Under the red light from above, Director Farrow led the hunters slowly through the forest now that they were past the hex field. Further back, Jamar and Robert marched forward, and even further back, Agent Walker had assumed command of the sniper division. The snipers were forced to turn off the night vision function in their scopes, considering the red glow from above. Many hunters kept their gun flashlights on, however, just in case the red light disappeared.
They knew from Jacqueline’s information that the next area would have ambush points underground, so the vampires could pop out at any moment. As he marched, Director Farrow was suddenly hyper aware of The Spear of Destiny on his back, which began to glow with a golden light as if sensing battle ahead. Many legends said that this spear guaranteed victory to its bearer. The truth was that an army led by one bearing the Lance of Longinus seemed to fight more effectively, showing more bravery and skill than otherwise. It wasn’t something the bearer could control, but it seemed that the spear had activated at the right time. The battle would begin soon.
And yet, even though they knew it was coming, they were still caught off guard when the first vampires attacked, bursting out of trapdoors in the ground with spears. Hunters cried out as they were pierced, blood spilling from their sides as the vampires, glamours down, disappeared back under the ground just before bullets could strike.
The hunters were left in chaos at first, dropping left and right, but soon hunters got wise to where the trapdoors were and were able to shoot vampires just as they popped out of the ground, letting the doors fall on their heads.
Captain Wagner, taking initiative, grabbed the golden axe at his belt and hit the ground. Where the axe struck, a fissure opened and revealed an underground tunnel. The vampires down there, now exposed, fled from him as he aimed his holy water cutter and sliced them down with it.
Jamar and Robert ended up back to back, watching for vampires to pop out of the ground and shooting them down, each shouting duck when a spear came their way. Further to the back, Agent Walker and the snipers lay down cover fire, their shots precise and lethal. Beneath the tunnels, the vampires cringed as the sound of bullets ripped through their ears, but the training they’d received had paid off, and they weathered the pain well.
At this point, the battle was well under way.
Alice and the dhampirs ran forward, the vampires behind them set on fire by Jasmine’s sword, Dyrnwyn. In the cramped corridor, the vampires knocked against each other trying to escape the flames only to set more of each other on fire. Amid the chaos, the five Night Hunters gained some breathing room, putting some distance between themselves as the vampires behind them.
As they ran down a stone corridor covered in Aztec markings, Alice couldn’t help but notice something.
“Jaiden,” Alice sent telepathically. “My mind isn’t hurting yours, is it?”
“No,” Jaiden sent back. “My body may be that of a vampire, but my mind didn’t undergo the brainwashing, so things like crosses don’t bother me. I guess a crucivire’s mind doesn’t hurt me either. Strange to think they deliberately give each other the same mental weaknesses.”
Alice considered that and remembered what Jacqueline had said. Vampires wanted to convince themselves that being one was wonderful as much as they wanted to convince their victims. With that in mind, Alice didn’t think that giving each other a weakness to Christian imagery was intentional, but something that happened subconsciously, part of a cycle that started when vampires were first born.
“Well,” Alice sent to him. “Whatever the reason, I’m glad I’m not hurting you.”
“You might hurt us if things go wrong,” Gordon said in their minds, surprising the others.
“What do you mean, Gordon?” asked Alice.
“I have some reservations about that pistol on your hip,” he replied. “You saw that footage Director Farrow showed us.”
Alice remembered the footage of the lab blowing up when explosives were exposed to magic. It seemed modern technology and ancient didn’t mix very well. It’s why the five of them were down here with magic swords instead of modern weapons.
“I’m worried,” Gordon continued. “That even the small amount of gunpowder in that one bullet might produce a reaction this close to the seal. It could enhance the bullet’s power or kill us all. We just don’t know.”
“Like I said before,” Alice replied. “I have it as a last resort.”
“Very well. Let’s hope we don’t need to use it.”
They kept running forward, down the dark tunnel as their footsteps echoed throughout. It wasn’t long before they saw a red light at the end of a tunnel.
“Prepare yourselves,” Gordon sent telepathically. “We’re about to be in the fight of our lives.”
Alice could sense the grim determination of the hunters around her, adding to her own. As they ran closer and closer to the red light, an ominous feeling began to creep over them, but they ignored it as much as they could, focused on the task ahead. Soon, the five of them left the corridors and entered the giant cavern with the seal. Alice, Gordon, Cora, Jasmine, and Jaiden saw the seal itself at the end of a long stone bridge, the massive red crystal pulsing fast as it released magic, a red whirlwind swirling above it. Red light illuminated the cavern’s rock walls, the ceiling high above, and the five bridges connecting the outer rim of the cavern to the seal platform.
And as they ran across one of those bridges, the five hunters found vampire forces barring their way, swords drawn and glamours down. These enemy vampires sneered and growled, their red eyes fierce as their swords glimmered in the red light.
Alice, Gordon, Cora, Jasmine, and Jaiden plunged headfirst into the enemies, cutting them down left and right with magic blades. All the vampires could do was slow them down as none of the undead warriors stood a chance.
Meanwhile, at the end of the bridge, the ritual continued. The bowls on the floor kept burning as robed vampires surrounded Agent Phoenix. Still chained to the stone slab, Phoenix grimaced at the vampires surrounding him. These vampires each held up a staff topped with a red crystal. As Serena’s chanting changed, the crystals glowed and then, one by one, connected to each other with red lightning. Soon a circle of red lightning hovered over Phoenix as the chanting continued.
Lord Victor, flanked by Archibald and Harold, stood watching. They’d sent most of their vampires forward but kept a small contingent near the seal as a last line of defense. When he heard the fighting at the end of the bridge, Lord Victor’s eyes narrowed as he saw the five night hunters in the distance.
His gaze then turned towards Serena, who still chanted as she stood by the crucivire. Training a magic user who could perform the ritual had proven difficult, and in the end, they’d only managed two. With Walter dead, Serena was their last chance. If they lost her, then it was all over. If only they’d had more time, they might have trained more, but the stars were aligned just right for this spell, and they might never align when a crucivire was alive again. Knowing what was at stake, Lord Victor drew the magic Viking sword Gram and stepped forward.
“Harold, you stay with Serena,” he said. “Archibald, with me.”
Archibald, grinning, drew Tizona, and the two elder vampires spread their wings to leap in the air.
The five warriors cut down vampires left and right, leaving limbs and blood scattered behind them. As they fought, it was Jaiden who noticed the two elder vampires coming at them. The pair flew fast, blades gleaming in the red light.
“Heads up!” warned Jaiden.
Alice, slicing down the nearest vampire, looked up and met eyes with Lord Victor. The two of them stared each other down as he flew in. In that moment, Alice sensed something. Not the red thread that connected her to Victor before, but the hint of one. Alice was no longer connected to the vampire network at large, but Victor had drunk so much of her blood over a long period of time that she could connect to him specifically if she wanted to.
Something to keep in mind, Alice thought.
Gordon and Cora intercepted the Elders, who landed and planted their feet. Victor’s sword, Gram, seemed to leave a trail of heat, warping the air as it was deflected by Excalibur and Durendal. Cora and Gordon telepathically instructed the others to forge ahead, but the moment Archibald lifted Tizona, the five warriors all backed up instantly, a strange sense of danger flowing through them.
It was Gordon who recognized the blade Tizona first, telepathically warning the others about it. Tizona released an aura of fear that could weaken the enemies of whoever wielded it. Even the vampires now standing behind the elder vampires backed away nervously as Gordon and Cora engaged Victor and Archibald.
It took a moment for Alice, Jasmine, and Jaiden to recover, but once they did, they tried to slip past the elder vampires to reach Phoenix. However, Victor and Archibald darted between them, cutting them off. Gordon and Cora tried to intercept, but the Elders were fast enough that they could jump back and forth between multiple opponents easily, preventing the five warriors from going on.
Then Archibald unfurled his wings and jumped up, trying to grab Jaiden by the shoulders with the claws on his feet. Jaiden was momentarily frozen by Tizona’s aura, his eyes wide with fear, but Cora managed to intercept, deflecting the claws with Durendal as Archibald flipped backward and landed before them once more.
“Don’t let them grab you!” Cora warned as they kept fighting. “If one of them grabs you they can throw you off the side, and I don’t even want to think about what might be down there.
Alice, Jaiden, and Jasmine felt a chill, even as they clashed blades with the elder vampires.
As Alice and Gordon swung their swords at Victor furiously, Alice grimaced. Victor, for his part, gave her an arrogant smile. No matter how fast Alice was with the Muramasa, Lord Victor could defend from her and Gordon easily. Alice considered the pistol on her belt, but there were too many vampires between her and her witch. She didn’t have a clear shot.
“Get out of my way!” Alice shouted.
Chaos reigned throughout the red lit forest. Vampires leapt out of trapdoors in the ground to cut and stab Night Hunters from every direction. Gunfire deafened both armies as the hunters fired wherever they saw the ground moving.
Director farrow Shot down vampires with one bullet each as the spear on his back pulsed with a golden light. Every Hunter under the spear’s influence fought far more efficiently. Even Jamar and Robert, still shooting back to back, could shoot a vampire in the heart with a single shot.
Only Captain Wagner didn’t show any noticeable improvement, but he was a force of nature already. With his holy water cutter, he could cut down many vampires with a single sweep. Every once in a while, Wagner would find a spot where a vampire burst from a trapdoor and he would use Forseti’s axe to split the ground open. With the underground tunnel exposed, a single incendiary grenade was enough to either roast the vampires within or force them to flee and expose themselves to gunfire.
Further to the back, Agent Walker shot down vampires with his sniper rifle. Even at long distance, the Spear of Destiny’s influence made him and the other snipers incredibly accurate. For a moment, it seemed like the battle was going their way.
Suddenly, vampires began dropping from the trees above, killing some of the hunters.
“In the trees!” Night Hunter Captains called out.
It took a moment for the Night Hunter forces to adapt to this new direction of attack, and many fell as vampires cut them from above. For a moment, Agent Walker cursed that the sniper rifled wasn’t as useful at close range but lost that train of thought the moment a spear went through his heart as a vampire landed next to him. Walker’s mouth opened as if to gasp, but no sound came out. A moment later the spear was pulled out and Walker fell forward, dead within moments.
And high above the battlefield, that gigantic hand descended through the red cloud across the sky, becoming clearer and clearer the lower it went.
lice and Gordon traded sword strikes with Lord Victor while Cora, Jaiden, and Jasmine fought with Archibald. They still attempted to bypass the elders, but the elders gave them no room. Occasionally, one of the elders would leap up and try to grab one of them with their claws, forcing Gordon and Cora to deflect them. No one wanted to get thrown over the bridge, but the two elders were fast and gave them almost no opportunities. Even if one of the five hunters came close to slipping by, the warrior class vampires were there to bar their way, and while they died easily, it gave the Elders a chance get in front of them once more. With swords clashing and sparks flying, the five hunters were gaining very little ground.
And through it all, Alice could sense the seal off in the distance as it pulsed faster than ever. She and the others were starting to sense the flow of energy through it and knew that something was about to happen. The vampire’s ritual was almost complete.
Just as a plan was forming in her head, Alice heard a scream and felt one of the four links fading. It took her a second to realize that Cora Mires had been run through by Archibald, the sword Tizona going through her heart. As Cora fell, her face contorted with pain, Alice slowly felt the thread connecting them fade, the life slipping from Cora’s body as she fell to the stone floor, dead.
“Cora!” cried Jasmine and Jaiden, even as they were put on the defensive with Archibald attacking them.
“No!” cried Gordon, even with his focus on Lord Victor.
Alice kept fighting, sparks flying as her Muramasa connected with Victor’s Gram. Alice hadn’t known Cora, but she still felt the sting of losing one of them, and the pain was written all over her face. It had become clear that she needed to act soon.
As the fight continued Phoenix, grimacing, saw the circle of lightning above him, made by those staffs. Lightning flash from the edge of the circle upwards, meeting at a singular point that shot a red beam of light straight upward.
In the forest by the mansion, the red beam of light shot through the ground, up through the treetops, and straight at the red cloud above Saint Vivia City. The surface of the cloud seemed to smoothen out, becoming as flat as a calm sea. Behind that flat surface, the red clouds still swirled, and a moment later, the gigantic hand began to emerge, the tip of its finger slipping out of the clouds, the surface rippling like water.
At that moment, Marcia finally used her silver knife to cut the last of the vines off the werewolf Hayden, who stood and looked up. Marcia followed the werewolf’s gaze to see the gigantic hand emerging from that cloud. The sight of it sent a chill down Marcia’s spine.
“Come on, Alice,” Marcia whispered. “Hurry.”
The battle continued, swords swinging and sparks flying. The two elder vampires still held off the five Night Hunters, and Alice had reached her breaking point. She was ready for a desperate plan.
As she fought, Alice contacted Gordon mentally, “I’m about to do something drastic.”
She imagined herself grabbing the second Muramasa behind her back.
“That’s dangerous,” Gordon warned. “You can control the bloodlust of one sword, but two would overwhelm you. You’d forget why you’re even here.”
“I’ll focus on the witch,” Alice replied. “That’s who we need to kill. The second sword should increase my speed and strength even further. We’re running out of time, Gordon. If I start losing control, I’ll ditch the second sword and use the pistol once I’m close en….”
Victor suddenly grew dangerously close to stabbing Alice through the heart, but Gordon saved her at the last moment, blocking the sword and knocking Victor back with his shoulder. In that split second, Gordon sent Alice an image of the gun exploding in her hand.
“Like I said,” said Alice, standing there. “We’re almost out of time.”
As Alice and Gordon kept fighting, they were vaguely aware of Jasmine and Jaiden struggling to defeat Archibald, who seemed to be toying with them. The vampire clown laughed whenever one of their swords strikes came close, darting away with each. They backed away to avoid his claws grabbing them and throwing them over the edge, and on top of that, they were slowly backing away, overcome by the aura of the vampire clown’s magic sword. Reluctantly, Gordon had to agree they were out of options.
“Do it,” he sent.
Alice, as fast as she could, jumped away to sheath the first Muramasa, pull the second off her back, draw it, and throw that sheath away. Holding that blade in her left hand, she reached for the second with her right, and braced herself for what the second blade would do to her as she put all her attention and focus on the witch in the distance.
Lord Victor, his eyes wide, realized what she was doing, twisted around to slip past Gordon and aimed Gram right at Alice.
Alice grabbed the Muramasa and the heat that enveloped her body was intense. Alice’s pupils dilated as the urge to kill became overwhelming. She became hyper focused on the woman chanting near her brother’s head. She had to kill that woman to stop this, and it became hard to think about anything else.
Alice drew the sword, and with two katanas in hand she ran forward, her features a blur. She blocked the strike from Victor and aimed one of her own, forcing him to sidestep out of her way. Alice ran forward as warrior class vampires attempted to block her way, but Alice swung the katanas with a flurry of motions, cutting down vampires left and right. She wore a grim look on her face as she cut her way forward, severing limbs and spilling vampire blood left and right.
“No!” cried Victor, turning to pursue her before Gordon Brand stepped before him, sword at the ready. Excalibur clashed against Gram once again as Victor tried to get at her. Victor backed away and spread his wings, taking a giant leap into the air. Gordon, however, jumped up, grabbed Victor’s ankle, and pulled him back down while swinging Excalibur which Victor just barely deflected.
Archibald suddenly disengaged from Jasmine and Jaiden to leap into the air, pursuing Alice down the bridge. Jaiden and Jasmine followed but couldn’t keep up with a flying opponent. As the elder vampire approached Alice, she suddenly ran out of warriors, reaching the end of the group on the bridge, a trail of bodies behind her. All that was left was the elder vampire Harold Stone and a small squad of vampires surrounding Serena. Harold watched Alice approach with concern as he drew his two short swords, while the remaining vampires, even those standing in a circle around Phoenix, looked terrified.
Alice gained tunnel vision, everything around going blurry except the witch Serena, who was still chanting that inhuman chant. While the other vampires moved to intercept her, Alice saw them as obstacles to her goal. She would kill the witch and end this, that was certain to her. In the back of her mind, Alice heard voices trying to speak to her, but she ignored that. Blood would shed soon, and then…
Alice felt a sharp pain in her back, causing her to stumble forward, landing flat on her face. Realizing something was wrong, she let go of one of the Muramasas, and with the heat clearing from her mind, Alice realized a knife was sticking from her back. Images were sent by Jaiden and Jasmine of Archibald throwing it, and Alice realized they’d been trying to warn her. Alice had been so overwhelmed by the cursed swords that she hadn’t noticed.
She could hear them calling her name. Alice! Alice! But with the stabbing pain in her back, Alice had trouble moving. Painfully aware of the elder vampire descending on her from above, Alice looked up to see vampires running forward to kill her now that she’d fallen. Beyond them, Alice could see the witch Serena step up to where Arthur was chained and pull a knife out of her robes.
Night Hunters fell to blades left and right. The dense forest and underground network gave the vampires too much of an advantage, and as Night Hunter numbers dwindled, there were less bullets flying and less chances for the vampires to get shot. Blood of the dead blended in with the red light above, but one didn’t need to see that to know the hunters were losing. Bodies littered the forest floor, many in pieces, and with so many dead, it forced Farrow’s hand.
“Fall back!” he cried. “Retreat!”
As the Night Hunters fled, Robert and Jamar killed the nearest vampires and then made a run for it. Gunfire sounded all around them as they kept a watchful eye, but there was movement all around them, and it was hard to make out who was friend and who was foe.
And sure enough, a vampire leapt out from behind a tree, sword in hand, and swung at Jamar before he could react. Jamar screamed as his arm fell from his body, his gun dropping with it. As Jamar fell back, Robert managed to shoot the vampire through the heart.
Jamar, lying on his back, cradled his missing arm as Robert knelt beside him.
“Go,” said Jamar, “I’ll only slow you down.”
“I’m not going to…”
Robert moved out of the way as a vampire sword sliced where he was just standing. Robert tried to raise his gun, but the vampire swung at the barrel, knocking it away just as the gun went off before aiming a thrust at the hunter.
From the ground, Jamar fired a pistol, hitting the vampire in the heart even as his vision started getting blurry. As the vampire fell, it took Robert a second to recover, and then he knelt by Jamar to tend to his wounds.
“I’m not leaving you,” said Robert, wadding some bandages and pressing them against the arm before wrapping more bandages around his torso. “So don’t argue. Now come on.”
After bandaging the arm as best he could, Robert picked up Jamar and draped him over his shoulders. With that, he ran as fast as he could towards the other hunters, gunfire still sounding all around them.
Alice felt time slow as everything came into focus. She pulled the knife from her back, crying out in pain as blood dripped from the wound. Archibald was still behind her, flying down to strike Alice with Tizona. Jaiden and Jasmine ran forward but couldn’t reach Alice in time to help. Behind them, Gordon clashed blades with Victor, and managed to get a slash on one of his wings, preventing the elder vampire from flying for a few moments. Behind even them, the vampires from the mansion had finally dealt with the fire from Dyrnwyn and were running down the bridge to reinforce their masters.
Up ahead, the last squad of vampires by the seal ran up to attack Alice. Further up, the witch Serena walked right next to the chained down Agent Phoenix, otherwise known as Arthur Hays. Arthur looked up, his face a mix of anger and frustration as Serena lifted the knife above her head.
Alice, grunting through the pain in her back, pushed herself up and drew her pistol as she held a Muramasa in her other hand. For a moment, just a moment, she had a clear shot at the witch. Harold Stone, however, stood nearby, and telepathically commanded the vampires between them to line up, blocking her line of sight to the witch as they ran forward.
For a moment, despair washed over Alice’s face. The knife in Serena’s hand began to draw in lightning from the circle above them, glowing red and crackling with energy. Soon the knife would fall, and Alice would be cut down by all the elder flying above her. A tear began to form under Alice’s eye.
“Arthur, I’m sorry,” she sent her brother telepathically.
“Yeah,” said Arthur, me too.
Sensing what Alice was about to do, Gordon and the other hunters covered their ears. Just as the witch’s knife fell, Alice pulled the trigger.
Unbeknownst to Alice, the seal on all magic pulsed with brighter red light the moment she fired the pistol. The gunpowder went off and expelled the bullet, but Alice’s gun was ripped apart by the explosion a moment later. At that same moment, Archibald swung Tizona down, but both were blasted away before the blade could connect.
The soundwave struck next, and Alice’s ears were torn apart as she flew backwards, blood spurting from them. The vampires standing in line were hit next, crimson flowing from their ears. The vampires standing in a circle over Phoenix, not to mention Phoenix himself, felt it, and Lord Victor, Harold Stone, and Archibald were affected, grimacing the split second that sound struck. Only Gordon, Jasmine, and Jaiden avoided the brunt of the damage, but even they felt the sound wave shake their bones, nonetheless.
The bullet travelled through the air and struck the first vampire, the impact blasting a hole the size of a baseball into his chest as blood sprayed out behind him. The bullet kept going, bursting through the chest of the next vampire, and then it hit the next one, and then the next one, and it just kept going through every vampire in its way. Last, but not least, it blasted a hole in Serena, stopping her just as her knife lay an inch above Arthur’s chest and making her eyes go wide. The bullet was finally stopped a few inches from the seal as if hitting an invisible wall, the seal pulsing just at that moment.
Alice landed on her side, dropping the pistol, and gripping the Muramasa in her hand tightly as the other one clattered to the floor above her head. Her ears bled profusely as she curled up in pain, feeling like a pair of spikes had been driven into her head. Archibald fell further back, landing flat on his back and grimacing with his eyes closed. Gordon, Jaiden, and Jasmine stood still, feeling lightheaded and dazed, while Lord Victor and Harold Stone staggered. Victor caught himself on the stone railing beside the bridge, while Harold fell to his knees. Finally, Serena hit the floor, her eyes cold and lifeless as the knife fell from her hand and clattered away, the red light fading from it.
The red smoke that had been swirling above began to disperse, slowing down and fading away. The vampires standing around Phoenix collapsed, dazed, and Phoenix clenched his eyes from the pain. Just above him, the vampires’ staffs fell, and both the circle of lightning and the shaft of red light disappeared.
The red line of light shooting up from the ground faded from the forest and the sky, and soon the red cloud up above began to disappear. A circle of night sky began to show through as the grotesque giant hand began to retreat into the red void from whence it came. More and more of the night sky became visible until the red cloud was gone completely.
All through Saint Vivia City, the people who had watched the cloud, entranced, were suddenly left with nothing but stars twinkling and suddenly came back to their senses. Whether standing on roofs, sidewalks, or the ground, they looked around at each other, not knowing what happened but filled with a strange sense that they’d just avoided a terrible fate.