Cold Snap: Chapter One Of “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixie Down”

It has been twenty years since I sank the Crystal Ship. The sieges of every southern city in the east drags on. Most of the humans have fled to the west. Only Louisiana, Arkansas, And Missouri stand between the advancing vampires and the retreating refugees. In that time, I have killed key vampire leaders. But I am still unable to reach Kalkolides and the Sabbath Stones.

I have been in the northland with the heroes of Valhalla. Althead Kolbedides has made it known that they, the true Firstlings, are ready to do their part in this war. When I left him, he had begun calling the heroes together. The Ancient Ones. The true Firstlings.

They are the ones who ceased using the names that now have negative connotations. Vampires. Werewolves. Changelings. Succubae. Incubi. Alfre.

Now I know who the Grigori are. They are the offspring of the human liaisons with Firstlings. Neither human nor Firstling, they are unique. They are the first defense against the Fallen. Hunters are last, the human aspect. Chosen to fight in our wars in limited aspects.

Most hunters are entrusted with the destruction of the diseased, not the Fallen. They are also entrusted with hunting the werewolves and changelings that harass humans. But this has lessened over the years. Not as many reports were made between the 1300s and the late 2000s. only when the governments began to go through total collapse did the werewolves and changelings reemerge. But in limited numbers.

they had been replaced by the return of the Harvesters in the late 1900s and throughout the 2000s. Except man called them grey men and green men. Supposed abductions and experimentations began taking place. Leading to more political lies denying existence of such things. which escalated the reports of more abductions. More sightings.

It was at this point that vampires began taking over the governments. But they did it one politician at a time, slipping in one of their own as a candidate. One Senator at a time. And infecting the rest after they were elected. It was so easy for them to take over. And start the war.

McCall is Grigori. So is Truva. And Grady. They aren’t full blooded. Doravenour, Kolbedides, Polo, Nebov, and three others are of the ancient Houses. Technically, they are not Vampires. They are Firstling-born.

Papa had been Grigori. So had Mama. That made me Grigori. My Grigori blood is what made me an Alpha. It was also what caused my changeling abilities. I had been marked.

***

Word has reached me that Savanna has fallen. The Vampire Nation now owns the whole eastern seaboard. Except Florida. They don’t like humidity. But I don’t mind it. I kind of like it.

The same report said that the Vampire Nation is also gaining an upper hand in Mobile. if this is so, Florida will be isolated from the rest of the Underground. I am thankful that the vampires fear the swamps enough to remain out of Louisiana. Of course, when we took out the Impaler, it destroyed their hopes of crushing the Cajun stronghold. Most of the Cajuns and Creoles who make it home work as my network. They refuse to let go of their heritage. their freedom.

This makes them deadly. Even to vampires. And, like the one they all call Voodoo, there is a deep connection to that religious belief among both. But only the Creole practice. Much like the Jamaicans and Caribbean islanders.

The irony is that the islands are the only places, except South America, where the Nation has refused to go. I am going to have to explore these regions to see why. Perhaps I can find a way to make most of the former US much the same and drive them out. I will have to wait and see.

If Mobile falls, Mobile Bay will be off limits for weapons drops. Or even food drops. I only hope that all the humans have made it out alive and have fled to Florida. It surprises me that Savanna folded so easily. It was strongly defended.

But so is Mobile. But someone must be betraying the humans for some reason. could it be Hent? Or someone else?

There is a change in the air. Suddenly, it is colder. Darker. Uglier. Deadlier.

No place is safe. Not from their advance. I need to make it to Missouri. Without being spotted. I can’t hunt right now. I must go warn the generals of the Underground.

We must find a way to stop their advancement. We cannot allow them to gain too much ground. They must not reach Arkansas. Not now. Or we will lose it all.

We are running out of time. Rapidly. I only hope that the Firstlings are ready before the Underground falls. If they hesitate for a single moment, all will be lost. And the universe will be destroyed.

My success relies on their arrival. The war must end. Good must prevail. I must succeed.

***

I am headed for Kansas City. There, I will find Fenrir. I hope. If he isn’t there, I will move on to Little Rock. I just hope I can find him before the Nation heads for the Arkansas border.

After I meet with him, I have to go to the missions. I have to deliver a message to the Brotherhood. Althead sends his greetings. And a reprimand.

The time, He told me, is long past. He wants all to know that the Firstlings still exist. The girls should have been with me. I was humbled by his reprimand to me. I apologized.

But he understood the apprehension of the Brotherhood. Can’t be too careful. Especially in a time of war. And this is a time of war.

For once, I can see that we may be in for a long war. I only hope that it isn’t too late. Perhaps, with the help of the Firstlings, we will finally end Kalkolides’ reign of terror. I can only hope. If there is a God, He will bless the mission I was given to carry out. And allow me to end this Hell.

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Blue Moon In The Mountains: Chapter Twenty-Three Of “The Crystal Ship”

I head back toward the missions. Strapped to my back is the very sword that the Brotherhood is missing at the moment. The sword of the House of Romanof. The real sword. Not the sword of the son.

I do not encounter any more Lamprey. Or Snakes. Or Spiders. Or even Crawlers. And I am relieved.

I don’t think I could handle them right now. I am hoping that they were all destroyed when Romanof died. But nothing is ever that simple. Vampires who are turned do not die just because the one who turned them is killed. Why should those diseased monstrosities?

I head into the mountains. and turn south toward Denver. There, I will turn over the samples I have collected. And the notes I took.

From Denver, I will go to the missions and find the girls. And turn over the massive Romanof sword. God, it’s heavy! Much heavier than most!

I love the mountain air. Cool. Crisp. Dry.

Not like the air at home when I was a child. That air was hot. Humid. Filled with misery.

I wonder what it is like now. Is it still hot and humid? Or has it become Hot and dry now that it is a desert? I cannot fathom the possibilities.

All I know is that the region where home once was is now a large radio-active desert. Nothing can live there. Not until at least two hundred years have come and gone. That was what science said when I was still a child. Papa said so.

That means I will never be able to go back. Not yet, anyway. Not that I want to. Too many bad memories. Memories that are still too fresh. Too painful.

From the missions, I must go north. Alone. I must rouse the Firstlings of Valhalla. I must get them to rise and form their armies once more.

Ragnorak is coming. I believe the Bible calls it Armageddon. The endgames. The war to end all wars.

It will decide whether Heaven or Hell gets to rule. And I am determined to help Heaven win. I am already tired of Hell. And I have only lived in it for sixty years. But that is sixty years too many.

I do not know how many more years we will suffer. Just that I will have a hand in ending it. And I cannot wait. But I must. Whether I want to or not.

***

Denver. Finally. Once I get to city hall and drop off the samples, I can head down the missions in the foothills to the east. I will be glad to be rid of these stinking bags. The stench is getting too much even for me.

I get to city hall. I look at the guard. “Where do I find Dr. Malutus?”

He doesn’t even look at me. “Down the hall and to the left. Office of research and discovery. It is plainly marked.”

I smile. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Miss.”

I leave him to his duties. I follow his directions and find the office he had mentioned. I enter. The good doctor is standing behind his desk.

I look at him. “Where do you want this sample of the Lamprey?”

He looks up. “Ah, Cris. so nice to see you. The sample, you ask? Follow me.”

I comply. He leads me through the side door and down the corresponding hall. He goes into another door. I follow. Right into a lab.

He walks over to an examination table. “Put them here.”

I look at him quizzically. “You want me to remove it from the bags?”

He smiles. “Well…yes.”

I shrug and do so. “You will want to be careful. The tongue has thousands of thorn-like fangs. All over the inside of the bulbous end. They were dripping something when it opened and wrapped around the victim’s head. Might be deadly.”

He smiles. “Probably an acid or a toxin that eats the flesh. Thank you for your warning.”

I look at him narrowly. “No. Yu do not understand. It literally ate the flesh off the victim’s head. How the jawbone remained in place is a mystery to me. There was nothing to keep it there.”

He nods. “I will keep that in mind. Thank you.”

I can’t believe it. He just dismissed me. I witness what this thing can do, and he doesn’t even ask questions. I see something that will give me nightmares for years to come, and he dismisses it as if it is just hearsay.

I turn and leave. He has been warned. If he infects himself, then it is his own fault. I am not happy at not being heeded. I just hope he is smart enough not to put the head and body too close together. Otherwise, I have a feeling the thing will heal itself and return to life. I could be wrong, though.

No matter. I must get to the missions. I leave Denver behind. I leave the memory of the Lamprey behind.

In a couple of days, I am standing on a hill overlooking the missions. I can see Sara standing at a corner of the wall, keeping watch. Matti comes out from time to time to check as well. God, it’s going to feel good to be among friends. Even if it is only for a little while.

I start down the hill. Sara looks up and sees me. “She’s here! Sisters! She’s here!”

I can’t help but smile. I am glad I have friends like Sara. But, wait! They are joined by Cyanne! Amazing!

They run to meet me. I start giggling. It is good to be back with my friends. They are hugging me. And leading me down to the convent.

Once we are inside, I look at them. “God, I missed you! All of you! But I am glad you did not have to see what I saw. It was horrible!”

Matti looks up at me. “Are you staying a while?”

I smile.”Yes, for a little while. But I have to go soon. I have to go to Canada and do as I was asked. I have to go wake the Firstlings.”

Nothing To Hide: Chapter Twenty-Two of “The Crystal Ship”

The Blood-Skull rushes me. I can tell that most of it is reflex. Driven by the extreme pain and madness inflicted by its face being stripped from it. Its pain is also what flickers as light in its now empty sockets. More dead than alive, it strikes out at vibrations. Not sound. Or even sight.

I am probing it for any thought process. There is no intelligent thoughts. Just impulse. Driven by pain and shock.

I cut its head off. I watch it lie there and twitch like a dying cockroach. Then, the oddest thing. It grabs its head and throws it at me. I think quickly and both deflect and cause the head to explode.

I walk over and cut off the head of the Lamprey. It screams like something unearthly as it dies. Its tongue thrusts out searching for me. But I am out of its dying reach.

I watch the tongue open and see the tiny dripping fangs. Millions of them. And that horrid stench. I will never forget that. After it is dead, I put the body in one bag, the head in another. Time to hunt down Romanof.

This one is the elder. Not the younger. I had killed his grand-daughter and son. But now, I hunt him. He is the last of his family. His Russian trickery will not afford him any quarter.

Las Vegas, here I come. Romanof, I am coming for you. And I am coming fast. On silent wings.

***

I have battled through hordes of Snakes and Spiders. He is desperate to keep me from getting through. Makes me wonder how many of these damn things he has made. I don’t have time to think on it, though.

Suddenly, I am also faced with something unexpected. Skin Walkers!!! I have heard of these. Nasty monstrosities. Difficult to kill. Impossible to get free of if you are caught by one. and they tend to devour your soul and use your body once they catch you.

Not a good thing to fight. I am suddenly wishing I was elsewhere. Anywhere but here. And then, I clear my mind. I seek the lead Walker. I begin to burn a hole in its protective shell.

Suddenly, all five Walkers let out a scream of pain. That is good. They share a collective mind. Cause one pain, the rest also feel it.

Skin Walkers. Not the things of Native myth or legend. But a type of soul-sucking parasite. They burrow under the skin and attach to the spinal cord, taking control of your body after they have devoured your soul. Sort of creating the same equivalent as a zombie, but with a collective mind. A mind driven in the search for more souls to eat.

I set the lead Walker on fire. That fire soon devours all five. Their screeching cries will cause me nightmares for years to come. as they turn to ash, their host bodies crumble into dust.

I have even more reason not to sleep now. I take a few moments to write my assessment of each thing I have had to face. I fold the paper and go on toward Las Vegas. Sin City. How ironic it is that Romanof hid in that city.

I remember papa’s tales of Sin City. The gambling. The Dance shows. The prostitution. The high crime.

No wonder he never moved there. I wonder if Romanof moved in for the undead prostitutes. No matter. Evil is as evil does.

***

Las Vegas. It has taken me several days to get here. He has thrown everything he had at me. Snakes. Spiders. Crawlers.

Crawlers. Those nasty little things. Not even sure if there was any human semblance at all. Didn’t even look like a snake. Kind of nondescript.

But I have finally made it. I can sense Romanof here. I scan the vacant city. Well, almost vacant. I find his presence in the abandoned MGM Grand Hotel. How fitting. The most opulent and decadent of all gambling palaces for the most decadent and over the top Vampire lord. The most insane lord.

His remaining soldiers try vainly to keep me out of the city. Vampire and bleeder alike come from every door I approach. Only to be cut down.

They valiantly meet my onslaught. But their resistance is futile. Vampire heads go bouncing down sand-filled streets. Human body parts fall and the dying scream as their lifeblood oozes from hundreds of mortal wounds.

Bodies pile up in the street quickly. Living and undead alike. Las Vegas has fallen. Thousands die defending a lord who cares nothing for them. Many for a promise that was made without any intent to fulfill. As they fall, they realize that they had accepted empty promises as their reward.

I battle my way to the top floor of the MGM Grand. To the last man. And vampire. I kick in the door to the penthouse.

He sits upon a couch, surrounded by female vampires. All writhing like snakes around him. He looks up. “Come, child. Join the party. Become one of my lovers.” His thick Russian accent, like his arrogance, makes me sick. So self-important. Always seeing himself as God’s gift to women.

No matter. I stare at him. “Never.”

He smiles evilly. “Fine.” He motions to his snaky women. Get her! She must not be allowed to leave alive!”

I glare at him. “You really think your ladies will be able to take me? Especially since your warriors sure the hell couldn’t?”

The first rushes me. her head goes flying across the room. The second tries to get me from behind. I cut her off. Literally. One after the other, they fall. Until it is just me and him.

He frowns. “You really have become quite a nuisance. First, my granddaughter. Then my son. I did not flee here. I moved here. Might say that I retired. My son was already in control when you took Denver. And the rest of Colorado. But you Undergrounders. You never know when to quit. Do you?”

I smile. “I am no Undergrounder. I am Grigori. I am the Angel of Death. Your kind created me. Your kind now pays the price. Welcome to the Hell you have created.”

He rises and pulls the sword from the wall behind him. A massive Russian broadsword. For one so old, he sure looks young. But I find him repulsive despite his uncommon good looks. And flowing red hair that tells of his Rus heritage.

He smiles. “I was there when the Rus wandered down to the Black sea. I led them on many successful raids. And killed indiscriminately. I was born of the battle. What of you?”

I look at him. “IU was born of the war you and your master created. I have thrice beaten Vassare. And thrice beaten Friedrich. I took your counterpart in the Midwest. And his outposts. It was I who killed Kalkolides’ queen. And his concubines. And his heir. I took De Leonne. And his daughter.”

“No! Impossible! I will not believe it. No one is good enough with sword to kill him or his daughter!” He lunges at me. I dodge. And block.

Our battle rages for hours. His massive sword hammers at my strength and stamina. But my blades hold up. Then, I see my opening. My right sword slips into an opening and sinks deep into his chest.

He grins. “Do you think a blade to my innards will kill me? Even if you kill me, My disease lives on. The Spiders, Snakes, Lamprey, and Crawlers are all part of my disease. You see, my vampirism has mutated. Driven me mad. And infected all I have turned. In ways I could have never imagined possible.”

I smile despite myself. “Nope.” My left sword takes his head.

Dear Lord: Chapter Twenty-One Of “The Crystal Ship”

I am beginning to lose my religion. But not my belief. I still believe there is a greater power. Just not the idea that what I do will actually save me from anything.

Rites are futile. Rituals do nothing. Strict adherence to the rules leave no room for protection from harm. Or from damnation. I have realized that I cannot save myself. No matter what. Nor can I save a single soul that is in my protection.

I can only protect. And hope that they have learned life’s hard lessons in all this. But that is all. I cannot make them see the error of their ways. Or change their minds on anything.

They see me as a contradiction. I am a vampire. They know that I am. But I am trying to save their lives. Unselfishly. Because I was sent to do so by the Underground.

And yet, they have a hard time trusting me. I can’t blame them. I even have a hard time trusting myself. I suppose that is why I will go ahead and send Sara and the girls north when we reach Little Rock. I must go farther west and to the north.

I have been asked to go to Reno and check out a report of something sinister. Something I must check out myself. It is going to be hard for me to explain to them. But they will have to accept it. After all. They made a commitment where the refugees are concerned. I only promised to get them to the relative safety of Little Rock. Or the closest Underground city.

I pull Sara aside as we walk. “I will not be proceeding with you to the missions. I have been given another mission. One I must do on my own. No one else. I cannot risk you or the girls on this. Please do not argue. I will meet you at the missions when I am done.”

She is obviously sad. But understands. “Ok. I will try to get the girls to understand.”

I look at her. “It was not my decision. The Brotherhood made the decision on this one. They deem this mission too dangerous. Something about reports of sucker-babies known as Lamprey. And the Skull-terror known as Blood Skulls. As I am not usually susceptible to most forms of magic, I am the best pick for such a dangerous mission. And also, I am usually able to fight my way out of any traps set.”

I see the visible effect of the shiver that goes down her back. “I would just soon not see that. But now that you have mentioned it, I cannot un-see it. I am just going to ask that you come back to us in one piece.”

I smile. “don’t worry. I will. I can’t et you girls have all the fun.”

***

Little Rock, at last. I have said my goodbyes and am now on my way westward. I do not know what I will encounter. All I know is that the reclusive Vampire lord who had been in Denver before its liberation is supposed to be behind this new menace. A type of genetically altered or a mutated form of vampire that appears to be–in sound and appearance–a baby. That is, until its victim picks it up to get a closer look. Then, its mouth opens and a whip-like tongue comes out and balloons until its end completely envelopes the victim’s head.

Either a mixture of venom melts the flesh, or it is peeled away to reveal a scarlet, blood-stained skull that is now completed by a pair of vampire fangs. Only two witnesses have escaped to tell of this horror and they are half-crazed and kept incarcerated for their own safety. since I am not prone to mental trickery, and can sense evil, I am the only hunter they will ever ask to find out the truth.

I head for Las Vegas. Then to Reno. The once decadent state of Nevada is now the epicenter of this suspicious activity. Vampire-like creatures known as Snakes, Lamprey, and Blood-Skulls. And possibly even other monstrosities created by the Romanof lord.

He had fled Denver as the Underground advanced to the city limits. Then, he fled from Colorado altogether as we drove his forces out of the mountains and into the desert. Nothing has been heard from him until now. And now, He is spreading terror through the humans in his area by releasing monsters upon them.

***

I enter Nevada. Desolate. It has always been a desert, but the lack of life is a strange thing. Especially for all the decadence this state once proudly proclaimed.

I am met by the queerest of sights. Half-man, half-snake creatures. All Vampire. Sort of remind me of the Gorgons of Greek myth. But with a twist born of a fevered mind.

Oh, Hell. The rumors were true. These must be the Snakes. All I need now are Spiders and Lamprey to make it all complete. But I believe that Romanof will only release a few of his pets at a time.

Especially since he would rather test them against me than to sacrifice them in his own defense. I muse over the scene. These are not so horrible. Just grotesque. And unnatural. All evil.

Each Snake see me in its own turn. Rushes me. And proves as easy as its namesake to kill. Lop off the head, it dies. But lies flopping and writhing as its blood drains. Apparently not fully vampire. Or not vampire at all. I am not sure.

I continue on. And run into a nest of Spiders. These twisted forms still resemble humans, but have arms and legs grafted on to form an eight-legged hominid. I can’t tell if it is vampiric or not. all I know is it is hideous.

These prove just as easy to kill. Lop off the head and they die. I shake my head. I watch the headless, multi-legged bodies twitch. Then continue on.

Dear Lord! They are real! both of them! and they are horrifying! I have finally found the Lamprey. I find a ridge to hide behind to observe.

I watch as it begins to cry when it senses a victim near. I watch the victim reach down and pick it up. The tongue shoots out of its mouth. Reminds me of a frog or chameleon. Wraps itself around the victim’s head. I hear the ungodly screaming of the victim. And watch him fall and twitch through the change. Oh, God.

The tongue uncoils and returns to the Lamprey’s mouth. The victim’s head is nothing but a blood red skull. With fangs. The rumors were true. I rise from my hiding spot.

I have to end this. Here. Now. I draw my swords.

What’s Good Inside: Chapter Twenty Of “The Crystal Ship”

We’re trapped. The river is at our backs. A steady stream of enemies are almost on top of us. I look at Sara. “Get the refugees across and to safety. Now.”

She looks at me. I can tell she is appalled at leaving me. “We can’t leave you. You can’t fight them all yourself.”

I look at her. “Just do as I ask. Get them to safety. I will keep them at bay long enough for you to do so. Besides. I have faced greater odds on my own.”

She realizes she can’t win. “Ok. But we will go just far enough to be out of their sight and wait for you.”

I look away. “Fine. But I am going to have to destroy the ferry-line. Can’t afford to allow them to get control of that.”

She bows her head. “How will you get across?”

I look back at her. “Don’t worry about me. I have ways most do not know about.” She looks up and I wink.

She smiles. “Alright.”

I look back toward the advancing column of enemies. “Get started. I want most of them across. If not all. At least, by the time those arrive.” I point to the approaching line.

She begins to walk away. “I hope you know what you are doing.”

I turn away. “Trust me.”

Alright, People!” She is now in command. “Let’s start to load up! Time to cross!”

***

I have chosen a spot nearly a mile from the ferry. On top of a hill so I can keep watch on both the evacuation and the advancing enemy. She has most of the refugees across when the line reaches me. My swords are already drawn and I am in defense stance. My eyes closed.

I hear the whistle of the first sword as it swings toward me. I move swiftly. Cat-like. An agile blur of motion. Almost unperceivable to my enemy. nearly half of them are cut down before they even have a chance to adjust to my swift advance. I dance my way through their ranks.

One hundred well-armed vampire soldiers. Now nothing but a pile of bodies. Headless bodies. Even for them, I moved too quick.

But they are only the advance scout. I see another regiment. No two. Four. All closing fast.

I look back and see Sara unloading the last refugees. She gives the all clear and leads the last group out of sight. With a thought, I destroy the ferry. I watch it as it sinks to the bottom of the river. The rod and cable turn to dust and blow away.

I turn my thoughts loose upon the approaching units. I harvest their thoughts for as much intel as I can get. Then I turn their brains into liquid. then I dance into their midst and cut their heads off. Not that it matters. They were already dead.

I make my retreat. There are more on their way. But I do not have time to fight. I must rejoin Sara and the rest. I loosen my cloak and spread my wings. I fly to the other side of the river.

A few miles away, I find the refugees and their guardian angels. Sara hugs me upon seeing me. the rest shake my hands.

I look at them. “We do not have much time. The enemy is already to the river. There is no longer a ferry. I had to destroy it. Any other refugees will have to go south into the swamps. If they aren’t caught and enslaved.

“Those to the north will have headed for Canada if they were smart. If not, then they headed into the wastes. And there isn’t anything there except death.”

One of the refugees looks at me. “Why Canada?”

I look at him and smile. “Two reasons. The colder weather and the Firstlings. That is their territory. No Fallen has ever entered there and returned. At least not since the war began.”

Sara appears. “Don’t you think we ought to get moving?”

I smile at her. “Yes. Let’s get going.”

***

By nightfall, we are miles from the enemy lines. A farmer is good enough to allow us shelter from the night in his barn. And has even brought us food. He pulls me outside. “I think what you are doing is amazing. I mean, you are putting your life on the line to save those from the east. My neighbors and I are going to supply you with food and shelter for the night as our way of thanking you for your deed.”

I look at him. “Thank you. You do not know what this means to us. and especially our charges. They have been travelling for days, maybe weeks. Some have not had any rest for the majority of their journey. We will only be here for the night, so do not worry about us taking much. Here.” I remove my haversack and take out a couple bundles of jerky and chicory. “Something to repay you and your neighbors. I can always get more. But kindness deserves kindness.”

He takes it. “Thank you kindly, Ma’am. It has been a while since we had anything even reminiscent of coffee in these parts. And the jerky will come in handy in times of hardship. Or even when we want to save on what we have.”

I smile understandingly. “You’re welcome.”

He turns and walks back to his house. After he vanishes into the dark, I turn and go back into the barn. I take in the view of the refugees enjoying the first real meal they have had for days. I smile in satisfaction.

Sara brings me my portion. She smiles as she hands it to me. “Even though you don’t need it. Hero.

I blush. “I am no hero. I only did what needed to be done. I took a calculated risk. And bought you enough time to get the refugees safely across the river. And away.’

She hugs me again and walks away. I watch her go. She doesn’t realize that she was the real hero in this. But I am not about to tell her. I need her to remain humble.

Getting Over: Chapter Nineteen Of “The Crystal Ship”

I mourn for each city lost. But I understand that we must regroup in order to gain more strength. In reality, the vampires have not gained as much ground as they lost in the west. And no one owns the Midwest. Or at least from Ohio to western Nebraska. Or from the Canadian border to northern Kansas and central Missouri. And the cooler weather makes them avoid Canada altogether.

Ah Canada. Land of freedom. Kind of. The last bastion of the Firstlings. The good half. The majority of the good vampires reside there, unaffected by the cold. And, in some regions, they sleep undisturbed.

After I am finished with the refugees, I have to head up there. I was charged with waking the sleepers and rounding up the great and wonderful masters known as Valhalla. Heroes of the past Vampire wars. Heroes of past Firstling wars.

We need their help. And the help of the rest. The endgames draw near. How near is anyone’s guess.

Ironic. This all started with a political difference. A difference made catastrophic by the invasion of the vampires into human politics. and business. But I guess I must get over it.

Man’s fall was inevitable. And foretold. Every religion had its form of the end. Man’s version of Christianity was no different. It is truly ironic.

Now that I look at it. man’s version of everything was a religion. Physical. Unbending. Merciless. Unyielding. Unforgiving.

So wrapped up in physical change. But the reality of what was supposed to be was not physical at all. Strange how a walk in faith turned into heavy handed hellfire and brimstone. But then, this war is really a war between Heaven and Hell. Good and evil.

And at the center of it are the Sabbath Stones. Those keys to power that all covet, yet none can control. And I am charged with their destruction. I shake my head while deep in thought. I look up in time to see Sara looking at me suspiciously.

I smile. “Just thinking. So much has happened. And so much more is about to.”

She grins. “There is something else weighing heavy on your mind.”

I look down. “I have a mission I am supposed to carry out alone. I was entrusted with it By Truva. I must destroy the Sabbath Stones.”

She wrinkles her nose. “What are those?

I look back up. “It’s a very long story. Let’s just say they are an object of power that all desire, but none can control. They are the reason the world is slowly self-destructing…along with the universe. I must destroy them before they destroy us.”

she is still pushing. “Is this something to do with that Kalkolides you always mention?”

I nod. “Yes. He has possession of them and I am to face him and destroy them.”

She looks down. “And this coming war. We are all a part of it, right?”

I look her in the eye. “Yes. Man and Firstling must unite to win this. That means the primal fears and silly myths are going to have to be dropped. Trust will have to be given by both. That is if you want to survive.”

***

We spend the rest of the day rounding up refugees. Kind of like herding cats. We try to lead them to the ferry we have been using. But some seem intent on getting killed. They insist on heading for the nearest city. Even after being told that the vampires are besieging all major cities and towns.

I have had enough. I stop. “Listen, People!” They all turn to me. “You are trying our patience. Listen to us. We know what we are talking about. There are no cities that are safe for humans! Do you really believe that your city is the only one they are trying to take? C’mon, people! Wake up! The south is about to fall and all you want to do is go to another city only to flee with their citizens?

“We are trying to get you to safety and you just want to walk back into the path of danger! This is not a sane way to live! If you want to live, follow us! We are leading you to free territory!”

Suddenly, all eyes are on me. I have suddenly awakened them to the harsh reality of what the world has become. They are no longer able to hide comfortably behind the illusions of civilization. Or what used to be.

Many are now ashamed of their actions. Bowing their heads, they shuffle along with the rest behind us as we guide them to safety. we resume our trek to the ferry. All is silent.

When we stop at the ferry, one stubborn old man approaches me. “How do you know that the cities hereabouts are all under attack? I don’t see you goin’ an’ checkin’ things out.”

I look him in the eye. “They have been under siege for twenty years, sir. I have already scouted all the cities out. I know. I don’t have to go back. I have been ferrying refugees from them to safety for longer than you have been away from Savanna.”

Suddenly, he is shocked. He hadn’t realized that I recognized him. Or where he was from. “H-how did you know I was from Savanna?”

I smile sadly. “I have seen you there. Even if you do not recognize me. I know every person and where they are from. It is my business to know. It makes my job easier.”

He eyes me suspiciously. “What job?”

I keep my eye on him. “I am a hunter. I know how vampires think and who they target. I also know who has resisted them. And you are one of those who resisted their allure. It is in your eyes.”

He looks away hurriedly. “Yes. Well.”

I smile. “I suggest that you not fight me on this. I am taking you to the territories held by the Underground. And possibly even to the missions. Depending on their wishes. The women will all be sent to the convents to learn from the Sisters.”

He looks at me again. “Why?”

I put my hand on his shoulder. “Do you really want the Vampire Nation to rule over man?”

He looks down. “No.”

I remove my hand. “Then that is reason enough. You must become warriors and stand your ground. If you want the vampires to lose, you must be willing to fight. And overcome.”

Make It: Chapter Eighteen Of “The Crystal Ship”

The messenger shows with more than enough Brothers to help take the scavenged weapons. He looks at me. “Keep the arrows to replenish your own stores. Our weapons maker will make arrows for us.”

I half-way smile. “Ok.”

He smiles. “Here is the list you requested from us.” He hands me a piece of parchment that is rolled up. “Take care how you speak to most of these. They are the highest ranking of the Firstlings, and Doravenour would be your best bet in finding these. They have hidden for a reason. They are hunted by the Fallen. Be careful that you do not lead anyone to them.”

I nod. “I understand. I will not seek them out until I have successfully spread the fear of God throughout the ranks of the Fallen. Can I get a list of those as well?”

He nods, then looks at the girls. “And these?”

I look back. “They have sworn to help me until I deliver them personally to the convent.”

He chuckles. “Very well. Train them well. The Sisters are eager to see how lethal your teachings are. Fare you well, Cris. Until we meet again.”

I smile and nod. “Until we meet again.”

I watch them remove the spoils of war and disappear into the night. I sit under the tree and gaze at the rolled up list. When he delivers the second list, I will have something to hunt by. I smile. The damned will surely have something to fear after this night.

The list I now hold is the Chosen Firstlings. They are the good. The righteous. The wise. And they are needed to fight the coming war. I was asked to gather them. Get them back into training for war.

And I intend to do so. But not until I get the girls to the convent. I mustn’t betray the Firstlings. Not even to their allies. I slip the roll into my inner pocket and close my eyes in thought.

***

Morning comes so quick. I must have drifted off to sleep. Funny, I hadn’t felt tired. Maybe it was the calm.

I am shaken awake by Sara, “I didn’t know you slept, Cris.”

I smile meekly. “I usually don’t.”

She smiles. “Come. We have a visitor. He has been waiting for you to wake.”

I look at her questioningly. “A visitor?”

She nods. “Calls himself Doravenour. Speaks with a French accent. Very sexy, tall, and dark.” She winks at me.

I rise. “And millennia older than I. He is a rare breed. Vampire, hunter of vampires. A Chosen among the Chosen.”

“Dere be ma Cherie!” That French accent and his broken English is very alluring. “But the intrusion, it was–impossible–to avoid. Savanna has fallen. All the humans were out, so all is well. The defenders abandoned the city…what you say…in de night. And the Nation has moved in lock, stock, and barrel. Washington and Arlington fell as well.”

I look at him. “All humans out there, too?”

He shakes his head. “All but those too stubborn to leave. Always a handful in every city. Would rather suffer indignity than leave their cherished city. The vampire lands end at the swamps on the borders. But extend the length of the eastern seaboard. No territory left behind, you know.”

I nod. “They blitz. They besiege. And then, they take.”

He smiles sadly. “C’est Vrais, I am afraid.”

I look at him. “What now?”

He looks away. “We focus here in the center. We try to funnel all the refugees out of this area into Underground territories. Mainly Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and on west. There, we will have to make them turn and defend their lands. Et…if possible, take back what has been stripped out from under them.”

I look away. “Then we will have to find a way to armor them rather heavily so the Suckers can’t get at their necks or use mind tricks as they tend to do. We will also have to make sure that the Harvester threat has been duly taken care of. That means making sure that they no longer have enough of a population to help their fellow Fallen.”

“Correctement.” He smiles. “Now you are thinking.”

I smile. “Always.”

He smiles back, then turns away. “I must–how you say–take a walkabout?”

I restrain myself from giggling. “Only if you are Australian. I would say spirit journey, but you probably mean go yondering.”

His expression softens. “Ah, oui. Dat is what I mean. Au revoir, ma Cherie. I will return with more news. Wherever you may be.”

I smile. “Au revoir, mon ami. Take good care and try not to be too heroic.”

I hear him chuckle. It has always been a joke between us. He is far older than I, and yet I have always kidded him about being too heroic. Mainly because he is a legend among legends. And the most feared of all hunters. Aside from McCall, of course.

I watch the Frenchman go. My immediate mission is clear. Save as many humans as I can. Those too stubborn to leave their cities will perish. That is a given. But those fleeing are to be given a chance.

Once we save them, we are supposed to turn them into a formidable army. One that will turn the Vampire Nation on its heels and force it to retreat from the borders of Underground territory. not going to be an easy task.

I look at the girls. “You heard ‘im. our job right now is to help the refugees. No hunting. Only guarding the exodus. Once we get them all across, we must be willing to train them to fight and defend. to stand their ground. We may not make it to the convent. You may have to stay and train refugees to be soldiers. True warriors.”

Sara looks at me. “What about you?”

I smile. “It was plain to me as well. I have to stay and do the same. Unless you want to go to the convent and enter their service, then come back down. If you enter their service, you will be asked to take all the women and girls with you. I will find a man or group of men to accompany the men to the missions. I think this would possibly be the best route to training. the more we train, the better an army we will have. and the best at training, by far, are the Brotherhood and Sisterhood.”

Sara grins. “I think you’ve got a great idea.”