopefully.
“You’ve already had training from Gordon,” said Phoenix.
“Well, maybe we could compare our favorite techniques? Discuss their merits? Maybe we’ll learn something from each other.”
Phoenix’s stare was implacable.
“Dude,” Jaiden protested. “C’mon, I’m just trying to make conversation.”
“We have more important things to worry about,” said Phoenix. “Honestly, I’m just passing time until our next mission. If reports are true, this will be the first time we face elder vampires.”
Jaiden froze. He’s never seen this Agent Phoenix smile before, but he could just detect a hint of a smile when he mentioned facing elders.
“You three aren’t ready for elders,” said Cora. “Believe me. If you’d ever seen one in action, you wouldn’t be so eager to fight one.”
Agent Phoenix looked at her with an even deeper scowl than before.
“She’s right, Phoenix,” said Gordon. “You three have come far, but if any elders arrive, you leave them to us.”
Phoenix scowled some more as the room remained quiet. Jaiden looked at Jasmine, who just shrugged.
“Fine,” said Phoenix, and edge in his voice.
Phoenix turned back, his eyes angrier than ever. Faced by this very irritated man holding a sword, Jaiden was suddenly a little more reluctant to fight.
Once again, Alice stood in that shooting range, holding her gun and waiting for them to release the monsters. She took deep breaths, readying herself for what was to come. She’d been getting frustrated with her inability to do this but knew that dwelling on that frustration would only hinder her. Steadying her breathing, she aimed down her sights and waited for a target.
The pens in the distance opened.
Alice and the recruits around her opened fire as the chupacabras ran down the track. Alice’s target zigged and zagged, seemingly anticipating her shots. That being said, she was hitting it more consistently this time, sending it tumbling, giving her a brief second to hit the brain. Once, and it ran before she could hit the brain. Twice, and it still ran before she could hit the brain. She hit it one more time.
And on her third attempt, she shot it right through the head. The creature tumbled over for a few seconds and then fell still. It was dead.
And at that moment, Alice felt a rush of excitement, her mouth widening into a very pleased smile.
“Finally,” she whispered.
An agent entered the room where the crucivire and the dhampirs sparred, their blades meeting in sparks. Agent Phoenix sparred with Jasmine this time, the shorter woman putting up a good fight against her intense opponent. The agent who entered the room stood at attention and cleared his throat.
“Agents,” said the agent. “We have a mission for you.”
They stopped sparring and looked right at the agent. Most of them took this seriously, but Agent Phoenix, for the first time since Jaiden had seen him, broke out a satisfied grin.
“Finally,” said Phoenix.
Lord Victor Sorenson paced back and forth in the courtyard, overseeing the training. The half-moon rose high above them, illuminating their swords as they trained in the yard. The more experienced vampires trained the younger vampires in the art of the sword. It was a poor substitute for man’s guns, but it would have to do. Their ears could not tolerate such modern weapons.
As he oversaw the training, a vampire ran out of the shadows and came up to him, kneeling with head bowed.
“My lord,” said the vampire. “Our informant has news. The night hunters are sending out the crucivire.”
The Elder Vampire grinned and said, “Finally.”