Chapter Fifteen: Ice Cold
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Captain Wagner remained silent for a moment or two, his face deep in thought as he stared at the door before him.  Frost spread over the door as the wechuge lurked behind it, its growls barely audible through the steel.  Alice watched the other door with trepidation, goosebumps forming on her flesh as she felt the temperature drop.

            “Sir, what’s the plan?” asked Alice.

            “I’m thinking,” said Wagner, remaining silent for a moment before saying. “I would engage the wechuge myself to let you escape, but we have to assume that if our backup can’t get in, then we can’t get out.  Furthermore, there’s no doubt Caldwell wants me to fight the monster while he gets a chance to ambush you unprotected.  Under those circumstances, I can’t let you go out there alone.  Right now, I think our best move is to wait here and keep these two blast doors closed.  Whatever is keeping the other hunters, it won’t keep them forever.  If we’re patient, they’ll be here.”

            Suddenly the door separating them from the wechuge started going up, the levers on either side of it snapping into the up position as well.  As they could hear the gears grinding, the pair of them tensed up.

            “Captain,” said Alice. “Is the wechuge still behind that door?”

            Wagner saw a pair of white paws with sharp claws scraping under the door.

            “Yes,” said Wagner. “It is.”

            Wagner reached over to pull a lever and drop the door again, but the moment his hand touched it, sparks flew.

            “Gah!” he exclaimed, pulling his hand away.


            “I’m fine,” said Wagner, shaking his hand.

            Captain Wagner then pulled out an incendiary grenade and rolled it under the door.  After a moment, they heard the wechuge running away before the grenade went off, sending wisps of fire slipping under the door.  After a few more moments, the fire cleared, and they waited for the door to rise.  Once the door was open they aimed their gun flashlights.  All they could see was an empty hallway.

            “Captain,” said Alice. “What’s going on?”

            “A good question, Hayes,” said Wagner.

            Wagner slowly reached out for the lever that had shocked him moments ago, and once again, sparks flew, causing him to pull his hand away.  A moment later, Wagner went to another lever and tried the same test.  As before, sparks flew, and Wagner looked at it with disbelief written all over his face.

            “It can’t be,” said Wagner. “There’s a spell on the levers.”

            “A spell?” asked Alice.

            “Yes.  I’m afraid we can’t rely on the blast doors now.  Also, it explains how the wechuge opened the door.  Caldwell must be controlling it.  He probably cast his spell on the levers once he had the beast under control.”

            “Sir,” said Alice. “I don’t remember spells like this in training.”

            “That’s because they shouldn’t be possible,” said Wagner, his stern eyes looking out for danger.  “Not anymore, at least.  Many of the creatures we face were created by magic long ago, but the old sources of magic have since reduced to a trickle, not unlike a well running dry.  These days, most magic users can only get enough for very small things, nothing truly powerful.  The amount of power needed to control something like a wechuge, or what he’s done with the levers, hasn’t existed in a long time.  If someone has that much power, and he’s working for the vampires, then we’re in a lot more trouble than we thought.”

            Alice swallowed nervously.

            “Why didn’t he use magic against you earlier?” asked Alice.

            “Another good question,” said Wagner. “I’m no magic expert, but I do know three things.  Magic requires intense concentration.  I suspect he’s not at a level where he can cast a spell and do other things at the same time.  Second, I know spells take time to cast, especially when inexperienced.  Shooting a gun will almost always be faster.  Lastly, magic requires incantations that must be spoken loudly and clearly.  A whisper isn’t good enough.  Given those three parameters, he won’t use magic unless he’s hidden from us, but we’ll have the chance to find him if we can hear his chanting.”

           “Won’t he just close a couple of doors to keep us away?”
           “I don’t think so. These doors have materials in them to keep supernatural creatures contained. There’s silver, iron, and even a thin layer of salt. As far as I know, those kinds of things can interfere with magic, so he won’t shut himself off like that…I think. Admittedly, I could be wrong.”
           “Okay, so what’s the plan?”

            “Preferably, we kill or disable Caldwell,” said Wagner. “Then we kill the wechuge.  The monster will only be less dangerous without him controlling it.  There’s no telling what Caldwell will do if we deprive him of his current weapon.  Of course, we may not get the option, but we can’t afford to wait around at this point.  We have to take the initiative.  He’ll send the wechuge after me so he can go after you.  Keep your eyes peeled, and stay close to me.”

            “Yes, sir,” said Alice.

            They raised their rifles and ventured out into the maze, their gun lights showing only empty hallways and a trail of glittering frost.  The pair moved slowly, their muscles tense and their breaths deep.  Silence permeated the maze as they looked for any sign of their attacker.  As she went, Alice took stock of her gear.  She still had three incendiary grenades, while Wagner had two.  Furthermore, they had some flammable oil they could lay down to keep the wechuge back if needed and hand flares to light it.

            Further and further they explored, turning this way and that, but for a few minutes, all Alice could see were shadows in the corner.  Alice gripped her gun tightly, ready to jump at the slightest sound.

            Suddenly, Alice felt a chill.

            “Back to Back!” cried Wagner.

            Alice obeyed, and they each aimed their guns down opposite corners.  They could hear the growling getting louder and louder.  And then Alice heard something, the tapping of claws running across the floor.  Turning, she saw something white run by in a blur, disappearing as soon as it appeared.

            “Visual contact!” said Alice.

            Alice saw it out of the corner of her eye moments later, running past a completely different hallway to the side.

            “I see it,” said Wagner, his back still turned to her.

            It was going around in circles.

            “What’s it doing?” asked Alice.

            “Spreading frost,” said Wagner. “We can follow the frost trail normally, but if frost is everywhere, we won’t know where it is until it attacks.”

            He was right.  Alice could see frost creeping across the floor all around them as she moved her gun light around.  Moments later, Alice could feel the temperature getting lower and lower as her breath came out in wispy vapors.  Somewhere out there, the wechuge kept running, the taps of its claws hitting the floor echoing through the maze.

            “Get your shield oil out,” said Wagner, pulling his own out. “Pour a line of it in front of you, then activate a flare.”

            She obeyed, pulling the little bottle out, opening it, and pouring a line of oil in front of her.  Wagner did the same before pulling out a flare, twisting it open, and scratching the ignition strip with the cap.  Their flares hissed to life, spewing red fire that illuminated their faces.

            “If it attacks from your direction,” said Wagner. “Drop the flare and ignite the oil.”

            Now that Wagner had named it, Alice remembered shield oil from training.  This was a special type of oil that would make a line of flame high enough to repel supernatural creatures weak to fire.  However, it didn’t last long, so they had to wait until the last minute to light it.

            “Understood,” said Alice.

            Soon Alice and Wagner held a flare in one hand and their rifle in the other, pointing the weapons down as they waited for an inevitable attack.  Their flares kept hissing in their hands as smoke extended outward.  They waited for a few seconds, ready to act.

            “It’s close,” said Wagner.

            Alice didn’t know how he knew that and turned her head behind her for only a second when she heard a whooshing sound.  Looking down, she saw something long, thin and white wrap around her like a snake.  What turned out to be a rope snapped tight, pinning her arms and pulling her off her feet.  The drop slammed her against the floor with a grunt of pain, making her drop the flare.

            “Alice!” cried Wagner.

            A roar followed.

            Alice felt the rope begin to pull her down the hall, sliding on the frosted floor and over the line of oil.  She looked up to see Wagner attacked by something big, slender, and white.  The tall man and the monster wrestled for a moment before they both disappeared down a side hallway, leaving Alice to herself.

            Alice struggled, her face contorted in frustration, but the rope spirling around her body wouldn’t budge.  The way her gun was pressed to her body pointed it to her left, making it useless.  Alice’s mind raced for a solution as she kept struggling.  While she couldn’t get the rope off, she found she could move her arms under it, just barely.  Letting go of the rifle, still pinned to her by the rope, Alice moved her right hand, slowly but surely, towards one of her incendiary grenades.

            Soon Alice began to hear something.  Someone was chanting in a deep, loud voice, his words keeping a steady rhythm.  The rope kept pulling until it eventually pulled Alice around a corner.  Looking before her, Alice saw the man.  His features were hidden in darkness, but Alice had no doubt it was Terry.  He sat cross legged on the floor, chanting a language Alice didn’t recognize.  The rope pulling Alice ended next to Terry in a pile that coiled higher and higher as it pulled Alice closer and closer.  The rope seemed to be moving on its own, which Alice found eerily disturbing.  Soon, her back started scraping against the floor as she was pulled away from the frosted area of the maze.

            The next moment, Alice finally got her hand on a grenade.  She had no way to throw it, so she only had two plans at the moment.  One was to use the pin of her grenade to break his concentration.  Her last resort would be to threaten self incineration.  This wasn’t ideal, but she didn’t have a lot of options right now.

            Both her gun flashlight and her uniform light were still on, and soon both reflected off the walls and gave Alice a view of Terry’s face.  His eyes were rolled up into the back of his head, showing only the whites.  Judging by his face, the spell was, as Wagner had said, taking all his concentration.  Alice took that as a good sign her first plan would work.

            She squeezed the handle on the grenade and slipped her thumb into the ring on the pin.  Alice then flicked her thumb and sent the pin flying as high as she could.  The metal pin on a ring spun through the air for just a moment before clanking on the floor.

            Terry jumped ever so slightly, startled by the sound as his eyes returned to normal.

            Alice felt the ropes go slack and stop pulling her.  Terry saw the grenade as his eyes went wide, but Alice wasted no time throwing the grenade right at him and aiming her rifle.  Terry got up and leaped away just as the grenade exploded, leaving a puddle of flammable material still burning on the floor.  He also slipped down a side hallway before she could get a good shot.

            Alice stood and let the now lifeless rope fall off her as she hefted her rifle and gave chase.            She jumped over the patch of fire and immediately turned her gun down the passage Terry had fled.  Alice saw a few passages on either side as she moved up.  She could see no sign of Terry, however.

            “Oh, come on!” said Alice, exasperation as she considered her next move.

            For a moment, she considered going back to help Captain Wagner.  However, as much as it pained her to do so, she dismissed that idea.  The wechuge had been right on top of him.  Whatever happened with Wagner was likely already over by now.  Her best move was to deal with Terry, but how could she find him?  Before she could answer that question, however, she felt something.

            Cold.  The temperature was getting colder again.

            Alice turned and raised her rifle, a sense of dread washing over her.  If the wechuge was after her now, then what had happened to Wagner?  Looking around, she saw the white blur run past in the distance.  Her hands began shaking as the temperature kept dropping, and she was confronted with the horrifying question of what she should do next.

Moments later, she took a deep breath.

            Calm down, she told herself.  If Terry wanted her alive, then he had to start chanting soon, if he hadn’t already.  This meant he couldn’t have gotten far, so if she listened carefully, she should be able to hear his chanting.  She kept her eyes out for the wechuge, all the while listening as closely as she could.  As terrified as she was, she made every effort to ignore the presence of the creature and listen.

            She listened as attentively as possible, turning her head this way and that as she kept an eye out for the wechuge.  Moments went by as Alice began to shiver, still hearing nothing.  She moved forward a little, keeping an ear out as much as she could.  She moved slowly, her breath starting to be visible again as she could see frost creeping up behind her.  Finally, Alice heard something.  It was so quiet from where she was that it sounded like little more than mumbling, but it was there.

            Alice sped down that hallway as fast as she could.  Slowly but surely, the sound of chanting became more and more audible.  As she fled, she looked behind her and sure enough saw a white blur.  Alice turned and raised her rifle, firing as the creature sped towards her, its eyes shining in the light of her gun for only a second before darting down a side passage.

            Alice turned and kept fleeing, zeroing in on the chanting.  She fled as fast as she could, the words getting clearer and clearer.  Once again, Alice looked behind her and shot at the wechuge, forcing it to retreat again.  As Alice kept running, she suddenly heard the chanting cease.  Alice pushed herself, running as fast as she could.

            Finally, Alice turned a corner to see Terry fleeing.  She raised her rifle and fired, striking him in the back.  Terry fell forward with a cry, landing on his stomach.  The next moment Alice turned and saw the wechuge, its features still obscured by darkness.  Alice turned and fired a few shots, sending the creature darting to the side again.  She then pulled out her oil bottle again and poured a line before moving to the other side of the still prone Terry and pouring another line.  Then she brought out a flare, pulled the cap, and ignited it.

            She held the flare in her left hand and the rifle in the other, resting the barrel on her forearm as she aimed it at Terry.  The prone man turned over, staring at the ceiling, panting.  He didn’t seem injured.

            “Hands where I can see them,” said Alice. “Why aren’t you injured?”

            Terry put his hands up and said, still gasping for breath, “Kevlar.”

            So that was it.  Likely the bullet had just knocked the wind out of him for a few seconds.  A normal Kevlar vest wasn’t standard equipment for the Night Hunters as it wouldn’t help much against most supernatural creatures.  Alice kept an eye on him but made sure to check the hallways on either side of them just in case the wechuge attacked.

            As he lay there, panting, Alice took a few deep breaths and took a good look at the man who’d tried to kidnap her.  He took labored breaths, clearly in pain from the impact.  Seeing his face, Alice suddenly felt a swell of anger.  She hadn’t known him that long, but he’d acted friendly with her.  He’d pretended to be someone she could be friends with, only to turn around and do this.  It led Alice to a single, solitary question she was going to get answers for.

            “Why?” She demanded.  “Why did you do this?”

            And to Alice’s shock, Terry sniffled, and then he started crying.

            “This was my chance,” he said, tears streaming down his face.

            “You’re chance?” said Alice. “Your chance for what?”

            “To ascend!  To take my place among the gods!”

            Alice stood there, her gun aimed down, confusion written all over her face.  It took a moment for her to piece together exactly what he was talking about.  When she figured it out, her face turned from confusion to absolute disgust.

            “They promised to turn you into a vampire?” she asked in disbelief.

            “Yes,” said Terry. “They said if I could capture you, I’d…I’d finally…”

            And he burst out into sobs, which just made Alice cringe even more.  He lay there for a few moments, just sobbing hysterically.

            Then Alice, out of the corner of her eye, saw something rushing towards them.

            She immediately turned and threw the flare, causing a surprisingly high line of fire to burst up, causing the white creature to flee immediately.

            Something swept her legs out from under her.  As Alice landed on the floor, she found Terry above her, yanking her rifle out of her hands and throwing it behind him, his face now set in determination.  Alice scrambled back as he crawled to her.  She reached for her knife again, and as before, he grabbed it.  But as she could feel the heat from the flames behind her, she reached out where the flare had fallen.  She barely got her fingers around it in time to aim it at his other hand.  As Terry grunted in pain and yanked his hand away, Alice jammed the red fire into his face, making him cry out and fall back.  Now that he was of her, Alice got up and held the flare in one hand and a knife in the other to ward him off.  When Terry finally got up, he had a burn on his face and a crazed, enraged look in his eye.  He dove at Alice; his hands stretched out.

            But something pulled his legs out from under him and dragged him back as he hit the floor face down.  Moments later, something towered over him, biting into his neck and ripping his flesh, making him scream in sheer, unbridled pain.  Alice’s uniform light illuminated the scene and she got her first good look at the wechuge.

            Large, hunched over, and slender, the wechuge had long and spindly yet strong looking limbs.  The long and sharp claws in its hands dug into Terry’s torso, pinning him down as he made a futile struggle to break free.  Its head bore a long snout like a wolf, and it bit into Terry’s back and neck with wickedly sharp teeth.  Atop that head, the wechuge wore black antlers that glittered in the light.  The entire creature was covered head to toe in glistening white fur.

            No, Alice realized, not fur.  Where it kept biting into Terry’s neck, the warm blood melted the white substance, revealing a bony muzzle and sharp teeth.  It wasn’t fur but a layer of frost that covered the creature's body.  The frost at its muzzle dripped red over Terry’s body as his struggles became weaker and weaker.  From his neck wound, blood poured in a pool under his body, getting bigger and bigger as the wechuge kept taking chunks out of his flesh.  Within moments, Terry stopped moving completely, his eyes wide and lifeless.

            And Alice’s rifle was behind the wechuge now, tossed there by Terry.  There was no way she could retrieve it to shoot the heart and disable the creature, so Alice came up with the only move she could.  She tossed the flare again, making the wechuge wince away from it before igniting the line of oil on the other side of the creature.

            Then, the wechuge looked right at Alice as its pale eyes glowed in her uniform light.  Alice didn’t hesitate to turn and dive over the wall of fire behind her as the wechuge attacked her.  She just barely cleared the wall of flame without touching it before landing on the other side and rolling back to a standing position.  The wechuge stopped short, roaring ferociously at the edge of the flames.

            With the wechuge trapped between two walls of fire, patches of frost began melting off the creature’s skin, revealing desiccated flesh with bones poking against it.  Water dripped to the floor, evaporating almost immediately.  The creature roared ferociously for a few more moments before crouching down, its limbs coiled as it prepared to leap.  It wouldn’t have long to wait.  The wall of fire was getting lower and lower by the second.

            Alice, her face set in determination, pulled out a grenade, pulled the pin, and waited just a moment.  By now, she could feel her heart pounding in her chest.

            The wechuge leaped.

            Alice threw the grenade and leaped to the side.

            The grenade burst over the creature, drenching it in fire as it flew through the air.  It gave an ear splitting roar and fell on the ground, flailing its limbs as the frost on its body evaporated instantly, filling the hall with a cloud of steam.  Alice landed on the floor to the side then crawled away on her back, getting as far away from the flailing monster as she could.  Her chest rose and fell quickly as she silently pleaded for it to be over.

            The wechuge flailed for a good minute, giving an earsplitting roar as it frantically waved its limbs while burning to death.  Then, finally, the creature went still, the steam above it dispersing into the air.  The fallen wechuge’s desiccated, burning body seemed to melt, its flesh slowly but surely turning translucent before pouring off its body as the fire was extinguished.  Alice could see organs revealed as the creature kept melting, but soon the entire body was gone, leaving nothing but a puddle on the floor.

            Alice took a few deep breaths.  As far as she could tell, she was safe now.  Alice lay back on the floor, just taking deep breaths, resting for a minute.  Once she managed to calm down, she stood up.  She had one last thing to do before she really rested.

            Once the fire from the shield oil died down, Alice retrieved her rifle and then retraced her steps back through the maze.  The trip took a few minutes, but Alice found where she got separated from Captain Wagner.  It only took a few moments of looking around to spot him sitting against a wall.  She rushed to her side, aiming her uniform light at him.

            “Captain Wagner!” she cried. “Are you…”

            She gasped when she saw him looking at her.  His unfirm was drenched in blood, and pieces of his skin were peeled away from his face by scratches.  Instead of bone, however, Wagner had shining metal under his skin, drops of blood dripping down it.  His eyes looked straight at her, filled with hope.

            “You’re still here,” said Wagner. “What happened?”

            “Um,” said Alice, still taken aback by his appearance. “Terry got killed by the wechuge, which I managed to kill soon after.”

            Wagner nodded and said, “Well done, Alice.”

            “Thank you, sir,” she said.  “Are you okay?”

            “I’ll be fine,” said Wagner. “My body will heal before long.  As you can see, I’m not exactly an ordinary human.  I’m sure you have questions, but if it’s all the same to you, I’ll answer them later.  Right now, I’d like to rest.  Backup should be here sooner or later.”

           Alice sighed and said, “Yeah, resting sounds nice.”

            She put her gun on the floor and sat against the wall next to him.  Together they waited.  Forty minutes later, backup finally arrived, the light from flashlights piercing the darkness of the maze.