Chapter Eighteen: A Matter of Faith
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Although Alice was about to begin the optional training she signed up for, she still had regular training, including the shooting range, more creature identification, and the course on vampires.  The last thing they needed to know was what to do when a vampire captured them.  While most of the training focused on avoiding that fate at any cost, they still needed to know what to do in that situation.

            “When a vampire has captured you,” said Agent Swann, pacing back and forth.  “and has drunk of your blood, you will be under the vampire’s control.  If the vampire wishes to turn you into one of them, it will begin the brainwashing process, changing your name and suppressing your memories.  By the end, you will have a new identity loyal to the vampire that turned you.  To escape before this happens, you can carve a cross into your skin to sever the mental link.

            One of the recruits Alice didn’t know raised his hand.

            “Can we carve a cross into our hand beforehand?” he asked.  “Or get a tattoo or something?”

            “Only if you want them to remove a piece of skin before they start turning you,” said Swann.  “So I don’t recommend it.  Furthermore, you will need to wait for the right opportunity to sever the link, such as when the vampire is distracted.   To get to that point, you will need a way to keep your mind intact.”

            Alice nodded with everyone else.  Of course, she already knew about the cross trick but listened intently to this.  It might tell her how Arthur managed to resist the vampires as long as he did.

            “The key is certain memories,” said Swann.  “As you know, vampires are weak to the iconography of the Christian faith.  For this reason, memories heavily associated with such iconography can give the vampires problems.  Memories that take place in a church or involve someone reciting scripture are good examples.  Vampires cannot completely eliminate those memories while you’re still human, so they will try to bury them in one’s subconscious where you can’t think of them.  However, holding onto those memories might help you hold onto your identity long enough to affect an escape.”

            A few rows behind Alice, Marcia Perez raised her hand and asked, “Um, this feels like an awkward question, but…does this mean we have to be Christians to resist vampires?”

            “Not necessarily,” said Swann.  “I once knew a hunter who wasn’t a believer but was married in a church to appease his more traditional parents.  That happy memory of marrying his wife was easy to hold onto, and he retained his identity long enough to escape.  Ultimately, any memory associated with that iconography can help, regardless of the context of that memory.

            “For this reason, we have a Chapel on level five that is open at all times.  If you don’t have any memories that can protect you from this, you can go there during your off time to create some memories, spend some time with your fellow hunters, play games, watch a movie, whatever you think will help.  For those of you not interested in converting, don’t worry.  The priest and monks who run the chapel won’t approach you unless you show an interest.”

            Thinking over what she’d heard, Alice raised her hand, “Agent Swann, if that’s true, then why are vampires so susceptible to Christian iconography in the first place?  Is it really the power of Jesus Christ that harms them?”

            Swann smiled, “Someone always asks that question right about now.  The short answer is that we’re not entirely sure.  Most historians agree there was a real man who preached to the Jews when they were under the control of the Roman empire, though as I’m sure you know, many will dispute whether he was the Son of God or just an ordinary man.  To explain how vampires are connected to him, we need to go back to the first vampire.”

            Agent Swann’s demeanor became deathly serious, and at the mention of this first vampire, Alice felt a chill go down her spine.  Judging by the looks of the recruits on either side of her, they must have felt a chill as well. 

            “The first vampire,” Swann began, “Was a Roman senator who used witchcraft against his political opponents.  He existed at the same time as Jesus Christ and was there for all the stories that passed about him coming back to life.

            “As you can imagine, this Roman cared nothing for the message of forgiveness and the redemption of sins that Christ taught.  Rather, the idea of having power over death itself made his mouth water.  It’s said that when he heard of the communion ceremony, the idea of drinking blood to gain eternal life inspired him.  He consorted with some sort of evil spirit, one whose identity was never confirmed, and became the first vampire, a creature who prolongs his own life by absorbing lifeforce through the blood of others.

            “The Night Hunters of old, when they were still connected to the Catholic Church, believed that he consorted with the devil himself, and thus it would only be natural that the symbols of God caused him harm.  Many Christians in the Night Hunter ranks believe it to this day.”

            “But not everyone does?” asked Alice.

            “No,” said Swann. “When the Night Hunters opened their ranks to nonbelievers, other theories were put forth.  You see, recruit Hayes, no one was there when that Roman senator cursed himself, so no one can confirm what spirit he consorted with.  Maybe he did consort with the devil, or maybe he summoned something else.  One alternate theory is that the first vampire, while powerful, ultimately feared a power greater than his own.  While being a vampire prolongs one’s life, a vampire can still be killed and cannot come back from death as Christ was said to have done.

            “Now, I honestly have no idea if Jesus was the son of God or not, but all sources say that this Roman believed Christ really came back to life.  The alternate theory goes that because he feared Christ so much, he unwittingly tainted the spell he cast, thus giving himself and his vampiric progeny a weakness to Christian iconography.  If that’s what happened, then it wouldn’t matter what Jesus Christ was, whether he was an ordinary man, the son of God, or something else.  The first vampire’s fear was enough to create his Achilles Heel.”

            The classroom went silent for a moment.

            “We haven’t confirmed it at all?” asked Alice.  “I mean…we’re learning about many creatures we thought weren’t real a month ago.  Have the night hunters never encountered…say…angels or demons?”

            “We’ve encountered entities posing as such,” said Swann.  “But no, despite all the bizarre things we’ve seen, we can’t say we’ve confirmed the existence of God or the devil.” She sighed.  “Sorry.  I’m afraid I can’t make the answer easy for you.  We all still have to figure it out for ourselves.  Me?  I honestly don’t know one way or the other.”

            Alice let that sink in.  She wasn’t sure what to think of this subject either, especially with what she now knew about the world.  Both of Alice’s parents had been believers, certain of how the world worked.  But the more Alice learned about the world, the less she was certain she understood anything.

###

Eric Hale’s scent led the crucivire and the four dhampirs to an apartment building.  The front door was locked, and picking that lock risked them being seen, but they had another way inside.  Vampires could adhere to walls, and thus the dhampirs and the crucivire could as well.  The five climbed up the wall like lizards up a tree, their hands and feet sticking to the brick.  Before long, they had reached the top and found the door up there.  Cora picked the lock, and they made it inside.

            It appeared to be a cheap apartment complex with dull wallpaper and dim lighting.  The five of them stalked through the hallways, sniffing for Eric’s scent and listening for anyone outside their apartment.  It was late, so they didn’t hear anyone, but they kept an eye out nonetheless.  They wouldn’t want to alarm anyone.

            Then again, people seemed alarmed in general.  Every two or three doors had a cross spray painted on it.  Despite the Night Hunter’s policy to keep the supernatural a secret, people in Saint Vivia were clearly starting to see the truth.  Once again, they could all hear people crying periodically within the apartments, more than one would usually hear in a place like this.

            They quickly found Eric Hale’s scent, leading them to apartment 303, which did not have a cross on the door.  A few more scent trails led away from the apartment, some older than others, but there was one smell that overpowered the others.

            “Someone’s dead in there,” said Cora.

            The smell wasn’t strong yet, so the humans who lived in adjacent apartments wouldn’t be smelling it just yet.  However, judging by how strong the smell was now, it wouldn’t be long before they did.  Beside him, Jaiden could practically hear Phoenix’s muscles tensing up.  He wouldn’t be happy about finding a vampire’s victims.

            “Get ready,” said Gordon, reaching into his trench coat.  “Anything could have happened in that apartment.”

            As one, the others reached into their trench coats and grasped their swords.  With one hand, Cora used a lockpick.  When the door was unlocked, she put her hand on the door and looked up at Gordon.

            “Get ready,” said Gordon, taking his voice to a whisper.  “Three…two…one…go!”

            They opened the door and snuck in quietly.  The apartment within was dark, their shadows looming across the entrance.  Using their superior senses, they watched and listened for any movements and paid attention to the scents in the rooms.  Moving further in, they didn’t smell any vampires present, so Jasmine casually reached over and turned on a light switch.  It didn’t come on, and the power being out was a consistent sign that a vampire had settled in.

            They saw the apartment's living room, along with three dead bodies.  Two lay on the floor in pools of dried blood.  One was missing a head, which lay a couple of feet away from his body.  The other had been stabbed through the chest.  To an ordinary eye, they would look like two dead men in suits, but Agent Phoenix and the dhampirs could see blacklight crosses glowing in the suits.  This marked them as night hunters.

            The third corpse lay in the corner, blackened and charred as if burned in a fire.  The five warriors, however, recognized this as a vampire burned by holy water since none of the man’s surroundings were burned.  Sure enough, they could see a night hunter mist machine stuffed into the corner.  This machine was a tall, black cylinder with a long tube and a nozzle at the end.   The device had a tank full of water blessed by a priest.  The nozzle at the end of the tube would unleash mist in a wide arc, letting it spread around the room.   It was perfect for closed quarters like this, as any vampires would get cornered by the mist until it covered them.

            “Two night hunters,” said Cora.  “Looks like they cornered this vampire with the mist machine, and then another vampire showed up and finished them off.  Judging by how their bodies fell, I’d say the second vampire killed them before they realized they were under attack.”

            Gordon checked the mist machine, opening the device’s tank and smelling it.

            “Holy water’s been defiled,” said Gordon, meaning that the vampire had dropped a few drops of human blood into the tank, reversing its status as holy water.  “That’s to be expected.”

            “Someone should call this in,” said Jasmine.  “Let the other hunters know we have fallen comrades.”

            “I’ll do it,” said Gordon.  “The rest of you keep an eye out.”

            As Gordon made the call, Agent Phoenix walked up to the two bodies and knelt beside them.  Taking a deep breath, the crucivire crossed himself, catching Jaiden and Jasmine’s eye.  They watched as he uttered a small, quiet prayer.

            “Lord Father in heaven,” he muttered.  “By your will, please deliver the souls of these brave men unto Heaven, and give us the strength and resolve to avenge their deaths, Amen.”

            Jaiden watched solemnly.  He wasn’t particularly religious himself, but he wasn’t about to interrupt something like this.  In a world where the supernatural was real, who could say with certainty that the soul didn’t exist?  Maybe it did for all Jaiden knew.

            He also figured that maybe those cross tattoos weren’t just war paint for vampires.

            “You believe in God?” asked Jaiden curiously.

            Phoenix closed his eyes and smiled, “‘Believe’ is too weak a word for it, honestly.  I’ve been given a mission from God to rid the world of evil creatures, starting with vampires.”

            “Oh,” said Jaiden, looking away awkwardly.  Even after all this time, Jaiden still didn’t know what to make of this guy.

            “So,” said Jaiden.  “What do you do for fun?  You know, when you’re not killing vampires?”

            Agent Phoenix grinned.

             “Killing vampires is what I do for fun.”

            I should have known, Jaiden thought.

            Meanwhile, Gordon finished his call.

            “Alright,” said Gordon, hanging up.  “A hunter squad is close and will be here soon.  Jasmine, you have orders to wait here for them.”

            “I’m being pulled off the mission?” she asked, offended.

            “They need your help with something,” said Gordon.  “It seems there was a mole with the new recruits, a vampire worshipper who attacked one of the other students.  They don’t know how he managed to slip past them, but they don’t want to take chances.  They want one of us to examine the minds of anyone with high security clearance and other agents if that doesn’t turn anything up.  You’re good at telepathy, so they requested you.”

            For a moment, Jaiden wondered why they only received such orders when they called the hunters but thought better of it.  This group of hunters relied on stealth.  Getting a call suddenly could alert the enemy to their presence, so the Night Hunters would wait until they received a call before giving new orders.  Jasmine, hearing these orders, looked annoyed.

            “Okay,” said Jasmine, giving an exasperated breath.  “And here I was looking forward to getting some action.”

            “Which recruit was attacked?” asked Phoenix suddenly.

            Everyone looked at Phoenix, who was staring at the wall.

            “They didn’t say,” said Gordon.  “Why do you ask?”

            Agent Phoenix took a moment to respond, “Just curious.”

            Jaiden raised an eyebrow.  What was that about?

            “Alright,” said Gordon.  “We have our orders.  There’s a fresh scent leading away from the apartment.  Let’s follow it.”

###

Jasmine waited at the apartment as Phoenix, Gordon, Cora, and Jaiden continued the hunt.  Their hunt led them to the nightlife district, where Eric Hale’s scent became harder to follow amid the many scents of people going to bars or nightclubs.  Follow it they did, however, until they reached a nightclub with rave music going.  While the loud music was uncomfortable, the four of them managed to deal with it.

            “Form the connection,” said Gordon, and the four hunters linked their minds telepathically.  Silent communication was useful for hunters, especially when their prey had sensitive ears.  With the telepathic link, Gordon instructed Jaiden to cover the front door and Cora to cover the back.  Gordon and Phoenix entered the club directly, Phoenix putting up a glamour to hide his crosses.

            Inside they saw flashing neon lights and people dancing to upbeat rave music.  Of course, the noise was louder and the lights brighter to a dhampir and a crucivire.  Their enhanced hearing would be useless with the music playing, but they could just manage to follow the scent and find the vampire they were looking for.

            Eric hale sat at a table drinking alcohol with an unsuspecting human.  That was another typical vampire tactic.  Get some poor, unsuspecting sap drunk, then lead him to a secluded space and drink your fill.  Of course, Eric Hale appeared ridiculously handsome under his glamour, like some blonde heartthrob from a boy band.  He wore a long black coat with the collar turned up, and the man sitting across from him, some college student going to a nightclub rather than studying, sipped his drink, completely unaware he was sitting across from a monster.

            However, Eric Hale was more perceptive, and it didn’t take long for him to catch the scent of a dhampir and something else he’d never smelled.  Though he didn’t recognize the scent, he had no doubt it was the crucivire.  Looking around, he didn’t see either of his hunters.  Both Gordon and Phoenix had hidden within the crowd of dancers.  Though Eric couldn’t see them, he knew something was up and thus excused himself, leaving the table.

            Gordon and Phoenix followed, staying far enough away that they wouldn’t be seen in the crowd.  They saw Eric Hale enter the men’s restroom, taking one quick look at the crowd before he went in.  Gordon sent a command for Cora to find the men’s room window if Eric tried to escape.  He also ordered Jaiden to go inside, pull the fire alarm, and keep an eye on the men’s room door in case Eric tried to escape that way.  As those two got into position, Gordon and Phoenix entered the men’s room.

            Inside they found white walls, a row of stalls on one side, and a row of urinals on the other.  Eric Hale stood at the other end of the room with his sword drawn, a gold decorated sword with the crossguard bent upwards so it wouldn’t form a cross shape.  He glared at them with hatred in his eyes,  the glamour falling away to reveal his true vampiric form; red eyes, wispy white hair, and grey skin stretched tight across his skull.

            Gordon and Phoenix drew their cruciform swords, the line of silver in the middle of their blades glimmering.  Phoenix dropped his glamour, revealing his cross tattoos, as he grinned, itching for a fight.  The dhampir, the crucivire, and the vampire stood there for a moment, just staring each other down.

            Then Jaiden pulled the fire alarm, the sound blaring throughout the entire building, and the three warriors rushed forward, their movements blurred to the human eye.  As people began to evacuate the building, the three warriors in the restroom swung their swords with so much strength and speed that sparks flew when their blades collided.

            Outside the bathroom door, Jaiden watched as people kept leaving the dance floor, the fire alarm still blaring.  He hid in the shadows, keeping an eye on the men’s room door the entire time.  He felt awkward just waiting out there but knew his job right now was to keep Eric from escaping.  With this position, Eric would be boxed in, hopefully.

            Inside, the fight continued, and Eric spent most of his time defending.  With two opponents, he was overwhelmed, but not entirely.  Gordon and Phoenix weren’t aiming to kill, after all.  They were aiming to disable and take him alive, which meant they were holding back just a little.

            Even so, the two were slowly but surely backing Eric towards the wall as he was forced to give up more and more ground.  While Gordon and Phoenix weren’t going for the kill, they were still relentless, and as Eric backed away, his enemy’s swords got close, the tips scratching into Eric’s skin and drawing blood.  Finally, after about a minute of them trading blows, Eric’s back hit the wall.

            Grimacing as blood gushed from cuts on his face, Eric knocked Gordon’s sword into Phoenix’s, blocking them both before raising his leg and pushing Phoenix away using the wall as a brace.  Phoenix’s feet slid across the floor for a second, but he remained standing and ran back.

            Eric, still fighting Gordon, ducked under Gordon’s sword before leaping to the ceiling.  As he crawled away, his sword in one hand, Phoenix leaped up and swung his sword.  Eric blocked the strike, then threw all his strength into pushing Phoenix away with his sword.  As Phoenix fell, he crashed into a sink, his head hitting the wall as he knocked the sink off the wall, water spraying from the pipes.  Phoenix lay there for a moment, dazed from the impact to his head.

            Gordon leaped up, stabbing his sword upwards.  While Eric dodged, Gordon’s sword going into the roof, Gordon managed to grab Eric’s ankle and yank him down.  Eric crashed to the floor face up, Gordon landing with his sword raised.  As Phoenix pulled himself together and stood, Eric pulled his legs up and kicked Gordon in the chest, sending him crashing into Phoenix and sending them both falling backward.

            Eric kicked himself to stand, turned, and fled for the door.  When the vampire grabbed it and tried to pull it open, something kept it closed.  It was Jaiden, still outside, gripping the door’s handle with all his might.  He figured Gordon and Phoenix wouldn’t have trouble catching Eric now.

            Unfortunately, Jaiden underestimated the strength of the door.  Eric, quick as a flash, pulled back his left arm and punched right through the door, splintering the wood as his fist collided with Jaiden’s face.  A shocked Jaiden fell backward, blood spilling from his nose as Eric pulled his arm from the door and leaped over Jaiden.  Gordon and Phoenix came through a split second later, hot on Eric’s heels.

            “You’re gonna pay for that!” Phoenix shouted at Eric.

            Jaiden?  Asked Gordon mentally.

            I’m fine, Jaiden sent back.  Just get him!

            As Jaiden picked himself up, Gordon and Phoenix chased Eric down.  He ran to the front of the building, hoping to escape.  Out in the now empty dance floor, the fire alarm was still blaring, and as Eric ran, it looked like he was going to get to the exit before them.

            Gordon, however, sheathed his sword and pulled a knife from his coat, throwing it.  With his enhanced strength, the knife flew faster than a human could react.  Eric, though, reacted by dodging left.  Gordon pulled out more knives and threw them quickly, forcing Eric to jump back and forth, slowing him down and allowing Phoenix to close the distance.  Gordon ran out of knives but grinned.  By slowing Eric down, Gordon had caught the vampire in a trap, for it had given Phoenix a chance to close the distance and Cora time to reach the front door.

            Cora burst past the door in with her sword drawn.  With a grim look, she stepped in front of him.  Eric, grimacing in frustration, tried to jump left to go around, but she jumped with him, staying in front of him to keep him from getting past.

            And the next moment, Phoenix came up behind Eric.  Trapped between the two, Eric fought furiously.  However, with attacks from both sides, he was quickly overwhelmed.  Cora just managed to slice Eric’s side, spilling blood.  As Gordon and Jaiden got closer, it looked like it was all over.  The vampire would become too weak to fight with enough blood loss.

            But Eric, swinging Cora’s blade into Phoenix’s, swiped up some blood with his hand and threw it in Cora’s eyes.  With Cora thrown off, Eric blocked a few strikes from Phoenix with one hand as he grabbed the front of Cora’s coat with the other, yanking her around and smashing her into Phoenix.  Both of them hit the wall, unhurt but now out of the way.

            With the path clear, Eric fled again.  It looked like he’d escape for a moment, but once Phoenix and Cora pulled themselves away from the wall, Phoenix looked up, his eyes bulging from rage.  He raised his sword, waiting for the vampire to reach the door, and threw it with all his might.  Hearing the sword swing through the air, Eric looked back, but with the door on either side of him, Eric had no room to dodge.  The sword struck the vampire straight in the back, sending him flying forward with an unearthly shriek of pain.

            Outside, People waiting for the fire department in the parking lot suddenly heard the nightclub doors burst open with an unearthly shriek.  With shocked expressions and more than a few screams, they saw Eric hit the pavement face down, a sword sticking out of his back.

            Agent Phoenix burst through the doors a moment later, catching up to Eric and pulling the sword out of his back.  Eric shrieked again, and Phoenix raised the sword, aiming for Eric’s heart.

            “Phoenix!” cried Gordon.

            Phoenix stopped, then twisted his sword and swiped Eric’s head off.  The head tumbled a little bit to the pavement as blood flowed from the neck.  When Eric’s head stopped, the still living head looked up at Phoenix with pure hatred.  Gordon sighed.  Phoenix had almost killed Eric when they needed him for information.  Cutting off a vampire’s head didn’t kill them, as some popular culture said.  Doing so with a silver plated sword could paralyze the vampire’s body, but that only opened them up to be killed by a strike to the heart.  At least Phoenix had held back at the last minute.

            “Sorry, Gordon,” said Phoenix.  “I got a little carried away.”

            Gordon didn’t bother reminding Phoenix how many times he got carried away.  What would be the point when Phoenix never listened?

            Behind them, Cora came up as she wiped the blood from her eyes, and Jaiden also came up, wiping blood from his nose.  It was probably broken but would heal quickly.  Dhampirs didn’t heal as fast as vampires, but he’d be fine within a day.

            “You won’t get away with this,” screamed Eric’s head.  “Lord Victor will catch you!  He’ll make you pay for this!”

            A few people in the crowd began screaming, unable to process what they were seeing.  A moment later, Phoenix walked up to address the crowd.  He looked an imposing figure, with crosses all over his face and having just cut off the head of a man who wouldn’t die.  Phoenix stared at the crowd, his eyes fierce.

            “Everyone!” cried Phoenix.  “This man is a vampire!  You’ve seen the news!  You’ve heard about the deaths!  I’m sure some of you, if not most of you, have started to understand what’s happening in this city!  I’m here to tell you it’s all real!  My advice to you is to stay home after dark, put crosses on your home, stock up on anything with a pungent odor, and do not invite anyone into your home unless you are absolutely certain they aren’t a vampire!  Go home, and may God protect you.”

            In the distance, they could hear the sirens of the fire department arriving.  Gordon grimaced.  It wasn’t as if the existence of vampires could be hidden much longer in Saint Vivia, but the Night Hunter council still enforced the policy of keeping the supernatural hidden.  They were not going to be happy about this.

            Still, they now had Eric Hale in custody.  Hopefully, they’d be able to get the information they needed from him and end this vampire invasion once and for all.

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