Vanquisher: The Return

“The longest piece of work I’ve ever written and completed.  This is the one I’m proudest to produce as well.  I’m actually hoping to take some time in the future to rework the story and do even more world building, so that it’ll become a full length novel (and if possible, novels).  It’s a long 57 pages, so I hope you’ve gotten comfortable and that you’ll enjoy the journey as much as I did.” -Justin, May 2015.

Jay walked through the misty night, weaving through the labyrinth that formed the streets of Brooklyn.  He had gotten the call not long after grabbing dinner at a nearby pizza joint; he was the closest to respond to the incident.  The raven-haired 24-year-old rounded a corner, a desert eagle pistol appearing in his hand as he continued.  His senses told him that he was close.  The smell of blood reached his nostrils three blocks before he had reached his destination.  His unnaturally bright green eyes had an animistic glint to them as they surveyed the scene in front of him: a pictured ripped right out of a child’s nightmare.  A large puddle of blood pooled at the center of a dimly lit clearing in the middle of the concrete maze.  Various pieces of body parts scattered the area, though none were larger than a finger.  The scene contrasted the environment around him.  The courtyard’s surrounding building blocked even the nightly noises of the city, causing an unnatural stillness in the air.  Jay knelt down by the pool, and with his free hand produced a tube from a pocket on his leather armor.  As he took a sample from the floor, a gun cocked next to his head.

“Freeze, hybrid,” a voice with a British accent commanded.

Continuing with his work, Jay calmly addressed the gunman, “Good evening, Leo.”

The blond young man next to him held a frown on his face for another second, then grinned and put away his weapon.  “You know I could’ve blown your head off.”

“Isn’t the point of law enforcement to protect and serve?”  Jay looked at him, raising an eyebrow.

“Yea, for the good people of the United States, mate.  Key word: people.  Not half humans like you,” Leo joked.

“Leo, you weren’t even born in the U.S.”

“Oh I’m slowly corrupting the system from the inside until everyone from the Atlantic to the Pacific bows to the proper Queen and drink proper tea again.  None of that horse piss you guys serve here.”  The sarcasm dripped from Leo’s words.

Jay rolled his eyes. “Whatever.”

Leo looked around.  “What a mess.”  He paced around the pool, careful not to get any bodily fluids on his Italian suit or shoes.  “How did you know I was here?”

Jay stood up again, placed the tube in a pocket and continued to look around.  “I could hear you breathing.”

“Aye but how did you know it was me?”

Jay walked over to one of the surrounding walls and looked closely at it.  “Maybe it’s that shitty cologne you wear.  Maybe it’s the sound of that SIG when you pulled it out of its holster.  Maybe it’s the fact that you weren’t already trying to arrest me when I stepped into the alley.  I don’t know, I just kind of knew.”

“So what do you think?  It could be the werewolves moving back into the city.”  Leo reached down and picked up a single strand of fur from the ground.

Jay finished observing the wall and turned to face Leo for the first time, “Oh, Logan’s boys were definitely here already.  His Lycans left tracks all over the place.”

“How do we know Logan sent them?  It could easily have been a pack of feral wolves,” Leo said as he placed the strand in an evidence bag.

“The claw marks would be much deeper if this was an attack, and there would be half eaten carcasses laying around.”  Jay began pacing the area, tapping his pistol against his thigh as he contemplated what had occurred.

Leo gave the area another look, “No significant property damage, so it couldn’t have been something larger than a humanoid.”  He walked over to a corner and flipped his smartphone out.  “Need to look up something real quick.  Excuse me.”

Jay shrugged and his eyes fell upon the far wall of the clearing.  “Well, that’s interesting…”  He took a step toward it and stopped.  “Hey, babe, nice of you to swing by.”

A girl entered the clearing.  She wore something that might have been fashionable for tomboys a century ago: a cotton blouse covered her top while a tight leather belt held up her brown slacks, cut off by her high boots.  Her reddish, auburn hair framed a face covered by a curious expression.  She walked toward Jay, not stepping on any remain though her eyes never left his face.  But what caught most people’s eyes would be the heavy, one-handed metal hammer she juggled with one hand.  On one end was the instrument for inflicting blunt force trauma, on the other was a sharp point for tearing and ripping flesh.  Jay knew it could crush a skull with one swing; she’d demonstrated this on a poor monster on their first date.  The cheerful girl gave a flick of her hair as she approached the two with a giant smile on her face.  It did not diminished the sight of the gruesome scene.

“Oh, hi.  Didn’t expect to see you here, Jay!” She hugged her boyfriend.  Jay returned the hug quickly, careful to avoid being hit by the hammer.

“How’ve you been, babe?” Jay smile.

“Oh, not too bad, only two assignments today so I had some down time after lunch,” Kitty giggled.  “Good thing too!  They were having a sale at that shoe store we stopped by last week.”  She stuck a foot out, giving him a better look at her boots.  “I got these for half off!  Do you like them?”

“They look uncomfortable.”

Kitty laughed, then gave a twirl on her toes, showing off her entire outfit.  “They’re not too bad if I put in some food pads in them, besides they match the rest of the outfit nicely.”

“Well, as long as you’re comfortable in them, Kitten.”  Leo had finished his research on the phone and came back; he stared at them, disgusted at the lack of professionalism in front of him.

“You guys know we’re at a crime scene, right?”

“What?  A girl can’t look good at a crime scene?” Kitty asked, offended.

“Whatever,” Leo shook his head.

Sensing the tension building, Jay decided to change the subject.  “So, Kitty, I’m guessing your boss wanted you to check this out, too?”

Kitty nodded, and pulled a Kimber Custom pistol from her jeans.  “Well, specifically, he wanted me to kill any non-humans still in the area, but if I have the time I should find out about what happened here, too.”  She shrugged.

Jay looked at her apprehensively.  “I mean, there are easier ways to break up with me than that, girl.”

Kitty rolled her eyes before approaching the blood puddle.  “So, puppies?”

“We already ruled that out, there were some but if they did anything, it was only recon,” Leo replied.

“Huh, then it must be Logan’s elite units then,” Kitty said, “Only they have enough self-control to not make a mess.  Well, too much of a mess anyways.”

Jay had already returned his attention back to the far wall.  Unlike the other parts of the area, this wall seemed untouched.  Not even a speck of blood drop shone on its surface.

“Well, if you do feel the urge to carry out your order, I’m free Friday night if you wanna…” Leo began.

“Sorry, Leo.  Not interested,” Kitty replied coolly.

Leo shrugged.  “Well, you know what they say.  Once you go half dragon-“

“For the last time, Leo,” Jay cut the Eagle off, annoyed.  “Just because I have half a dragon’s soul, doesn’t mean I’m half dragon.”

“Hey, you say tomato, I say tomato,” Leo shrugged.  “Still makes you half human to most people, including the Templars and Eagles.”

“Hey, Leo, do me a favor.  If you’re going to shoot me, just do it and stop wasting my time.  If not, you got a black light on you?” Jay said, annoyed.

“Yeah, why?”

“You guys should see this.”

Leo pulled out a flashlight, but when he clicked the on button a violet glow came out and illuminated the wall.  Letters appeared on the surface with some of the writing bleeding down the wall.  The trio stared at the message on the wall.  Jay’s hands curled into fists, the knuckles whitening.

Soon he shall return to drain this world dry,” Leo read out loud, “Bah, just some madman’s rambling.”

“Kind of tacky, isn’t it?  Writing in invisible ink?” Kitty commented.

“Said the lady whose fashion sense just stepped out of the mid nineteenth-century,” Leo teased.

“Well, I’m about to slap your British ass back across the Atlantic.”

She turned to Jay, who still glared at the wall.  “Baby?”  Leo and Kitty looked at Jay until he finally spoke up in a quiet voice.

“It’s the Blood Empire.”

Leo stared at him for a second, then burst out laughing.  “Yea, and I’m bloody Poseidon.  Come off it mate.  The Blood Empire?  The Vampire Lord’s going to descend from the sky with a host of Vampires and trigger the apocalypse?” Leo teased, “What makes you think this isn’t an isolated incident anyway?  And if it’s a Vampire attack, shouldn’t there be a few intact bodies with two holes in their necks?”

“Yes, that Blood Empire.  And no, maybe not a cloud of Vampires, but certainly an army,” Jay answered, attempted to keep his tone civil.  As soon as he had read those words an eruption of hatred formed inside his chest.  “If it was back in the Civil War days, then yes, we would be looking at some dead damsels with puncture wounds to the neck.  This is a new breed of Vampires we’re facing now, and this is not an isolated incident.  More people have gone missing in the last three months than in the last three years combined, and now bodies are turning up.”

Leo scoffed, “So what?  People go missing and die all the time.”

“With the same message scrawl on the wall whenever their remains are found?”

Leo opened his mouth to reply, but Kitty cut him off.  “There have been… reports coming from Newfoundland of missing people all along the East Coast.  Some cases have looked similar to this one.”  She gestures at the remains in front of them.

“Ok, now I see why you two are so right for each other.  You’re both out of your minds.”  Leo said, rolling his eyes.  “Even if an impending invasion was about to happen, why would they be attacking random civilians.  There’s no grand strategy that would benefit them from kidnapping hobos and loners.”

“We don’t even know right now who got killed here.  Look, you don’t have to believe us, Leo, but do some digging for yourself.  You may not have to kick down the Director’s door and scream ‘The Blood Empire’s back,’ hell, you don’t even have to file it in your report.  Just go through the recent reports on any unusual cases, and if you don’t come up with anything, I’ll buy you a drink at the Empty Bottle,” Jay advised.

“Fine,” Leo sighed, “but I’ll be having a whole bottle of Lagavulin.”  A siren started in the distance.  “I best be heading back, must prepare for an early meeting in a few hours, not to mention filling out this report.”  As he began heading away from the clearing, the siren grew closer.  “You chaps might want to call it a night as well.  I’ve seen flesh eating parasites friendlier than the NYPD.”  He turned the corner and disappeared.

Kitty walked over to Jay and took his hand into hers, “So I’m guessing you want me to dig around as well?”

“Try to talk some sense into your boss.  See if you can rally the Order before the shit really hits the fan.”

“I’ll probably have an easier time finding Atlantis on foot than to convince the Grandmaster of anything, but I’ll give it a try I suppose.”  She gave him a worried look.  “Baby, you ok?”

Jay took a deep breath.  “Yeah, I’ll be fine.  Why don’t you get back to work tomorrow?  It’s been a while since we’ve both gone home together.”  Kitty nodded happily and just as flashing blue and red lights appeared in one of the entrances of the clearing, Jay takes Kitty’s hand and led her back into the chaos of the metropolis.

The low fire from the fireplace threw shadows from every piece of furniture in the old library upon the walls.  The shadow waltzed across every wall, which were lined with shelves full of ancient tomes that rivaled the Library of Alexandra at its prime.  Yet for all the forbidden knowledge that were clustered there, most books lay forgotten, a fine layer of dust resting upon them.  One of the shadows stepped out of place from the shadow’s dance and approached the fireplace, and when it got to near the chairs by its destination the dark figure bowed deeply.

“Well?”

A pillar of darkness rose from one of the chairs and turned to face the bowing figure.  The light from the fireplace seemed to avoid the individual standing in front of it.  It was as if the very light was sucked into the darkness from the person itself.  A man who looked no older than his mid-thirties stared at his subject, though a few more digits to his suspected age would be more accurate to the truth.  He was well dressed; everything from the vest to the dress shirt to his dress pants and shoes complimented each other.  The only striking feature on him were his eyes, which had blood red irises in each.  The Vampire Lord waited for the bowed figure to speak.

The bowing figure pulled back the hood from his head and looked up.  Two completely black eyes contrasted with an ash white face framed by brown hair, which almost glowed in comparison to the dark clothing.  When he spoke, his sharp canines flashed from the light in the room.

“Artur will no longer jeopardize our plans.”

“Good, I will not have my masterpiece be compromised by an arrogant fool with a vendetta,” the Vampire Lord said.  There were no hatred in his voice, just indifference.  The newcomer might as well had announced he’d finished cleaning all the kitchens in the castle.

“It is good you’ve addressed this problem.  He outlived his uses when he started murdering outside of the list we gave him.  And messages on the wall?  One might think he was no older than a century old.  The fool,” a third voice rung out from the other chair by the fireplace.

The Vampire Lord gave a quick glance at the chair, then turned back to the newcomer.  “Thank you, Vicena.  Please address any loose ends that may have arisen in the wake of Arthur’s mistakes.”  He turned to the second chair in the room as Vicena gave another bow and silently slipped out.  A bald man with a slightly darker complexion than Vicena sat in it.  The scars on his face and one fake eye gave him the appearance of a veteran.  The uniform on him completed the look.  The Vampire Lord spoke softly, “I trust all is on schedule, Reznov?”

Reznov said, sneering, “Like clockwork.  The first vanguards are already on route to the target.”

“Good, shall we take a little walk?”  Reznov rose, but the Vampire Lord was already at the door.  They silently traverse the halls of the castle, though the Vampire Lord seemed more to glide than walk.  They arrived at a loading dock, where the workers all froze at the sight of the Vampire Lord, who dismissed them with a wave of a hand.  They filed out, and the two visitors walked towards a rectangular box.

“Trust is… difficult to build, Reznov, but I’m sure you know that,” the Vampire Lord said.  The Blood Emperor placed a hand upon the box.

“Do you not trust me, my lord?”

“I trust you enough to place you in charge of the vanguards,” he continued.  “However, tradition is tradition, and you must prove yourself before I can elevate you to the Council.”

Reznov fists clutched.  “Have I not done enough?  Are the bodies of hunters scattered across Eastern Europe not testament enough for my loyalty?  For my effectiveness?”

“And they are testament enough for you to earn a chance like this.”  The hand on the box pushed and the lid shifted to the side, revealing the void inside the container.  “Complete the task, and you’ll be part of the Council the next time I see you.  You know what you have to do.”  Reznov nodded and climbed into the coffin and lay down in it.

“I’ll give Lady Liberty your regards.”

The Vampire Lord pushed the lid shut, “Rest assured Reznov, I shall not be far behind.”  He then grabbed a piece of fabric from the ground next to the coffin and pulled it over, draping the container with it.  The red, white and blue colors of it glared back at the Lord of Night.

The night was strangely quiet, even for the late hour.  There was a distant echo of a siren, and the gloomy yellow street lights pushed back the darkness that had descended the empty streets nearly eight hours ago.  Jay hurried through the fog filled streets.  He had decided to head to work early, much to the chagrin of Kitty.  A normal person wouldn’t be able to see more than six feet in front of him, but Jay knew this neighborhood well enough to traverse it blindfolded.  Tonight however, there was an uneasiness in the air that prompted him to walk just a bit faster than usual.  He headed towards an abandoned industrial park, the yellow street lights dogged his every footsteps.

Most people don’t give a second look at the run down shell of a warehouse in the Bronx, but Jay strode toward it casually.  A homeless man slouched by its entrance, looking intoxicated.  Jay gave a quick nod to the man, who returned the gesture so subtly it could’ve just been part of his breathing, and entered the cold building.

There was nothing inside the semi-broken walls.  Some moonlight managed to penetrate the fog and the holes on the roof into the interior, bathing its surroundings with a ghastly blue glow.  Jay walked to a seemingly random spot in the middle of the facility and stopped.  He pulled his phone out and began a text to Kitty, while tapping his right foot five times on the floor.  A square outline appeared, no bigger than five square feet.  The platform then began its descent down to the subterranean headquarters of the United States division of the Vanquishers.

After a few minutes the platform stopped and Jay sent his text out, he came to a large doorway.  The seemingly wooden frame depicted a dragon wrapping itself around a set of double doors, with the head at the center glaring down at any who wished to enter.  Its open mouth always gave the new initials pause when they first see it, as though it might swallow them whole, which Jay’d always found silly.  Dragons don’t eat people … usually.  Red oak covered the rest of the double doors, though Jay knew it was made of much stronger material than mere wood.  On either side of the main entrance stood two seven foot tall armored humanoids.  As, Jay approached the threshold the two figures revealed to be two bipedal dragon-like warriors.  Covered from head to tail in shiny green scales and wearing several leather weapon harnesses on their bodies, the two Dragonknights would normally stand at attention at the presence of a high ranking Vanquisher.  However, these two recognized Jay and continued their relaxed stance as the Master Vanquisher came to a stop in front of them.  The one on Jay’s left held a large spear on his lap, and was in the process of sharpening its point with a stone.  The one on the opposite side of the door did a few practice swings with his giant axe; the silver blade from the weapon whisked through the air a foot from Jay’s head.  Jay always wondered why Dragonknights even used weapons, since their claws and teeth were sharp enough to eviscerate almost anything.  Shaking his puzzlement off, Master Vanquisher greeted the two.

“How’s guard duty guys?”

The Dragonknight with the axe snorted.  “Oh, fantastic, I get to wake up early on Monday to stand outside with this asshole, what could be better?”  The guard with the spear held up his two middle claws at the first: the dragon middle finger, since Dragons, including Dragonknights, only had four claws on each hands.

“Aw, I’m sure Fawkes isn’t that bad.  He just likes to polish his spear in the morning,” Jay laughed.  Fawkes gave the Master Vanquisher the same gesture as before, then returned to his task.  Jay turned back to the first guard, his expression got a bit serious.  “Clarke, so how are you handling it?”

Clark sighed and a long tongue slithered out of his mouth.  “Some days are better, like today.  Other times I just want to rip apart the next guy I see and eat his insides.”  Fawkes looked up from his weapon.  Though he held the same expression, the tone of his voice sounded more sympathetic.

“Dragon madness comes and goes, you just have to not give into it.”

“Have you thought about the Ascension?” Jay asked.

Clarke shook his head, “I did hear being a full dragon gives you better control over it, but if I can’t handle it now, then it would be ten times worse if I lose control as a full breed.  I’ll get there eventually, just gotta get a hold of this thing first.”  He grinned and gestured to his axe.  “Besides, if I ascend, I’ll have to break up with Bianca.”

Jay returned with a sober half chuckle, then turned to the door.  “Well if you’re not too busy fantasizing about devouring me, wanna let me in?”  Clarke, still smiling, pushed the heavy door open with one hand.  Jay nodded his thanks and walked forward.

Passing through, Jay walked into a late nineteenth-century-designed great hall.  Magical fires roared in the blazers around the room, while portraits of great Vanquishers over the ages hung from the walls.  Though it was early morning, many still busied themselves within the headquarters.  A group of initiates clustered in a corner; many had their heads buried in their books.  A few, however, were playing with magical fire in their hands, or adjusting their weapons as they saw fit.  A senior instructor passed through, and spotting the latter individuals, he quickly made a beeline for them, no doubt to reprimand them for such activities outside the training rooms and armory.  Teams and individual Vanquishers entered and exited the side hallways of the Great Hall, no doubt the ones that connected the briefing rooms from the common area.  Jay grinned, remembering the days when he had to come in early in the day to get his daily assignments.  Vanquishers above rank four were allowed to have briefings delivered to their homes.  Sleeping in was one of the best privileges Jay had enjoyed as he climbed the ranks.

Most Vanquishers had the traditional, tightfitting leather armor on, though some wore street clothes over it like Jay.

“Hey pipsqueak, you got a minute?”  Marcus’ voice rang out.  Jay turned toward his old mentor.  A grey-haired man walked up, the dye on his armor had faded almost as much as the color in his hair, but if age had any effect on the Marcus’s smile, it didn’t show.

“Are those new slots on your chest piece, Marcus?” Jay asked.

“Yea, could’ve used another few grenades on the last training exercise,” Marcus replied, gesturing to the weapons on his chest.

“Don’t you think you’ve got enough shit strapped to your chest?”

“Hell no, wouldn’t want people to think I wear stock armor do you?  What do I look like a First Year?”

“Well, if you shaved every once in a while,” Jay said slyly.  Marcus hit him on the arm.

“Tried it once, snapped the blade in half.”  The mentor lifted his chin, revealing tan scales where the skin on his neck should be.

“Did you actually have something you wanted to talk to me about?  Or did you just wanted to rant at me again?” Jay smiled.

Marcus shook his head.  “No time for a proper rant, though it would be relaxing.  I’ve got to teach the bestiary identification class in ten minutes, but fill me in on that incident from last night.”  Jay relayed the story as they walked.  Marcus listened, occasionally nodding his head.  When Jay finished, they stopped in front of the last door in the Great Hall.  “So you think the Blood Empire’s prepping an invasion?”

Jay nodded, “You think so too?”

“Well, it sure as hell ain’t the Girl Scouts coming to sell cookies.  I think you’re on to something.  A lot of things are happening recently that don’t add up.  That many people disappearing in secured territory?  We haven’t had a single Lycan attack in months, I don’t know if it’s the Empire, but I know there’s a storm coming.  All the elders feel it.” Marcus rubbed his beard.  “Anyway you better hand your report in, Wilson’s already in the office.  Then again, your dad practically sleeps in there nowadays.”  He patted Jay on the shoulder, “I’ve got a class to get to anyway.  Try not to get kill okay?”

“Same to you old man, same to you,” Jay replied as he pushed the office door open.

Marcus turned and quickly added, “Oh and can you bring the food down to the Dragon Cavern and clean up a little there?  I would send another initiate down there but the last one shit himself when he saw Mom.”  Jay sighed and flicked him off before entering the office door.  Marcus chuckled softly, knowing Jay wouldn’t miss a time to chance to spend some time with their Dragon Mother.

Being the head of one of the most powerful supernatural hunter organization in the world would take a toll on anyone; the bags under Wilson’s eyes testified to that.  Nonetheless, the Chinese American finished the last of the paperwork on his desk and took a deep breath before getting up make himself a cup of tea at his tea set on one of the stands in the office.  As he poured the boiling water into the cup containing two teabags of Earl Grey, Jay knocked on the door to the office.  The office itself was a cozy place, with a simple chandelier lit with magic lighting the room.  A giant map of the world covered one wall, with drawings, strings, and various pieces of information attached to its surface.  Pictures of targets, threats, allies, informants and other notable figures pinned upon it as well.  A couch set with a coffee table laid a few feet from Wilson’s desk.  The coffee table was covered with reports, profiles and other important documents.  Despite the rise of the information age, Wilson still insisted on having all reports done offline.  It was always easier to burn a single piece of paper than to purge a single page off the internet.  Unfortunately his method took up a lot more space: one couldn’t see the top of his desk under all that paper.

“Come in,” he warily replied as he poured a second cup.  Jay walked into the room.

“I’ve got the report from last night.”  He gestured the file in his hand, then looked at the couch.  It had a blanket and a pillow on it.  “When was the last time you went home?”

“This is home, Jay.”  Wilson finished mixing his own tea and took a sip of it.  “Married to the job, I’m afraid.”

“You weren’t always.”

Wilson paused, holding the cup in front of him.  “No, I wasn’t.”  He took a second and motioned to the other cup.  “Cream and sugar are on the stand.”

Jay dropped the file on Wilson’s covered desk and walked to the tea set.  He picked up a jar.  “No thanks.  I prefer honey.”  He scooped the golden syrup with a teaspoon and added it to his cup before drinking as well.  Wilson was already back by his desk flipping through Jay’s report, his face held a stone-like expression.

“You ruled out the Lycans even though you found tracks?”

“Yes,” Jay rolled his eyes, repeating the same thing he had said both to Kitty, Leo and Marcus.

“And you don’t think this is an isolated incident?”

“The disappearance rates in the last month alone have been at an all-time high.  If this was Budapest or Moscow I wouldn’t bat an eye, but this is New York.”  Jay took another sip of the tea, “Both we and the Eagles have our East Coast headquarters here.  The Templars just opened a chapter house in Brooklyn as well.  This should be one of the safest place in North America, but it’s not.”

Wilson gritted his teeth.  “You’re forgetting about Underworld.  They could just be having one of their gang wars spilling into the streets.”

“Not even those guys are stupid enough to do things this sloppily or this overt.  If they cause too much noise the Eagles won’t hesitate to bring the hammer down on all of them, in which case all of them would feel the heat.”

“Hmm.” Wilson, contemplative in thought, flipped to the last page.  His eyes narrowed.  “Really?  The Vampire Lord?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Then you think wrong.  We haven’t had so much as a single account of a Vampire in North America since nearly two centuries ago.  Didn’t you pay attention in history class?” Wilson closed the report.  “Lincoln broke the Blood Emperor at Gettysburg, then again at Swainsboro.  The Grand Coalition chased the ‘Vampire God’ all the way back across the pond.”

“And massacred thousands of innocent people along the way,” Jay said bitterly, putting down his empty cup.

“They’re not people, Jay.”

“Neither are we.”

“You’re delusional if you think they’re back.”

“And you’re naïve if you think one lost war was enough to break the will of a three millennia old being,” Jay shot back.

“Do not place your vendetta against Vampires above this brotherhood!”

“Yeah, because you have your priority so straighten out that you sleep in your office.  Do you even remember what they did to mom?”

A loud crack resounded as they glare at each other for a minute, each man tempted to strike the other.  Wilson sighed.  The shattered remains of his teacup rested in his bloody hand.

“Take the rest of the day off, Jay.  Cool down a bit, then I’ll shoot you a job or two later.  But for now, forget about this Blood Empire thing.  I know how you feel about Vampires Jay, let me handle it.”  Jay glared at his father, who’d already sat down and was composing something on a piece of paper.  He turned, frustrated, and began heading out of the office.  As he opened the door, Wilson’s voice reached him.  “You’re not the only one who misses her, son.”

Without turning his head, Jay replied, “You could’ve fooled me, dad.”  He walked out and slid the door close behind him.

A drop of water dripped from the stalactites down into the cavern below.  It landed on a scale and evaporated; the armored head rose and shook, then rested again.  The dragon barely felt the drop of water, but it did feel a kindred spirit entering the cavern.  Bluish green scales covered the massive beast, while the colossal wings folded to the torso to fit within the cavern.  Small horns lined her head as she yawned, revealing the rows of razor-sharp teeth.  She opened her eyes and stared forward, where Jay had just pushed a large, loaded, and covered cart towards the center of the nest.  The cave was big enough to fit a fully grown high dragon, which can grow up to fifty feet.  Around the walls there were blazers and torches to light it as clear as day.  The cave ran through the back and Jay was sure there was an opening somewhere where even a high dragon can stretch its wings a little.  Batches of eggs nested together and even a few dragonlings were awake, play fighting with each other and testing their fire breath, much to the disapproving gaze of their mother.

As soon as they smelled the scene of blood from Jay’s cart, they swarmed around the Master Vanquisher like eager puppies.  Jay simply laughed and petted some of them.  He reached into the cart and pulled out half a cow, tossing the carcass over to the far side of the cavern.  Immediately some of the dragonlings half ran, half flew over, fighting over the piece.  He repeated this a few times until the cart was only half full and he had distracted all the dragonlings, then pushed the cart to the center near their mother.  He pulled the cover off the cart and kicked it; one of the sides of the cart folded down, spilling the remaining contents next to the massive dragon in the middle.  The Queen however, paid no heed to her meal.  Instead she raised her head to scowl the dragonlings.

“Kindling!  Chew your food before you swallow!”  A voice came from the high dragon, though its mouth did not open.  “Blaze!  Stop hogging the food from your sisters.”  A dragonling, who was perched upon a particularly large piece of meat and shooting flames at any others who approached, whimpered and begrudgingly allowed his siblings to share his prize.  When the Queen finally seemed satisfied with the distribution of the meal for her children, she turned to the pile of food in front of her.  She breathed a light green flame upon it, instantly cooking the meat, and began eating.

During this Jay had removed a mop and a bucket of water from the cart and began mopping up a bloodied stain on the floor.  It was the remnants of the last Initiation, where recruits were fused with a dragonling’s soul in order to begin their training within the brotherhood.  A tedious process that required both an initiate and a dragonling to willingly select each other, after which the dragonling transforms into pure energy and is absorbed by the recruit’s body, allowing the recruit to become an initiate.  However, if the soul of either participants refuses to bond with the other for whatever reason during the process, the recruit’s body will explode, unable to contain two separate souls within it.  Unfortunately, it was a price some had to pay during the last Initiation.

As Jay continued to mop the floor, the Queen swallowed the parcel in her mouth.  “It’s always nice to see you Jay.”

“Well, someone has to clean up around here, mom.” Jay joked, despite the unease he always felt at calling the Queen ‘mom,’ unlike other Vanquishers in the Brotherhood.

“A shame about that, they seemed like good boys.”

“Seven out of ten made it.  The losses were acceptable.”

The Queen looked at him pointedly.  “Well excuse me if I don’t find the death of any of my children ‘acceptable.’”

“I apologize, mother.”

“They died for the greater good, that’s to be expected.” The Queen sighed as she finished her meal at the same time as Jay finished wiping up the last stains.  “It never gets any easier, though.”  Jay placed the water bucket and mop back on the cart.  He saw the sadness in the Queen eyes and looked for a distraction.

Jay sat down facing the Queen.  “Mom, can you tell me the First Story again?”

The Queen knew what Jay was trying to do, but appreciated the effort nonetheless, “I could have sworn I’ve told you that one a thousand times.”

Jay smile.  “They say you haven’t heard the story until you’ve heard it a thousand and one times.”

The Queen chuckled, and began her tale.  “It was not long after the Legions from the land the humans called the Rome stopped marching forth and the world was full of suffering.  Dragons reigned supreme then.  With the humans divided and scattered, we found easy prey among them.”

“I bet they were bony as hell,” Jay joked.

“Oh they were worse than the whales; I stuck to their lambs and cattle.  Though not all of my brothers and sisters shared my good tastes.  Soon it was apparent that the human would fight back, and we held a council at Dragontop Fortress.  A vote was to decide the fate of both species: will the dragons go to war or make peace?”

“Did the council argue about semantics for days without getting anything done?”

“Of course they did; it was a democracy after all.  In the end it came down to a single vote to swing the balance.  Darius the Black one had waited until all had voted before announcing his decision.  His pride had blinded him, and those that would go to war convinced him that peace meant bowing down to humanity.  This prompted him to swing the vote to their favor.”  She shook her head, “The fool.”

“I bet that made Vietnam look like a baby shower.”

“You have no idea.  The dragons that voted against war wanted no part of it and the pro-war side knew they could not force us to participate.  And so the dragons would swoop down upon the castles and villages, burning alive anyone and everyone within, then the humans would send their Dragonslayers to hunt and kill the dragons.  It was an endless cycle of destruction.  Then the great plague came and killed off many of us.  While the humans also suffered, we knew that our extinction was at hand.  Then a great darkness came, and began consuming all of the land.”

“What was the darkness?  Vampires?” Jay asked, as he did every time he heard this story.

“No, Vampires had not yet risen to the power.  This was a much more ancient evil, one that would be best if it was forgotten into memory.  The humans had no defense against it.  Steel would break upon it like water on rocks, and arrows slid off it like snow from the winter.  Only one weapon worked against it: Dragonfire.”  The Queen Mother sighed before continuing the story.  “Yet there were too few of us left from the war; the younglings had not yet matured into warriors.  We couldn’t push them back alone.  So an agreement was made: for the sake of survival, both sides must make sacrifices.  The dragons would give their youngling’s souls to merge with those of humans, but the humans would give up their humanity and swear obedience to the dragons.

And so the first Vanquishers were born.  From their hands, Dragonfire poured out, in streams or over their weapons.  They cut down the darkness and drove it back from whence it came.  And so established the peace between our kind and humanity.  Though conflict still broke out from time to time.  The Vanquishers would always mediate peace between the two sides.  Your Brotherhood have protected the peace well.  You have the soul of one of my dragons in you, and therefore you will always be my son, Jay.”

“Thanks, mama, love you too,” Jay grinned and stood back up.

“Now don’t you have something else to do than to listen to a senile dragon all day?”

Jay grew serious.  “Actually I was wondering if you’ve seen anything unusual recently.”

The Queen turned to study him; Jay could feel her gaze reaching into his soul.  “I know you’ve lost much son, but she wouldn’t want you to be like this, I know I don’t.”  Jay remained silent, the Queen sighed.  “But I assume you mean the Vampires from the East.”

Jay looked back up at the Queen.  “What about them?”

“An old enemy is returning.  I may have to take flight again to protect my babies.”  She looked towards the dragonlings napping in the side of the cave, deep in food coma.  “This time will be worse than the last.”

After a moment of silence, Jay turned back from his thoughts, “Thanks, mom.”

“I’ll see you soon, dear,” the Queen Mother laid her head back down and shifted her body to a comfortable position.

Jay grabbed the cart, folded it back up and rolled it out of the cavern, making sure not to roll over any stray tails or limbs.

After hours of reading reports in the Grand Library, Jay stretched his arms and yawned.

Gothic statues lined the upper levels of the Grand Library of Vanquishers.  Stone bookshelves carved into walls surrounded the tables between them.  Torches of green fire hung from between the shelves, while softer candle white lights illuminated the tables.  The current occupants in the library beside Jay consisted of only the Vanquishers assigned there for their librarian shifts and students pulling all-nighters in preparation for their schoolwork.

Jay spotted his own reflection on one of the brass lamps on the table.  He stared deeply into a pair green eyes that weren’t the pairs that his mother had given him.  His original dark brown irises were replaced after a particularly tricky assignment that required him to exert more Dragonfire than he had anticipated.  Jay sighed, another step towards being a full Dragonknight.  His mind wandered to Kitty.  They’ve been together ever since he started his apprenticeship under Marcus and have known each other even longer than that.  But would she still stick around if she woke up one day with a huge lizard man in her bed?  The Master Vanquisher shook his head.  No point in worrying about possible things in the future, especially if you have no control over them.

Jay looked at his watch, the numbers 0110 glared back at him in angry red LED lights.  He sighed and decided to call it a day, grabbing a notepad he had scribbled on as well as some other utensils as he shoved his stuff into his bag.  He got up and pushed the chairs back in, leaving most of the reports on the table for some poor soul stationed in the library during the graveyard shift.  As expected, he got some dirty stares from a Rank One and the lower class Vanquisher moved past him to clean up Jay’s mess.

What was not expected were the voices he heard as he approached the history section of the library.

“Will you relax?  God, you’re worse than a golem when it comes to this.”  A female voice came from deeper in the shelves.  Jay, looked at his watch, and deciding this was too good to pass up, followed it.

“Look I’m just nervous, okay?  I don’t get to do this sort of stuff often,” a boy’s voice replied.

“Just relax, and put your lips like this,” the girl’s voice continued.

Jay could barely contained his laughter as he rounded the corner and saw the two teenagers wrapped around each other.  He took a second to compose himself and, when he was sure he could keep a straight face, cleared his throat audibly.

The two teenage initiates flew out of each other’s arms as if they were on fire and stared at the Master Vanquisher, each of them frozen with a look of complete horror in their faces.  The girl, a brunette, looked like she could die of embarrassment as she hid behind the boy.  The boy blushed until his face matched his red hair, but even in the dim green lights Jay could make out a triumphant smile on his face.  Neither of them made eye contact with the Master Vanquisher, who had his eyebrows raised.

What must seemed like hours to the poor victims passed as they stood in awkward silence, when the boy finally got the courage to look up at Jay, who decided that he had tortured the two enough.

“Next time, use the politics and law section.  It’s more discreet.”  He winked at the boy before turning to leave.  Behind him he heard a squeal as the girl pulled the boy by the hand away in the opposition direction, the boy still stunned at what just occurred.  Jay smiled happily as he exited the library, remembering himself at that age and the crazy things he did with Kitty.

The apartment wasn’t the most spacious, but it suited Jay’s needs.  The Master Vanquisher opened the door and walked in, taking off his shoes in the process.  The living room was big enough to seat six people comfortably around the fifty-something inch television.  A large window covering one wall showed the view of the Manhattan Downtown and the blinds on either side waved slightly as the central heating came on.  Stepping past his girlfriend’s shoes, he dropped his stuff by the front door, headed to the kitchen full of stainless steel hardware.  The kitchen was completely exposed to the living room, so anyone could just make some food and then plopped themselves down in front of the television without the inconvenience of opening a door or walking around a wall.  He opened the fridge, pulled out some leftovers, and tossed the container into the microwave.  The steel hammer on the living room coffee table told him that Kitty had already gotten home, and was probably asleep.  He checked the clock on the stove and cursed, he would have to make dinner quick if he want more than a few hours of sleep.  Pulling open the microwave door just as the timer hit 0:01, he wolfed down its contents without checking what it was.  He pulled out his pistols and combat knife from his armor and placed them on the kitchen counter.  Rushing to the bathroom, he hopped into the shower and made himself relatively clean before slipping into the already occupied bed in the room across the hall.  No sooner did he do that when a red haired blur threw itself onto him and the two scrambled to get a more comfortable position.  Despite all of his efforts, Kitty emerged victorious on top of Jay, pinning him on his back with her arm and legs and quickly went back to sleep.  Jay sighed, knowing that he was going to feel every second of that extra ten minutes it would take him to fall asleep in his current position the next day.

Screams ripped through the air as an eight year old boy ran through the streets of the suburb.  Jay didn’t know why Mr. and Mrs. Linton from the street over were for, but the expressions on their faces made him run too.  Someone had set a few of the houses on fire, and in the light Jay could see the scary things crawling all over his neighbor’s roofs.  Though both his legs burned from exhaustion, the dark scary bity things that flashed in the peripheral of the child’s eyes pushed him to go faster.  Home was around the block, if he gets there he’ll be safe.  Mommy would tuck him into bed where the bad monsters can’t reach him.  He rounded the corner and saw some people sleeping on the streets.  Jay thought it was weird that they would sleep outside right during all the noise and commotion but he focused on his house at the end of the street.  Several of the scary monsters scurry out of the house and jumped on a screaming man, swarming him.  Jay decided to cut through the Patterson’s backyards like he usually did after school to avoid the monsters around.  He hopped the fence, and sure enough, either the monsters were too busy in the front or just haven’t reached this sanctuary yet, the backyard remained empty.  He sprinted through the vegetable garden he had helped Old Lady Patterson planted a few months ago, through the tiny fence gate, and into his own backyard.  As the little boy approached the house, a man stepped out of the back door and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief.  As the stranger put away the napkin, his eyes caught Jay’s.  The yellow orbs stared into Jay’s soul as the stranger grinned at the little boy, flashing the razor sharp canines, before turning away from Jay and jumping to the roof of a nearby home.  For a second Jay stood, frightened,, then he shook it off and raced into the house.

The place was ransacked, with various furniture overturned and the curtains ripped.  The living room was cut off from the front of the house by a collapsed bookshelf.  Every window in the living room were smashed.  Jay shifted through the various objects in his house, and managed to squeeze through a large enough hole in the bookshelf in the midst of the mess to enter the living room.  There, laying on the floor, was his mother.

Jay ran up to her and begun to shake her.  He didn’t understood why she would be sleeping before she tucked him into bed, but everything will be fine once he goes to bed and wakes up in the morning.  Jay didn’t noticed his mother covered in ripped clothes.  He didn’t noticed the blood on the carpet around her neck or the horrified expression on her face.  Jay shook her and shook her and shook her, until he begun pleading for her to wake up, until tears started streaming down his cheeks but despite his best effort, the eight year old could not wake his mommy.  Behind him, his father rushed into the house, one of his arm bleeding.  His eyes first found his son, then to the woman on the ground.  The normally calm eyes of his flickered, and he slowly walked over to his child’s side.  Jay looked up at his dad through his tears.  Wilson shook his head, answering the unasked question, then the man pulled his son toward him with his good arm.  Jay buried his face into his father’s chest, his emotions erupting into the leather armor on the man.  Wilson reached out toward the body, but stopped just short of touching the woman’s face, as though an unseen force stopped his action.  Suddenly a crash sounded behind them, and several Vampirelings swarmed in a broken window.  Wilson scooped Jay into his arms and ran.  Jay struggled against it, desperately trying to reach his mother as they passed the hallway leading to the front door, the same front door she had waved him off to school this morning.  But in a moment they were outside the house they had lived in all his life, and soon the house where they had built so much memories in, faded into the distance.

Jay opened his eyes, and a single tear rolled down his cheek.  The white celling of his bedroom stared back at him.  As he composed himself from the aftereffects of the dream, the morning sunlight pushed through the blinds and stabbed Jay’s eyes.  He shifted slightly, took an account of his surroundings and saw a mess of red hair laying on his chest.  The initial panic and confusion of this sight as well as not being able to use his right arm faded as he remembered where he was.  He attempted to extract what was left of his right arm from under Kitty, only to have the Templar redouble her grip around him.  He sighed as he attempted to wake her up with a kiss, which drew no reaction at all from the sleeping beauty.

“Kitty, time to wake up, now,” he called her name softy.

“Jay, time to shut up, now,” his girlfriend lovingly replied.

As with many mornings, Jay briefly considered chewing his own arm off in exchange for his freedom, and once again deciding to resort only to the measure if his arm had died from the lack of circulation going to it.  He reached for a spare pillow from the bed, and pushed it against Kitty as hard as he could.  The Venus Mantrap wrapped her limbs around the pillow, and Jay fell off the bed in an attempt to get out of his girlfriend’s reach before she figured out the mistake.  He grimaced as he looked around.  Truth be told he hated substituting himself with pillow, preferring to the comfort of Kitty than the responsibility of a Master Vanquisher.  However, since they were both legally adults now, one of them had to be somewhat responsible for their own sake.

The morning light flooded the bedroom from the double doors that led to the outdoor balcony.  The double bed dominated most of the spaces within the bedroom, though a small table with a lamp sat in the corner opposite of it with a chair tucked in.  Two interior doors allowed passage into the walk in closet and the rest of the apartment.

After getting blood and feelings back into his limp arm, Jay cleaned himself up in the bathroom and moved to the kitchen.  His weapons were still on the counter, so he placed them on the floor by his bags as he prepared to start his day.  Jay flipped on the television in the living room and turned the volume way up.  Jay then flipped the espresso machine on and placed two cups under it as a news story about some incident in a military base nearby was broadcasted.  Picking up a pear and a mango from the fruit basket, he diced them up into pieces as he warmed the stove to make some pancakes.  Just as he was reading the instructions from the box, his eyes caught the envelope on the living room coffee table.  Jay took the two cups from the espresso machine and placed the macchiato at the tea station behind the fridge.  He still had the scars from the last time he messed up Kitty’s morning coffee.  He sipped the hot chocolate as he picked up the envelope, recognizing Leo’s handwriting on it immediately.  Meet me at the Empty Bottle ASAP.

Jay took another sip from the cup in his hand and look up out of the living room window, just as an anti-armor missile flew into it and exploded.

The window was bulletproofed, naturally, but it wasn’t rocket-proof.  The explosion picked Jay up and threw him over the kitchen counter and into the front of the stove.  With a thud he landed on the floor, dented pots and scorched pans clattered around him.  He shook off the initial effect of the blast and grabbed his bag from near the front door, just to be rewarded with a hail of heavy machinegun rounds ripping through his apartment kitchen.  Jay quickly grabbed his assault rifle out of his bag and fired over the kitchen counter.  He ducked back down again as more rounds ripped through the counter into the back wall.  Jay silently thanked God for purchasing an electric stove instead of a gas one and as a lull in the gunfire occurred, he peeked over his cover through the hole that used to be his living room window.

A military attack helicopter hovered outside of his twenty story high apartment.

Jay cursed and fired a few more rounds at the cockpit, only to have them bounce off the canopy protecting the pilot.  He wondered just how much he had pissed off the Eagles for them to authorize a strike like this when he saw the pilot of the helicopter.  His assailant was grinning at Jay, but it wasn’t the cockiness that struck the Master Vanquisher.  It was the fangs in the pilot’s mouth.  Gritting his teeth, Jay lit a green flame in his hands and it spread into his rifle.  He felt a sharp pain in his eyes but ignored it.  Popping over the counter, Jay fired it at the helicopter pilot, still overconfident from his initial attack.  Suddenly, Jay realized he could see even more sharply and aimed a few accurate shots into the cockpit.  Evidently the Vampire was not experienced in fighting Vanquishers, as the now green fire covered bullets from Jay’s gun ripped through the canopy into him.  The pilot cried out in pain, but held control of the aircraft.  The helicopter backed away from the apartment, giving Jay a much needed break to formulate his next move.

Just as the lull in the fighting began, Kitty shuffled out of the bedroom in a bathrobe, eyes half shut.  Her red hair a mess, her zombie like walk propelled her into the remnants of the living room/kitchen where she turned turn head slightly towards Jay’s general direction.

“Honey, where’s my coffee?”

Jay looked at where he had placed her macchiato.  Incredibly, it was untouched by the fighting.

“Behind the fridge, dear,” Jay replied, thanking God once more for letting him live another day.  Kitty shuffled over to the cup and proceeded to add sugar and crème to it, either ignoring or completely oblivious to the carnage around her.

“Thanks babe.” She then began to shuffle back to the bedroom, drinking the beverage.  “By the way, I like what you did with your eyes.”

Jay stared at her, confused.  He quickly picked up a broken piece of glass from the floor and stared at his reflection.  Sure enough, his pupils had transformed into a vertical black slit, his eyes now resembling those of a dragon.  He cursed at himself; he would have a tail by the time this fight was over if he kept using that much Dragonfire.  At the same time, the pilot was still in disbelieve that anyone could stroll through that much destruction within their own home and not bat an eyelash.  Jay took one last looked at the mess that used to be his place and made a decision.  Since his apartment couldn’t get any more destroyed, he flipped the safety off the grenade launcher attachment on his assault rifle, stood up, and shot the magic infused munition at the helicopter.  The pilot, seeing his action, attempted to veer out of the way, but it was too late.  With Dragonfire surrounding the round, Jay didn’t even need to hit the helicopter.  The explosion ripped apart the aircraft, sending pieces of metal flying into the apartment.  One of the rotator blades buried itself into the microwave, missing Jay’s head by inches.  Another piece cut the door of the refrigerator clean off.  Jay managed to avoid most of the pieces from the helicopter, and though he got a few cuts and bruises, was otherwise unharmed.

The Master Vanquisher sighed and put down his weapon.  He walked over to the broken fridge and was pleasantly surprised that the vegetables had saved the half gallon of milk in the back from the shrapnel.  He pulled out the surviving dairy product, found himself a semi intact bag of cereal as well as a smoking, dented pot and ladle, and finished his breakfast.

“They stole a freaking Apache from a base, and blew up your house?” Leo asked incredulously.

“Well, apartment, but like you said before.  Tomato, tomato,” Jay said as he popped another pretzel stick into his mouth.

The only customers in the Empty Bottle sat at the bar, while Johnny the Bartender/Owner, busied himself with wiping off the far end of the bar top.  To most people though, the Empty Bottle was less of a bar and more of a lounge with a bar.  Various comfortable couches decorated the place, the soft lighting that created a comfortable atmosphere.  It was a frequent place for Templars, Eagles and Vanquishers, as well as other denizens of the supernatural world.  It was also one of the few places in New York where hated enemies wouldn’t be at each other’s throats; Johnny had a strict set of rules when it came to his establishments and enforcement was usually not pretty.  The place was pretty empty at the moment, but then it was three in the afternoon.

“Where are you guys staying now, then?” Leo inquired.

“Kitty’s old place by the piers, I honestly haven’t really given it much thought,” Jay shrugged.

“You said you used Dragonfire, how did that go?

Jay pulled off his right glove.  The back of his hand was covered in white scales.  “Well, at least I don’t have a tail”

“Yet.”

“Fuck you.”

“I don’t know why you’re bitching it about, it’s not like you didn’t know you were going to turn into a freaking lizard.”

“Ever heard of dragon madness?  You know, the insatiable urge to consume meat until you literally cannot eat anymore?  Did you know that dragon madness doesn’t care if you eat a cow or a twelve year old girl?  How about Scalerot?  A shame that the only disease that affects dragons to be three times deadlier than weaponized anthrax, and five times more painful than being burn to death on a stake.  And besides, most people start seeing signs of that shit in their mid-thirties, not decade earlier.”

Leo sobered slightly, “Well, look at the bright side.  Dragonknights have near impenetrable skin, super strength and speed, not to mention built in weaponry.”  Leo extended his figures at Jay, indicating claws.  “And again, are you really that surprised?  Most people don’t earn the rank of Master Vanquisher when they’re twenty”

“Point taken,” Jay sulked.

Leo drank the rest of his scotch quickly.  He pulled a handkerchief out of his suit jacket’s font pocket and dapped the corners of his mouth.  Once he finished he neatly folded the napkin back to its original form and carefully placed it back to its resting place, ensuring it was tucked in properly.  “Now did you read the stuff I sent you?”

“Yea, meet me at the Empty Bottle ASAP.”  Jay waves his hand unenthusiastically, as though presenting himself.  “Ta-ta, your wish is my command, master.”

“So I’m guessing that’s a no…”

“Sorry I was rudely interrupted by a missile, which then rudely burnt up all the important documents within your little gift package,” Jay said.

“Well thank goodness, I made copies.”  Leo pulled out an identical sized folder from Jay’s destroyed apartment.

“If you think I’m going to read all of tha-”

“Yea, I know, you lazy fuck.  I’m just going to give you a quick run through.”  Leo flipped open the folder and revealed a giant spreadsheet full of names.  “All the people that have disappeared in the last six months alone within the five bureau,” he explained as he continuously flipped through the thick packet.

“That’s a lot of names.”  Jay whistled at the enormity of the list.

“You’re telling me, but that’s just the beginning.”  Leo stopped at a folded up picture of New York.  It was covered with circles and bolded out marks.  “The ones that occurred within a period of one and two weeks apart tend to be random and chaotic.”  He pointed out several circles marked by a marker.  “But the general pattern showed a target around the ports, the slums, and Central Park.”  The Eagle pointed at the larger rectangles on the map.

Jay scrunched up his eyebrows.  “Why Central Park?”

“You know how many hobos live there?  You know how many Vampires they can make with them?”

“Fair point.”  Jay then realized something, “so you finally think it’s the Blood Empire too?”

Leo rolled his eyes.  “Probably not, but definitely Vampires.”  He flipped the map over and spread out the photos underneath.  They’re green, taken with night vision at what appeared to be an airport hangar.  “Last night surveillance captured your pilot friend stealing the Apache.”  He gestured at the photos.  One of them showed a shadowy figure approach two guards.  The next one showed one of the guards on the floor, his head several feet away, while the other guard was impaled by the shadowy figure’s arm.  The assailant had apparently punched straight through the man’s torso.

“Is that all?” Jay asked, impatient that all the information Leo gave him was about things he already knew.

“One more thing,” Leo replied as he flipped to the last file: a passport photo of a balding man in his mid-forties.  “Recognize him?”

“Should I?”

“He was the Head of Customs and Border Protection Agency.  Disappeared three months ago.  We found what was left of him this morning.”  Leo pulled a photo out from beneath the official picture.  The same face looked through the picture, but this time it held a terrified expression and was missing the rest of its body.  Jay looked at the picture.

“So any news on Kitty’s front?”  Leo asked.

“Well the Templars aren’t famed for their willingness to play with others for the last few centuries,” Jay replied, his eyes still on the photo.

“No, I think they’ve learned that lesson after the Crusades,” Leo commented.

“Or, rather, everyone else learned to never trust them again,” Jay added.

“Still, they’re useful when they want to be,” Leo said.

“Which is almost never, but then again, so are most things imported from England,” Jay grinned at Leo, who scowled.  “I always wondered why you didn’t join up with them, I mean, they do have their main base in London.”

“Me? A Templar?  Ha!” Leo laugh as he took another drink, emptying the glass this time.  “They were the reason I left England in the first place!”

“What?  The life of being the knight in shining armor charging into battle doesn’t fancy you?” Jay teased, mimicking Leo’s accent.

“Well, let’s just say I played that role in their Grandmaster’s daughter’s bedroom before I had to flee London,” Leo laughed.  “Besides, what’s armor going to do when a bullet rips through your sternum?”

“Two words: magic armor.”

“Oh fuck off, I’ll stick to Kevlar.”  The two friends laughed.  Jay took another sip of his drink then pulled out a folder of his own.

“Now about you calling me lazy asshole, I did some digging.”  Jay simply slid the much thinner folder towards Leo and allowed him to flip through it as he continued talking.  “A lot of the information overlap with what you’ve just told me.  One thing is interesting though.  I went through some reports and practically all of the attacks originated from less than ten miles from a single location.”  Jay pulled the map from the folder Leo went through earlier.  “Here,” he pointed at one of the less conspicuous ports in the Hudson Bay.

Leo scrunched his eyebrows.  “That’s a military customs private port.”

“Any idea what the blood suckers would want from there?”

“I believe I may be able to answer your question.”  A voice called out from behind the two of them.

Jay tensed.  He knew that if he reacted the wrong way, this situation would end poorly.  So he spun on his bar stool, and looked at the new comer.

He had a homeless look to him.  A scar over his left eye runs from his forehead past his mouth.  A tattered and dirty overcoat runs from his shoulders to just below his knees, with an old light brown vest underneath.  Under it the man dressed himself with a grey polo collared button down, but upon closer inspection one could see that it used to be blue.  Touching off the outfit with a pair of dirty but intact black slacks, he strolled over to the bar on a pair of old brown dress shoes, a large rip appearing on the sole on the right one.  Long black hair flowed down past his shoulders with streaks of grey in between.  His unkempt beard bore the same color.  Leo seemed neither surprised nor disturbed by the newcomer; he simply adjusted his tie and shook the man’s hand.

“Jay, may I introduced to you, Xavier, Chieftain of the Lycan Nation.”

Jay shook the Chief’s outstretched hand, knowing there really wouldn’t be much he could do to the Werewolf.  If they fought Jay could probably make it a really close one, even take out a limb or two, but there was no way he could killed Xavier at the moment, not without some prep work.  So the Master Vanquisher decided to remain courteous for the moment, opting to turn towards Leo for an explanation.  The blond cleared his throat and said.

“I believe that the Chieftain here-”

“Call me Xavier, Leo.”  The Werewolf cut in.

“Well, Xavier here have discovered something very curious in regards to the ports of New York, especially in relations to the recent disappearances.”  Leo continued.

“Since when does the United States Government negotiate with non-humans?” Jay asked, keeping his tones as civil as possible.

Leo frowned.  “The Eagle Division utilizes all of its capabilities in order to achieve its objectives, including our diplomatic connections.”

“Diplomacy with a non-existent state within the borders of the mainland U.S.?”

“I understand your mistrust of us, Vanquisher.  My kind have spilled your blood for centuries, and vice versa.  However, the old saying still bodes true to me: ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’  I have only one true enemy, and that is the one that calls himself the ‘Lord of the Night.’”  Xavier growled, showing his sharp canines before Leo could reply.

“Fair enough,” Jay said.  “What do you have?”

“It is far better for me to show you,” Xavier turned and headed towards the bar door.  “Care for a little walk, gentlemen?”  Jay stared at Leo, who shrugged.  The two dropped a few bills on the bar and followed Xavier into the dimming New York afternoon outside.

The sun had begun to set by the time they reached the military customs office: nondescript office warehouse situated on an isolated pier by the Hudson Bay.  The location had enough distance and its own fencing from other buildings to maintain its own privacy but not too far to draw suspicion.  The building itself had tanned walls, a few windows with blinds drew over them, and a “Trespassers Will be Prosecuted” sign over the front and side door both locked with digital scanner.  The entire compound seemed lifeless.

Xavier, Leo and Jay vaulted over the perimeter fence with precision and sneaked quickly up to the office.  They were followed by two Werewolves.  The bodyguards stood at about seven foot each.  The humanoid wolves stood on two feet, rows of teeth and claws bared for killing.  Leo pulled out his SIG while Jay did the same with his D-Eagle.  Leo motioned to Jay as they both set themselves up on either side of a side door.  Jay nodded to the Eagle and Leo scanned his ID, unlocking it.  They quickly moved in.

The office seemed deserted, the two hunters moved about, securing the room while the three Lycans outside waited.  The two continued until all of the offices were cleared.  Jay gave the signal and the three outside entered the building.  The two hunters held out their hands, signaling that the warehouse itself remained unsearched.  As they approached the doors leading into it, light spilled from behind the threshold into the dark offices.  The two can hear voices from the other side.

“Prep those boxes!  We need to secure a beachhead before the shipment arrives!”

“Where are the rest of the assault rifles?”

“I’m freaking dying of thirst over here, where are the b-rations?”

Jay and Leo nodded, then Jay kicked the door in while Leo rushed in, weapon brandishing.  “Everybody freeze, Eagle diviso-” A bullet flew over his head and the blond dove behind some cargo boxes nearby.  Jay peeked into the open doorframe and fired a few rounds: two Vampires went down.  The warehouse was packed on the sides with cargo boxes, metal and wooden ones.  The center was cleared with a path with a closed door to the large loading dock out the back.  A dozen guards originally stood in the middle, with around three dozen workers maneuvering under their watchful eyes.  The guards, in their infinite wisdom, had decided not to arm to workers, and this resulted in complete chaos as the workers ran for their lives.  Some got caught in the crossfire and lied on the ground, motionless.  Jay watched a pool of blood emerging from a fallen worker, human slave labor.  Another volley of bullets greeted the intruders and Jay and Leo returned fire.  By now five of the twelve guards in the area were dead, with the rest retreating to the cover of the boxes.

The Lycan had had enough.  With the proximity of their ancient foe so close to them, they worked themselves into a frenzy.  The three Werewolves charged through entranceway past Jay and into the ranks of the Vampires, moving so fast that the guards didn’t have a chance to scream.  Xavier had transformed as well, now a seven and a half foot, white furred demon.  A bloodied whirlwind of claws and teeth swept through the warehouse and within seconds it was over.  One of the Xavier’s bodyguards was still eating the remains of a guard when Leo and Jay walked in; the body armor on the Vampires might as well be paper.  The chieftain had transformed back to his human form, though now covered in blood and topless.  In his left hand he held a bloodstained file, in his right a severed arm.

“You gentlemen might want to see this.”  He passed the file to Leo and gestured the two to a coffin with an American flag on it.  One of the bodyguard stood ready nearby.  With a kick Xavier sent the coffin cover flying off.  The Vampire inside leapt out, only to be caught by the bodyguard by the upper and lower torso.  Leo stepped behind Jay as the Werewolf ripped the Vampire in half over the Lycan’s head, blood splattering everywhere.  Jay wiped some of the body fluid off his face as Leo stepped back out from behind him, completely clean.

“They’ve been using the coffins in the Ukraine to smuggle Vampires in from Eastern Europe.” Leo said with the realization.

“You mean they’ve used the coffins meant for the troops lost there-“Jay asked, eyebrows raised.

“One war to fund another.” Xavier added, then gestured to the file in Leo’s hand.  “You may want to look at that.”

Leo opened the file and scanned the document.  “The Santa Barbara hauling the ‘vanguard.’ Tonnage is…” he looked up.  “Enough to take New York in one attack.”

“When is it due?” Jay asked.

“What time is it?”

“8:30 pm,” Xavier stated

“Two hours.”

“No, Kitten, head to Newfoundland, you need to warn the Order.”

“But-”

            Jay held the cell phone to his head as he lean against his car on the pier.  The concrete peninsula was the closest to the ocean, with a single unloading crane on it.  He was in his armor now, a dark brown leather suit with dozens of holsters, bags and clips.  Leo pulled up next to him in his Jaguar.

“If we can’t stop them here, they need to organize a counterattack.  They can’t do that if you don’t warn them first.”

“This is bullshit.”  The anger in her voice sounded forced, as if she believes that being angry will suppress all the other emotions running through her right now.

“Please Kitty.”

“You-You better save some for me.  You hear me!” She screamed into her phone, glad that Jay can’t see a tear rolling down her face.

“Sure thing, I promise,”

She paused.  “I love you.”

“Love you too babe, see you soon.”  Jay hung up before he gave in and let her stay.  Leo got out of his car and opened the trunk, still dressed impeccably in his Italian suit and shoes.  He began loading up on weapons from his trunk.  Jay went to the back of his car and started doing the same.

“You know we’re about to be invaded, right?” Jay asked as he fitted his pistols on.

“No, I thought we were out here to stargaze.” Leo replied sarcastically.

“You can at least get some tactical gear on,” Jay said, eying Leo’s suit.  Leo grinned and took a second to tap his chest with his fist before loading more ammo into a duffle bag.

“Kevlar underneath the dress shirt, my dear boy,” Leo said, accentuating his British accent, “If I’m going to die, this Eagle’s going to die looking good.”  He pulled out a sniper rifle, checked it, and then sling the weapon over his back.  “Called in every favor I’ve got from D.C. to Boston.  Total media blackout tonight here.  Don’t have to worry about having our photos taken if we bite it tonight.”

“You couldn’t have gotten us more firepower with those favors?”

“Oh don’t you worry about firepower old boy.  I’ve got a few surprises up my sleeve.  How about you fellows?  Had better luck convincing your old man than I had with the director?”

Jay scoffed, then pulled out a bag and tossed it to Leo, “All the senior officers were too far to recall, and I’m not going to get the initiates out here just to be slaughtered.”

“They’re dead anyways if we don’t stop them Jay,” Leo said as he looked in the bag.  “These real?”

“Well, there were a few responses, but we’ll just have to see,” Jay chuckled, “and yea, dragonfire grenade.  Burns through damn near everything.”

“Well, well, well, I hope you don’t mind if I take one or two back to base for study,” Leo smirked.  “Shame Xavier couldn’t stick around for the party.”

“Their closest units were two days away,” Jay scoffed, “and three half wolves wouldn’t have made that much difference anyways.”

“Said the half dragon.”  A semi with a trailer pulled into the pier and Leo waved it towards them.  “Ah there’s that favor I asked for.”

Within the two hours the pier had turned into a defensive line.  Floodlights illuminated the entire area, turning it bright as day.  Barricades and defensive covers were erected along the back of the pier while the front stripped of anything that can be used by the invaders.  Perhaps the most impressive characteristic were the three columns of metal skeletons that stood guard in the center of the piers.  The ABBIs, Artificial Battle Bot Intelligences, stood as immobile sentinels, constantly scanning back and forth for threats.  They stood six feet tall, made of a metallic alloy that made bank security trucks look like Toyota Priuses.  They looked like suits of armor, with a solid metal plate where the visor should be.  The line of robots looked impressive even if they were all unarmed.  Behind them, Jay and Leo looked at the final preparations.

“I can take over watch while you stay down here,” Leo said.  “You’re better suited at close quarter combat than I am.”

Jay nodded, “I’ll make sure none of them gets into the city, but we’ll still need to sink that ship.”  He looked at the robot lines, “you couldn’t have gotten us the ones with the guns?”

“Be thankful we got these ones at all, headquarters will fry my ass later even if I survive the battle.  And leave the ship to me, just keep the fighting near the ship and their focus on you.”

The cargo ship appeared on the horizon.  “Alright, you better go set up shop then.”  Leo was about to turn when a roar of sirens and flashing lights appeared behind them.  “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

A convoy of police squad cars swarmed the entrance to the pier, officers flooded out of them and ran towards the pair at the defense line.  A S.W.A.T. truck pulled up and a squad of them followed the stream of police officers.  They started forming up behind the defensive covers facing the ocean.  One of the law enforcement agents went up to Leo and held out his hand.

“Captain Wilson, reporting for duty.” Leo ignored the gesture.

“What the fuck are your boys doing here, captain?” Leo yelled, losing his composure for once.  “Looking for your own funerals?”

Wilson dropped his hand. “We got word that some bad shit is headed here, so we got as many people as we could.  New York’s our home sir.”

“Look I got a Priority 9 quarantine on this area, you people need to get the fuck out of here now.  You don’t have the proper weapon, or training to handle this kind of threat.”

“With all due respect sir, you can take your quarantine and shove it.”  Wilson looked directly at Leo.  “We handled 9/11, we’ll handle this too.”

The ship grew closer Leo opened his mouth, but Jay grabbed him by the shoulder.  “The ship will be within striking distance in ten minutes.  We need the men and we don’t have time to argue.”  Leo gritted his teeth and turned sharply back to the Captain.  “Grab twenty of your men and follow me, those pee-shooters of yours won’t do a thing against those guys.”  With that he led the Captain and some of his men towards the parked trailer nearby.  They promptly returned with some boxes.  “Keep gathering and distributing the weapon and ammo inside.  Use only those weapons.  Do you understand me, Captain?”

“Load up on your weapons and use only those.  Got it,” the Captain said quickly, then sprinted back to the impromptu assembly line passing out everything from body armors to grenades.

Leo shook his head, “Half of them will be dead by sunrise, if they’re lucky.”

“Well, if they want to die, who are we to stop them?” Jay shrugged.

Leo took another look at the approaching ship.  “I better get going, good luck down here.”  He moved towards the line of robots and barked a command.  Two robots picked up some ammo cans nearby and began following the Eagle up the crane.  Jay looked on and flicked the safety off his assault rifle.

“Never needed Lady Luck.”

Aboard the Santa Barbara, Reznov looked at the pier with a distain look.  The general stood at the head of the cargo ship, dressed in full uniform with an AK-47 strapped to his back.  He smoked a cigar while watching the New York skyline come closer and closer.  Next to him Vicena stood silently, dressed in black tactical armor with only a pistol on his hamstring and a knife sheathed on his chest.  Reznov finished his cigar and tossed it into the ocean, then reached into an inner pocket producing two vials of black liquid.  He turned to Vicena.

“Form an attack on the pier and establish a beachhead.  We lost contact with ground support, so expect heavy resistance.  Find the leaders and kill them.”  He tossed one of the vials towards Vicena, who caught it flawlessly at the last second.  “Then enjoy yourself.”  Vicena looked at the liquid, then unscrewed the vial and drank its content in one gulp.  A two inch layer of black fire washed over his entire body, the surge of power from this source excited Vicena like nothing had in the last century.  Reznov smiled and drank the liquid himself.  As the similar effect took a hold of him, he looked at Vicena.  “Do you know what this is?”  Vicena nodded and spoke for the first time in weeks.

“Dragon Blood.”

The first wave flew through the air like death dealing banshees towards the piers.  The wind rushed through their body armor as they jumped off the Santa Barbara to the mainland United States.  The Vampires had leapt as soon as they were within range, thirsty after weeks aboard the metal cargo ship drinking stale blood, eager to feast upon the unsuspecting city.  Their surprise was understandable when one of them was decapitated with an ultraviolet bullet midair, then another one ripped through the stomach of the dead’s compatriot.  The pier, originally dark, suddenly became a second sun as all of the floodlights turned on at once, blinding the flying assailants.  The Vampires sneered as they shielded their eyes from the light, firing blindly with their own weapons at the pier.  Some got lucky and hit a few of the lights, creating darker spots where they could land.  Most were hit as they sailed toward the pier or landed within the water, the heavy military equipment dragging them into the depths.  Those who managed the landing were quickly ripped to shreds by the defenders’ fire.  The entire first wave was wiped out between the gunfire, the sniper cover and the blinding floodlights.  Jay and Leo reloaded their weapons.

The Ship, now closing the distance, sent out a larger second wave, which landed quite a few Vampires due to their sheer numbers.  The ABBIs, spotting hostile targets, locked in on the Vampires, and with a “Target Located,” ran straight into the Vampire lines, shrugging off gunfire and a deadly melee ensued.  Point blank shots into metal limbs, alloyed fist crushing Vampire skulls.  Body and mechanical parts began littering across the pier floor.  All the while the ship continued its course to the harbor.

Leo shot another Vampire from the top of the crane.  He was standing now.  There was no point in laying down for better accuracy when the enemy was literary below a firing position.  A few Vampires notice Leo and shot back up, but they might as well be shooting blind from the flood lights that lined the underside of the crane.  The two ABBIs, stood next to Leo, scanning for any nearby targets, immobile until issued an order.  Leo took another shot, then noticed the Vampires beginning to climb on top of the crane.  Put a bullet through two of them, yet more continued to climb.  Finally, he emptied the last round and popped the empty clip from his rifle.  He barked at the ABBIs.

“Keep them off me!”  The two battle bots acknowledged the command and began spreading out on the crane, fighting as they went.  Leo barely got a blur of movement in his peripherals to avoid his own decapitation.  He looked up and saw a tall Vampire in black body armor stood in from of him.  There was a pistol at his side and a knife on his chest but he made no motion for either.  Instead he flexed his hands, revealing the razor sharp claws on them.  In a flash Leo drew his pistol and fired a single round at the figure’s head.  The ultraviolet bullet, munition designed and dedicated for the past century to eradicating the Vampire threat by hunters worldwide, incinerated two inches before the Vampire’s skull.  Leo’s eyes widened as a ghost of a smile appeared on Vicena’s face before the Vampire rushed him.

Next thing he knew Leo flew through the air, thrown by the Vampire.  It was a miracle that he didn’t fall off the crane.  Instead he raised his leg as Vicena pounced on him, eager to rip out his throat.  The Eagle struggled, forcing the Vampire’s fangs a few inches back from his neck.  He reached for his knife, but Vicena saw the movement and swatted the weapon away.  Leo fought the losing battle, every exertion costing him precious inches between his neck and his death.  The halt of the knife on Vicena’s chest caught his eyes, and he grabbed the weapon quickly, jabbing it into the Vampire’s side.  Vicena screamed and Leo shoved the Vampire off of him.  He look for his gun just in time to see the cargo ship pulling into port below.  The Eagle looked at Vicena, who was struggling to remove the knife from his side, and sprinted at his firing position.  Leo grabbed the bag full of Dragonfire grenades, pulled the pin out of one in the bag and tossed the entire bag at the cargo ship.  The leather bag sailed through the air and detonated a foot off the ship’s deck.  The resulting fireball engulfed the nearby containers.  Unfortunately, the shockwave from the explosion knocked one of the cargo off the ship and onto the dock.

Jay could do nothing but keep fighting as the cargo ship came to a stop next to them.  He emptied another clip into a squad of Vampires while covering another squad of NYPD as they reloaded.  He looked around.  The defense seemed to be holding.  Just as he moved to reinforce another pinned down squad of police officers, several Vampires jumped off the ship on to the piers.  These Vampires were different from the others.  They dressed in large trench coats, with traveling hats that obscure their faces.  They pulled out grenade launchers versus the other’s rifles and submachineguns and begun firing into the defensive positions.

“Take cover, grenades!” someone yelled and all the defenders dropped to the floor.

Instead of a deadly explosion of shrapnel however, every grenade emitted a wave of red gas that fell over a certain part of the pier.  Jay watched as the men coughed and huffed as the red cloud surrounded them.  Suddenly there were screams of agony as the defenders in the cloud convulsed and twitched, and the screams of agony were turned into screams of bloodlust.  Out of the red clouds the former defenders charged at their old comrades, eyes whited out and fangs bared.  The remaining men, shocked, only had seconds to pull the trigger before these new rabid Vampires descended upon them.  The Vampires had weaponized their virus.

“They’re not your friends anymore, kill them!” Jay yelled as he mowed down the transformed Vampires.  A panicked NYPD officer ran up to him.

“Right flank is almost broken, half of us are dead and the other half is turning into those things!  What do we do?” he screamed, wide eyed.

“Well, my suggestion is that you do your job, officer.”  Jay spit as he sent a ultraviolet bullet into another Vampire’s skull.

“Fuck that, I got a family, man.”  The officer turned and ran.  He took five steps before three bullet wounds appeared on his back and he fell face first into the ground.

“Idiot,” Jay muttered to himself as he turned back to the front.  There were maybe only a few ABBIs left, each section hard pressed.  An explosion suddenly rocked the top of the ship and a metal container was pushed off its deck, crashing onto the pier.  Out of it dozens of Vampirlings swarmed out.  Barely three feet tall, they crawled along the ground with their pale and hairless skeleton like bodies, yellow eyes and their only four teeth bare.  They rushed the remaining ABBIs and dragged them down in sheer numbers, biting and scratching at the metal as they tore them apart.  Jay slung his assault rifle away, and unleashed a torrent of green dragonfire down on the swarm of Vampirlings from his hands.  His targets couldn’t even dodge as Jay burned them to a crisp in an instant.  A stretching sensation ripped up his right arm as more scales grew in place of his skin.  Jay, distracted for a moment, turned to see a Vampire level a revolver against the Master Vanquisher’s head.  As the Vampire wrapped his finger tighter around the trigger though, a metal hammer imploded his skull.  Jay stared for a moment at the hammer’s owner, a redheaded girl dressed in a suit of tailored helmetless plate armor with leather wrapping her joints instead of metal.  Contrasting the medieval look were a pair of pink studio headphones on her head attached to an mp3 player on her left arm.  With the hammer in one hand and a pistol in the other, Kitty smashed and shot another five Vampire effortlessly as she danced with her eyes half closed.  A shocked SWAT officer ran over to Jay.

“Someone get that girl out of here!”  He proceeds to scream at Kitty, “Get out of here before you get killed!”  Jay grabbed the officer and shook his head.

“She can’t hear you,” the Master Vanquisher motioned at the pink headphones on the Templar’s head.  “It’s electric death metal, she probably can’t even hear an nuke going off right now.”  The SWAT watched in amazement as Kitty cleaved off a Vampirling’s top half with the backside of her hammer.

“How does she do that?”

Jay shrugged, “magic armor.”  Jay turned back to Kitty, who finally noticed him and gave him a middle finger with the hand holding the hammer, which she just stuck into another Vampire’s midsection.  Two more figures joined her, one impaling two Vampires through their torsos with a spear thrust, while the other running and cutting up the enemies with his claws.  Marcus gave Jay a wave one of his clawed hands while Fawkes just nodded.  Jay smiled right before something very solid collided with his head, sending him flying into a nearby crane pillar.

Dazed, he looked up at a bald Vampire dressed in full army uniform standing a few feet away from him, a layer of black flame dancing on his figure.  The bald Vampire towered over the battlefield, yet his movements were light and crisp, allowing the large body to move with unnatural finesse.  The ghost of a smile appeared on the scarred face as his yellow irises turned their attention to Jay.  Jay blinked once and Reznov had already closed the distance between them, now standing over the fallen Master Vanquisher, the black Dragonfire less than a feet from Jay’s face.  Recognizing it, Jay ignited green flames on his hands and punched at General Reznov.  The attack caught the General by surprised and doubled him over, just in time for Jay to knee the Vampire in the face, seeing Reznov a few feet back.  The General stood firm however, rose to his full height and cracked his neck, staring at Master Vanquisher.  Seeing this Jay poured more power into the flames on him and attacked Reznov, but this time the Vampire was ready.  Jay came in with a straight right punch towards Reznov’s head, only for the General to duck under and punish the Master Vanquisher with a series of blows.  An upper cut came, but Jay had enough wits about him to step back and reengage his opponent on more even terms.  The two went back and forth until blood spilled from both bodies, still neither would back down.  Jay finally saw that Reznov overstepped outwards a bit during his punches and as the General made another right hook, Jay elbowed Reznov’s forward knee, buckling it.  As Jay wound his fist back to deliver the knockout, he saw the yellow eyes on Reznov’s head.

It was the same ones that were burned into his memory.  Hatred filled Jay as he brought his fist down, but the half second hesitation allowed the General to recover and counter.  In his anger, the fire around Jay’s arms and legs burned hotter, and he pushed Reznov back with sheer ferocity.  Yet, the General remain calm as he stepped back, observing the Master Vanquisher’s increasingly wild attacks.  Finally, the Vampire’s patience paid off, as Jay threw an overhand right punch the General sidestepped and grabbed Jay by the head, slamming it into the ground.  He raised it and slammed it on the concrete again.  And again.  And again.  Until the Master Vanquisher stopped moving and the flames begun to die out.  Then Reznov lifted Jay, who stared back at him with distain yet helpless eyes, preparing to end his life.  Reznov smiled evilly, his eyes searching Jay’s face.  The General spoke, “they say a Vampire’s memory is even better than an elephant, while I don’t know the cognitive abilities of that particular mammal, I do remember your face the night I ripped out your bitch of a mother’s throat and sucked her dry.”  Jay strained against the iron grip of Reznov, without much success.  “You know what the best part was?  It wasn’t the fact that her blood was sweet as honey.  It wasn’t the fact that she begged me on her knees.  It wasn’t even the fact I got a pretty good fuck before I killed her.  It was because deep down, when I looked her in the eyes as I took her, she liked it.”

It was as though something exploded inside of Jay.  Ultra heated blue fire rushed up from inside the Master Vanquisher core, through his chest, throat and mouth into Reznov’s face at point blank range just as a bullet ripped through the arm holding Jay.  With his head half burnt and half melted, turned as someone screamed out.

“Welcome to ‘Murica, bitch!”

Leo fired another clip into Vicena, resulting in a similar effect as before.  The Vampire rushed him, but this time Leo grabbed the Vampire’s extended arm and threw him over his shoulder.  The Vampire flipped gracefully through the air as he landed on a crossbeam on the far side of the crane.  Leo breathed heavily, straighten out his suit, and smiled at Vicena.

“You’re the first one to give me a challenge.  Not bad, blood sucker.”

Vicena looked at Leo, who, while winded, looked more or less untouched by the battle.  Vicena walked calmly up to the Eagle, who reloaded his weapon and raised it towards the Vampire.  Vicena stopped three steps away from Leo, look at Leo’s gun, his face, and his feet.  Then Vicena spit on the Leo’s Italian dress shoes.

Leo paused, looking at the liquid on his footwear.  The smile on his face faded, the light in his eyes dimmed, then reignited into a fire even Jay have not seen before.  He looked at the Vampire, with the black flames licking the perimeter of Vicena’s body, and pulled the clip in his gun out.  He reached into his inner pocket for another, instead of his back pocket, and loaded the weapon.  Vicena watched him amused, though his expression didn’t show it.  Leo lined the shot up, and fired.  Vicena’s entire expression change from its emotionless mask the first time that night as the bullet entered his shoulder, followed by a combat knife, tempered by ultraviolet light, entering his sternum.  He look in disbelief down at the knife, then at Leo, who still had that glimmer in his eyes.  Blood trickled out of Vicena’s mouth as he uttered his last word.

“How?” Vicena’s head dropped and his body went limp.  Leo pulled his knife out and wiped it on the corpse.

“Dragon Slayer rounds, old chap.  Though fortunately for me, you won’t be able to spill my secret.”  He looked down just as Reznov slammed Jay’s head against the concrete again.  He reached into his pocket and pulled an earpiece out.  Putting it on, he contacted the other end of the line.

“Santa, it’s Christmas Eve.”

The 63 ton M1A1 Abrams main battle tank smashed through the line of police cruisers at 30 miles an hour.  The “Santa Claus” pulled up to the back of the pier and line its shot up, the tank commander barking out orders inside as the crew loaded the 120mm cannon at Reznov.  At the same time Leo loaded a single Dragon Slayer round into his sniper rifle and lined his shot up.  Within the fraction of a second the bullet from the sniper rifle traveled downward at the General.  The tank commander yelled into the external speakers “Welcome to ‘Murica, bitch!” as the gunner pulled the trigger.  Just as the blue flame traveled out Jay’s body, Leo’s bullet severed his extended arm in half, dropping Jay.  The tank’s massive round put a hole six inches in diameter in the General’s massive torso as it ripped into the ocean at the end of the pier.  Reznov sank to his knees as his insides fell out of his body.  He looked up at Jay, who had walked in front of the dying Vampire.  Blue flames lit the Master Vanquisher’s eyes as he raised his right fist and covered it with a similar deadliness.  The two made eye contact as Jay said “let’s see how much you’ll like this.”  The blue flame fist crashed into Reznov’s face, then through his skull and out the other side, splattering the already gore covered pier floor with the General’s brain matter.

The tank, after the first round, swung its gun to the side, and shot four more shots into the cargo ship, putting it in the harbor.  The slugs ripped right through the ship, causing it to capsize away from the pier, throwing its cargo into the sea.  Hundreds of Vampires drowned, trapped in the mess of rapidly flooding steel.  Those that made it out were gunned down by the remaining defenders and Jay, who picked up a spare rifle from a dead officer on the line just as the sun began to rise on the horizon.

Jay fired the last round into the harbor, just as Leo dropped down from the crane.  The pier was a scene of carnage.  Blood and body parts covered the places where the mechanical limbs and bits from the ABBIs do not.  There were distant sirens approaching now but the three remaining NYPD/SWAT members were just coming to the terms that they had survived the night.  Light began to shine in the horizon, heralding the sunrise.  Jay walked to the edge of the pier and saw Marcus and Fawkes, who were apparently arguing about something.

“Look that last one didn’t count, my spear hit him first,” Fawkes insisted.

Marcus snorted, “Then why was his body in ashes now?  I got him with the Dragonfire.”

“You incinerated his corpse!  He was already dead!”

“Whatever, you just stand losing to me by one, just admit it.”

“I did not lose!”

Jay cleared his throat, and the Vanquisher and the Dragonknight noticed him for the first time.  Both of the older beings looked embarrassed.  Marcus recovered first and gestured at Jay’s right arm, “your claws came in yet?”  .  The right sleeve of Jay’s armor had completely ripped off, revealing the white scales that now covered his entire arm.  Jay sighed.

“No, thank God,” Jay looked around, “hey Fawkes, did Clarke not come?”

Fawkes grinned.  “Nah, didn’t want to bother him during his ascension.”

Jay whistled, “So he finally decided to take the leap huh?”

“Yup, speaking of which, what about you?”

Jay looked confused, “What do you mean?”

Marcus smacked his old pupil in the back of the head.  “About Kitty, what are you going to do now that you’re turning?”

Jay shrugged.  “Haven’t really thought about it.”

“Well you better think fast, she’s standing right behind you.”

Jay gulped and turned around.  Sure enough there was Kitty, who was holding her hands on her hips with an angry expression on her face.  Self-conscious, Jay looked down from her face and tried to search for something to hide his right arm.  Before he could do so, Kitty walked up to Jay angrily and slapped him across the face.

“Look Kitty, I’m sorry I told you to leave.”

“Oh you’re sorry?  You’re gonna be sorry!” Kitty replied, fuming.

“Look, there must have been at least a thousand Vampires on that ship.”

Kitty looked even more infuriated now.  “So what?”

Jay, stared at the ground sheepishly.  “Well I didn’t want you to get hurt…”

“I’ll show you getting hurt!” Kitty lunged at Jay as Leo appeared out of nowhere, drinking from a bottle of scotch.  He offered it to Jay, oblivious to the fact that Kitty was now strangling the Master Vanquisher.  After Marcus and Fawkes, with some difficulty, wrestled her off of Jay, the Master Vanquisher gasped for a breath of fresh air as he felt his abused throat.  “Well about me turning into a Dragonknight.”

Kitty, on the other side of Marcus and Fawkes, crossed her arms and pouted, ignoring Jay.  The Master Vanquisher sighed, knowing that the conversation will have to take place later.  He gratefully took the bottle of alcohol from Leo and sipped from it.  He sat down on the edge of the pier, dangling his legs over the edge.

Leo joined him, while the others remained standing.  Jay stared into the line where sky and sea met, lost in his thoughts.  Leo spoke up after a moment.

“Well that’s another one you owe me.”

Jay raised his eyebrow at the Eagle while passing the bottle back to him, “You already forgot that incident with a certain grad student at Columbia back in July?”

Leo scowled as he took the bottle, “Fine, we’re even then.”  He took another long drink from the bottle.  “Hell of a report I’ll get write up.  Well if we can’t convince those old fucks back in D.C. that we face a real threat with this…”  He trailed off as he noticed no one paying attention to him.  “What?” He asked as he stared in the same direction as everyone else.  “Fuck.”

“Yeah.”

“We’re going to need a lot more bullets.”

The group looked on as hundreds of cargo ships appeared on the horizon.

Words: 17465

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