Belief: A Narrative

Chris fiddled with the radio on his moderately new model Honda before sitting back in the driver's seat. The rain that had earlier drifted from the ocean had mostly dissipated, the partly overcast sky starting to clear. His good friend, Conrad Junker, had given him most of the information on the old section of the docks. "Yeah, Chris, but the funny thing is that several months ago, all gang activity in this region here juststopped." Conrad had several friends on the shady side, a few who not surprisingly, had owed him a favor or two. It helped to have friends who had friends in low places.

Chris pulled into an empty lot. He took out his wallet and out fell a still-grey folded newspaper clipping. He unfolded it once, and looked at the surprisingly small headline. Body Disappears from Meadowview Hospital Morgue. Staff frazzled. He glanced at it, as the radio station finished a commercial. "Next on the KROW, we have a double feature of Our Lady Piece. Probably, haven't heard them in a while, right? Problem solved, my friends." As he got back on the old two lane highway, the two songs hit him. Or rather, one line from each. "When I find out what went wrong / I'll bring it back, but it won't be easy." It echoed a bit inside his cranium before the line "But ordinary's just not good enough today" came to join it. Chris thought to himself "How ironic," before turning off the radio. He'd arrived.

Chris pulled the car into an old and surprisingly well-kept parking lot before engaging the steering wheel club and locking and alarming his vehicle. The clouds had mostly retreated, leaving the late afternoon of a Wednesday sky remaining. Chris put in a pair of new earplugs he had purchased, notable because they only muffled sounds above ninety decibels. The gravel made a subdued crunch as he sauntered up to the small door inset to the bottom of a large warehouse. Unlike the others he had seen, this building, albeit a bit rusted, had no graffiti on it. This was definitely the right place. Chris pulled back the sleeve on his trench coat to knock on it with his open-finger gloves. It clanged and echoed a few seconds later. Chris heard the muffled sounds of an interior door opening and faint footsteps coming towards him.

"What!?" The vaguely Hispanic-sounding voice was as piercing as it was brief. "I have business…with your associate." The voice behind the door laughed for an ephemeral moment before becoming serious again. "And who would that be?" "Mr. Grad, of course." "Of course." Chris saw a flicker of light in the peephole. The door swung open with an appropriate squeak of the hinges. Chris stepped over the door threshold. There stood a strongly-built man, mid-20's, in jeans and a greyish muscle shirt. His skin was near-albino, and to Chris, the man looked strangely…dead. Chris noticed the tattoo on his right arm, and with a smirk, flashed the corresponding sign. The man snarled, and in what seemed like superhuman speed, grabbed Chris by the neck as he spoke. "You little…" That was as far as he got, for as the moment the man grabbed him by the neck, he touched Chris's Maltese cross pendant. The man suddenly screamed as smoke appeared from his right hand. The skin started to burn away from his fingertips in a strangely cold deep blue flame. Chris smiled, a bit darkly, as he reached into his trench coat. He pulled out a foot-long former tent stake with a hand notches and a sharpened tip. With his right hand on the implement, and his left behind it for force, he drove it into the man's chest, just below the sternum. The man stopped screaming; instead, his eyes went saccadic as he fell over into convulsions. He gasped suddenly, and just as suddenly, his body ignited in a lavender flame, burning away in a matter of seconds. A slight, almost ethereal breeze blew across him as Chris looked up to see a figure at the opposite end of the warehouse holding on to the door. The figure stepped back, and slammed the door.

Chris calmly walked over to the door and twisted the knob. It turned and…the door stayed shut. The handle itself was not the problem. The deadbolt three inches above was. There was only a keyhole on this side of the door. Chris smiled. He was prepared. He reached into his left pocket and pulled out a large, machined steel pen. He unscrewed it. The pen was something that his recently late grandfather Lawrence had given him in one of sane moments as a birthday present. Chris, together as he was, had had a notorious reputation for locking himself out of his car in high school. Chris selected a medium size tip out of the internal rack and screwed the top back on his lock picking pen. This was going to take a few minutes. He checked his watch, the two tritium hands indicating that it was just past four. He had time.

The door swung open without so much as a creak as Chris walked out of the warehouse. Not surprisingly, eight feet in front of him was a warehouse of similar size, and to each side, a high chain link fence cordoned off the area. Chris tried the door, which like the on he had just emerged from, opened into the building. It was unlocked, but only moved a fraction of an inch. It was either jammed or had been barricaded from the inside. Chris stepped back, and kicked the door just above the doorknob. Other than making a clang and leaving a small dent in the door, it accomplished nothing. Chris sighed and, placing his hands in the front pockets of his trench coat, walked to the left of the building, the gravel echoing his footsteps. As he approached the edge of the building, instead of seeing the fence connect the two buildings, it was in a bracket-shaped expanse about ten feet away from both buildings, extending around to the next warehouse. There was a gate inset into the fence, padlocked and chained several times. Chris turned to his right to see a fire escape ladder extending from the warehouse, leading to a small platform a story up, and an accompanying door. Unfortunately for him, Chris noticed the edge of the ladder was six feet up; the first rung was another foot up. He managed to reach it by jumping, and then realized he couldn't pull himself up to the next rung because of all the equipment he was carrying. He dropped to the ground, frowning slightly. Glancing around, he noticed in the corner, next to the air conditioning unit for the building, was a large wooden crate stamped "empty". One of his friends that had worked in a grocery store had once complained that his job was "just a big game of box-pushing Sokoban." Perhaps it was time to emulate that.

The emergency exit door at the top of the stairs didn't have a handle of any sort on the outside, but conveniently didn't exactly fit the doorsill. There was enough of the side of the door that Chris easily pried it open. "One problem down…" Chris slowly opened the door to find that it led to a steel catwalk that ringed the second floor perimeter of the warehouse. As he stepped inside, and slowly eased the door into closing behind him, he heard voices coming from the floor of the building. "But Snyder!" "You needn't be worried, Norton. Like I said, he's probably just some amateur flunky who's watched a bit too many movies. He didn't have a whip with him, did he?" "No, I didn't see one." "Then our wannabe slayer is not a Belomodia. You have nothing to fear." "But…he took out Fernandez so easily! And he was fairly high up in the Scorpions!" The other man sighed as Chris quietly crept along the walkway, trying to stay in the shadow it created as much as possible. "Fernandez may have been a gang leader, but he was totally unadjusted to our lifestyle. An irate grandmother with a wooden fork could have killed Fernandez."

Chris could now see the two men talking as he passed the stack of boxes that had first concealed them from him. They stood just a few yards away from the light that the two window skylights cast on the floor. "Changing the subject…what about the old guy?" The other man looked unimpressed. "What about him?" "Well, I got him, and he didn't turn. He just died. Doesn't that seem a little odd to you, Snyder?" "If he was as old as you said he was, then the shock of the bite itself may have simply killed him." Chris suddenly realized to whom they had been referring. "That mankilled my grandfather." Busy in retrospective analysis, Chris failed to notice one particularly rusted plate of catwalk. As half of his left foot touched it, it broke lose and hit the floor below with a loud rattling clank. Chris grimaced and closed his eyes, and then stood up, facing the men that now looked at him.

"Well, well, Norton, it appears as if our guest has finally arrived. Take care of him, and our master may just forgive you for that fiasco at the college." The man, Norton, apparently, stood stunned for a moment, and suddenly became serious. "This is as far as you go, Hunter." Chris walked to the edge of the catwalk, onto the railing, and jumped, rolling into a softened landing. He then stood up, lifting his right pant leg momentarily. "You're Norton, are you?" Chris glanced at the pale man, wearing a white, collared shirt and khakis. "I seem to remember a particularly unfriendly ex-boyfriend of Ms. Rosini named Norton. It's rather unsettling to see that her murderer had become a vampire." Norton smiled. "First off, kid, I didn't kill her. I merely came to visit her, and asked that she join me. She became so frightened that she killed herself. Rather than let that go to waste, I simply had myself a snack." "That certainly fits." Chris remembered his dorm mistress coming home bruised and with the occasional black eye, courtesy of the man that stood before him. "I'm surprised you figured it out kid. Still, it doesn't really matter. I'm five times stronger and a good ten times faster than you are. Want to test me? Put 'em up. How about some fisticuffs to start off with?" Norton put his fists up. Chris titled his head slightly as if in thought, and then did the same. Norton came first with a fast straight punch. Chris ducked, and dodged to the left, barely missing the blow. He did the same after the next punch, the wind current created by it rushing past his right ear. The next one connected, half hitting his right ear. Chris grimaced, rolled to his left, and stood up, dropping his hands to his sides. "What's a matter kid? You give up? …Wait a second, I remember you. Rosini was always talking about you, her ace student that was always doing favors for her. Her family put you up to this?" Chris smiled and shook his head. He put out his hand, and gestured, bringing his fingers into his palm. He then stood perfectly still. Norton's next punch stopped a few inches from Chris's head, emblazoned with blue light. "What the freakin' hell!?" Chris grinned once more, and pointed at the ground. A zigzagging path of white granules had started ten feet away from him, and then moved into a closed circle around Norton. Chris lifted up his pant leg, revealing a mostly empty plastic bag, filled with the same substance. He had simply poked a small hole in it and it had slowly drained in the past minute. "Don't you know that vampires can't cross a circle of salt? You should have paid more attention." "What the hell?" Norton tried to step over the circle, but the same blue light created an impenetrable barrier…for him. Chris untied the plastic bag, and pulled out his stake. "Damn you to hell, Vah…Ahhh!" Norton never got to finish his taunt as he fell over and contorted, not surprisingly, against the edge of the circle as if it were a wall. He then burst into the same ethereal cool purple flame and disappeared. Chris now noticed that in the better light of this building that his wooden stabbing implement was ensanguined in both dried and fresh blood of a color bluer and darker than normal. He walked over to the rectangle of light on the floor and held out the stake. The blood, like Norton himself, burned in a purple hue, and left the stake clean and dry. He then put it back under his coat.

Chris opened the door at the end of the room, revealing that instead of going out of the building, it lead to an inside corridor, flanked with unused, dark offices. He closed it behind him. The door at the end of the corridor then opened, revealing a man in an older style dress shirt, deep blue, and wearing black slacks, topped off with impossibly glazed black oxfords. "Immaculately dressed. Fitting. The book said something about the more intelligent ones going for that sort of thing." The pale-haired man addressed him. "Well, it appears Norton botched something up again. I am called Snyder. May I have the pleasure of your name?" Chris answered plainly. "Chris." Snyder tilted his head and nodded slowly. "A fitting name. You're rather young for a hunter. What are you? Nineteen? Twenty? If you were a Belomodia, you'd be typical. For a mundane slayer, however, you're about eight years below the average." The man ran his hands through his moderately short hair. Chris addressed him. "Do you 'work' for Mr. Grad?" Snyder nodded. "More of a majordomo really. I keep everything in line. I used to control most of his operations on the west coast, actually from around there, but as you probably guessed, we're in a 'rebuilding year'."

"Thanks, that's all I needed to know." Chris reached into his front left pants pocket with his left hand as he reached into his coat with his right hand. He removed a small object from the pocket as his right arm twisted slightly and returned with a revolver. He hit the release and loaded the one .357 magnum cartridge he had in his left hand into the one empty slot he had left, as the pistol did not have a safety. He rotated the cylinder and closed it, aiming with both hands at the creature that now stood across the hall from him. Snyder merely laughed. "Oh, please. I figured you knew better than to—." He was cut off by the sound of gunfire as the shot impacted Snyder in the chest, knocking him a yard back and throwing him to the ground, albeit with very little blood. Chris simply stood ready. "At least they're good for stunning." A handful of seconds later, the man got up from the ground, the bullet dropping to the floor. "Moron. Those don't work on me. If all you wanted to do was tear my clothing and piss me off, you've succeeded." Snyder sneered, showing his abnormally large incisors. Chris fired again, but in an instant his target had disappeared. He saw a flash of motion to his left and turned around. Snyder was calmly standing…on the ceiling tiles, heads toward the ground. Chris noticed that the round in the next chamber was, instead of the non-reloadable aluminum rounds, cased with brass. He smiled, and pulled the trigger, Snyder somehow sliding out of the way and dropping to the floor. Chris put the magnum back in the shoulder holster he had underneath his coat and got out his stake. He lunged towards the door he had entered from, Snyder standing before him. The vampire easily caught the stake. "What exactly are you trying to accomplish? I'll never run of out stamina." Chris held the stake with his left hand, focusing his eyes on his opponent. Relying on just muscle memory, he withdrew the pistol again and fired, point blank. "This." It hit Snyder in the forehead, just above the nose, knocking him back, but not knocking him over. But unlike the previous impact, Snyder simply gasped weakly for breath and fell back against the closed door. He twitched once and was consumed in violet flame. The moment he began fading away, the bullet dropped to the floor, intact. Chris walked over and picked it up, examining it. It was something he had found after his grandfather had ransacked his desk drawer to give Chris the "family handbook" he now carried with him. He had found the old, tarnished .38 caliber bullet among the debris, took it home, polished it, and used his father's reloading bench to place it in a .357 magnum cartridge. The bullet itself was cast out of an old "800 silver" alloy of four-fifths silver to one fifth copper, and hand-engraved with several Maltese crosses. "Works well." He placed the bullet in his pocket and walked to the end of the corridor.

The next building in the complex seemed newer than the rest. It was again a warehouse, with a second-floor perimeter catwalk, but both vertically sliding doors on his left were open, tires tracks leading to a closed gate about twenty-five yards beyond the buildings. Instead of being mostly empty, crates and boxes of all shapes were arranged in neat stacks around the perimeter, labeled as either building materials or accessories. A crane was set up near one of the doorways. As he walked to the hopefully final door inset into the first floor, a dulcet voice called him in a slight Oxford accent from behind. "How many have you killed today?" He turned around. Standing on the second-floor railing, perfectly balanced, was a woman, perhaps a few years older than him, dressed in black. She jumped off the railing in a vertical jump, and landed on the floor without effort, without rolling, kneeling, or otherwise ablating the impact. "Chris, is it? I am Valeria. Valeria Bryant. I have as many decades of experience as you have years, love." She was dressed in a tight, black uniform jacket, lined with red and with spikes on the epaulets, a simple, long black high-cut skirt and knee-high black leather boots. Black lip gloss and black tips on her otherwise platinum hair set off the look. Chris couldn't help but laugh. Valeria gave him a sour look. "What?" "Nothing. You just look like you ransacked a Hot Topic store. I'm scared to even go in there." She rolled her eyes. "Any other smart remarks before I bite you?" Chris smiled. "Nope. I'm done." "Good." Valeria gritted her teeth and held up her fingernails. Chris reached to his belt and undid a snap fastener. Inside the sheath was his father's kukri knife, a long, forward-curved implement of whose origins Chris's dad could never satisfactorily explain. Once the handle was in his right hand, the knife felt oddly natural.

Valeria ran forward, raising her right arm. Chris instinctively ducked and moved to the right, holding up the blade to parry the follow-through of Valeria's swipe. Her own force allowed the heavy blade to slice four of her own fingernails and the tip of her middle finger. She smiled, held up her hand, and as Chris watched, for in no more than four seconds, the fragments had burnt away in purplish flame and her hand had completely regenerated, all the way down to the sharpened fingernails. Chris ran back, ducking behind a box at eye level, before moving around the corner to the right. The first box was literally sliced in half on the diagonal, and as he crept, she turned around and slid around to confront him, seemingly sliding along the floor without taking a single step. She smiled again. He lunged forward with the kukri, aiming for a downward slice. She caught the blade, effortlessly, in her left hand. The trickle of bluish blood that then ran across the blade and dissipated at the double-notch in front of the handle did not faze her.

Valeria let go of the knife as she rammed her right hand, palm open, into Chris's chest. The force of the impact threw him backwards, knocking the wind out of him. Whether it was some conscious thought or just instinct, he managed to put his left arm behind his head, shielding his skull somewhat when he smacked against the wall. He was so dazed that his vision started to blur and go double, but he was alive. He heard footsteps, but was too out of it to react. "Now, you look like an A to me. Sweeter than other kinds, really." Chris's eyes refocused in time to see Valeria hovering over him, eyes closed, and mouth open. She breathed in deep…and coughed. "Garlic, darling? How rude. I suppose I'll just have to kill you. What a dreadful waste." Chris had luckily remembered to apply a jury-rigged "cologne" of garlic and water to his neck before venturing out here. As Chris senses returned further, he noticed that his right hand had tightly gripped the kukri the entire time. With little hesitation, he brought his right hand up, and with a slight flick of his wrist, Chris sliced open the vampire's torso on her left side. She grimaced slightly, and slid back. Chris got up off the ground and watched as the wound stopped bleeding and closed itself, leaving white flesh underneath a large gash taken out of Valeria's jacket. Chris smiled, before asking, "How about a second round?" He moved towards the middle of the room.

Valeria stood about ten feet away from him, before jumping vertically and somehow twisting her body in midair to land on the underside of one of the support girders. Chris kept his eyes trained on her until she walked into the darkened region of the roof, where he lost sight of her completely. "Crap." He heard something behind him, and spun around, coat lagging slightly behind him. There was his target, standing for a moment before she jumped forward, blurring into multiple images of herself, each a half-foot behind the other. Chris leaned and leaped backward as best he could, dodging the swipe of fingernails by a hair's width. It did however, slice off a small hand-sized pouch he had tied to his belt on his front left side. It fell to the floor, spilling its contents. The white kernels of rice spread over roughly a square foot of area. Chris continued to walk backwards, running into the crane in the corner of the room before running to his left, behind another stack of crates. "I totally forgot I had that." Valeria, surprisingly, did not pursue him, but when she had seen the bag, she had put a softer look on her face as she kneeled down to separate the rice. "She's counting itwaitthatactually works!?" Chris tried as best could, but a laugh escaped from his mouth. He put his back to the boxes. Valeria looked up, her face again determined and grim. She looked both ways, saw the pouch of spilled rice, and immediately smiled and went back to counting it. Chris looked back over at her. "I can't get close to her, and she'll be done eventually." He looked around, and suddenly noticed one horribly obvious thing he had overlooked. The crane had been loaded with a large, cubic palette of bricks, and it stood with its cargo up in the air, suspended, ten feet above where the vampire eagerly counted the rice.

Chris sheathed the kukri, and immediately started climbing the crates in front of him. After he got to a stack three crates high, it was an easy jump to the second floor railing. Chris pulled himself over the guardrails and crept to where the main arm of the crane jutted up to a few feet below the ceiling. The cables supporting the palette looked as dilapidated as the rest of the warehouse complex, so he drew the kukri and in one motion, put both hands behind the swing that severed the crane's cables. The next few seconds appeared to happen in slow motion. Valeria looked up at the sound of the noise, and noticed the underside of the palette coming towards her. She stood up quickly, but before she could move, the palette slammed her to the ground face first, crushing her in the process.

Chris scampered over the railing and carefully dropped to the floor, and spun around. The edge of Valeria's shoulders and below had been engulfed by the bricks, but her ribcage was intact. A few of the bricks fell off as she began to stir. She would be free in moments. "I can't stake her from here, but there is another way." After blinking a few times, Chris walked over to her, and grabbed the hair just above her scalp with his left hand. She gave off a sound that was something similar to growling. Chris then gritted his teeth and using his right hand, hit Valeria with a heavy blow to the neck that separated her head from the rest of her. Blood immediately shot out from the head and the rest of the body, although it was only a small fraction of the blood that would have come had she been a normal human. The head gasp for a second before stopping, eyes focused on some distant object and mouth half-open. Chris sighed in relief and then was understandably agitated when the base of the neck burst into purple flame, the dissolved portions slowly reappearing on Valeria's body. He held onto the still-bleeding head at arm's length while his right hand fumbled through his belongings, finding a half-clove of garlic. He twisted the head, and yanked the mouth open, stuffing the clove inside. A slight fizzing sound and accompanying smoke poured out of the mouth as both the head and the body started dissolving in the violet flame that then started. Chris held onto the head as it was consumed in the eerie, cool fire. Although the flames eventually touched his hands, the ethereal flames simply went through them without igniting his hand or sleeve, leaving a strange crisply cool tingling that made him shiver reflexively. The sound of the brick palette dropping a few more inches to the floor as the last of the hair vaporized signaled the end of Valeria Bryant. Chris sighed again, put away the kukri, snapped the sheath, and leaned back against one of the crates as he slid to the floor. "I think I've earned a breather."

Chris had found a recently emptied dumpster outside the rolled-up doors on the warehouse. He glanced at it as he finished his protein bar. "It's almost like food." He tossed the wrapper away and stretched and headed back into the building. It was nearly six o'clock. He leaned against one of the ubiquitous crates and checked his remaining supplies. He had the Maltese cross on his neck, two rounds in the revolver, one full speed-loader, the other half-clove of garlic, a loose mostly silver bullet, his father's kukri, his stake, and mostly importantly, his family's "occupational journal". He opened the somewhat ragged leather-bound book and briefly thumbed through it. He had spent most of yesterday going through it, and nothing stood out as having been overlooked or skipped. He closed it, and secured it under his black coat. He breathed deeply, and walked towards what was hopefully the last door he'd open today. He was wrong. He walked through another corridor with glass-walled offices on the left, except the two or three rooms were lit with fluorescent lighting and otherwise furnished. The two computers in corner desks were turned off, but otherwise the area seemed to have been used recently. Chris finished looking, and as he approached the door at the end of the hallway, he stepped onto an ornate rug fitted before the door. He opened it, and walked through.

As he again stepped on concrete, he noticed a corner section of the warehouse that was furnished. As he walked a few feet from the doorway, he saw a hand come over the top of a large, tall-backed burgundy armchair that faced away from him. A pleasant, refined voice with a mild central European accent addressed him. "Come in, come in, please. I certainly hoped you enjoyed your break." The voice stayed seated, facing away from Chris as he moved towards it. "Are you Lucian Grad?" The figure got up and turned around, revealing an elegantly dressed man of about 30, with long, flowing hair that was somewhere between white and silver-grey, soft red eyes, complimented with a black dress jacket, collared with blood-red fabric and embroidered with gold. An old style frilled white shirt lay underneath it. The man looked out of place, by at least a couple of centuries. "Lucian Mihai Grad the Third, formerly of Walachia." The vampire bowed, and stood facing him. "Thanks, that's I needed to hear." Chris drew his revolver, and aimed at the vampire. He smiled and waved his right index finger at Chris. "Temper, temper. I could stand here and do nothing, and those wouldn't have a chance of hitting me. Besides, I sincerely doubt you have another of those bullets on you, Chris."

Chris looked slightly confused. "How do you…?" "…Know your name and know that you used a bullet of silver engraved with a Christian cross to kill my chief of operations? I am an original. A lord among my kind. My power vastly exceeds that of my associates and I possess none of the weaknesses they have. And of course, I have seen everything and heard everything that my children had. Fernandez, I expected. Norton didn't surprise me. Snyder's death was at least a small surprise, and as for my love, Valeria, I'm surprised there are those who remember about rice. Does that prove it to you?" Chris frowned slightly, and put away the revolver. "We'll be at each other's necks soon enough, so please relax for the time being. Come. I have some refreshments if you'd care to join me." Lucian's voice became increasingly honeyed as his eyes began to glimmer slightly. Chris felt a slight tingle in the back of his mind, but stood where he was. Lucian then stopped and lowered at his enemy. "I see. That doesn't work on you, does it? I'll give you credit, Chris, that you have either a strong mind or a strong bloodline, and thus are cut out for your line of work. So, what brings you here? I would say just a hatred for my kind, but you're different. A bit more intelligent than that." Chris spoke firmly as he clenched his fists by his sides. "You and your associates killed my neighbor, my dorm mistress, and my grandfather." Lucian nodded appropriately. "A noble cause. Norton's testimony checks out then. I have only known of a handful of families who pass down immunity to vampirism. My destiny is to confront Hunters. Yours is to confront those like me. I've been embracing my destiny since the year one thousand, seven hundred seventy." Chris wasn't impressed, and blinked a few times, before continuing to listen. Lucian frowned slightly and continued. "I have killed more Slayers and Hunters than I care to remember. Most were mundane, but they have been four, make that five, including you, that I considered skilled. The last was in 1954. A very skilled girl named Rica Belomodia, same age as you are now." Chris remembered hearing the surname countless times earlier in the day. "Belomodia…" "What is the Belomodia family?" Lucian raised an eye. "Surely, you're heard of them. Her branch of the family had anglicized the name to 'Belmont', but back home, Belomodia is the standard form." "So it is true."

"What happened to her?" "She was immune as you are, and thus once I defeated her, I killed her. Hold on a moment, and I'll show you." Lucian calmly walked past his chair, past an enormous red embroidered rug and finally stopped at the wall, and turned on a switch. The quarter of the warehouse that contained apparently living quarters was bathed in cool, blue-white light. "Cool fluorescent lighting. One of the most useful things that has come out in the past few decades. Over here." Lucian pointed with his white-gloved hand at a large display case, mounted on the metal wall that was now easily visible. Behind the glass were no less than a dozen swords of vary styles: two sabers, a rapier, a matched pair of longswords, a falchion, a gladius, a tulwar, a hand-and-a-half sword, and a scimitar were those immediately recognizable to Chris. Others, more esoteric, lay on the right hand side of the enormous glass-covered case. Among them, was an embellished and strange-looking leather and steel whip. "That, my friend, is the whip of a Belmont. Unlike most people would think, it is not the whip, but a whip. The family has several like it; all named appropriately named 'Vampire Killer'."

Lucian then removed a key, unlocking and opening the left half of the case. He removed the rapier, and then a longsword. Lucian commented, "I think this is more your style," as he threw the weapon, in scabbard, to Chris. "I'm fighting you with this?" Lucian smiled. "Not today, I'm afraid. I have something much more…entertaining. I bit her myself, but she's not normal by my standards—still needs to eat normal foods, and typically sleeps at night, but she's still a vampire. Lucian laid the bare rapier on the ground next to the display case. Chris put the sling that was attached to the scabbard over his shoulder so that the sword lay diagonally on his back, pinning his trench coat closer to him. Meanwhile, the lord walked over to a door not in the middle of the wall, but in the corner of the furnished quarter of the room. Lucian opened the door and addressed some unseen person inside it. "Put down the book for a moment, dear, and come here. I don't want to have to force you to do it, right?" Lucian, still in the doorway, turned to Chris. "I'm sure you know Ms. Silva, right?" Lucian walked back into the main room, with a girl of nineteen behind him. She was dressed similarly to Valeria, in a smooth black uniform jacket with black pants, and long, straight platinum hair. She wore no lipstick. "Jessica?" Chris was stunned. To think that his next-door neighbor, the girl that perpetually and inevitably sat behind him in class, and his long time friend, killed, presumably in a car accident, was here, standing before him, was literally beyond comprehension. He hadn't even gotten to the fact that she was now a vampire when she recognized him. "Chris!?" Lucian held out his right arm, keeping Jessica Silva where she was. He then spoke. "It's amazing what you can do when you can force someone's heart to stop for as long as necessary, since the clinical definition of death no longer applies. "You see, Chris, to start this off, you shall be sword fighting Jessica.

"Are you a fool, Lucian? I don't care that he's probably the vampire hunter you said was in the building earlier. I'm not going to fight him!" Lucian smiled, revealing his teeth. "Temper, my darling. The entertaining part of this is you don't have a choice. You shall do it, whether or not you wish to." Chris felt that strange tingle again as Lucian Grad's eyes began to shimmer again. Jessica's expression went neutral, and said, very plainly, "Yes." She walked over to where the rapier lay, and picked it up. She went into a fighting stance, looking at Chris with absolutely no emotion. He then remembered something from the journal. "The mental domination of both lesser vampires and common people is within their grasp and many a weak-willed hunter has found himself killed or under their control." Chris withdrew the longsword from his back and looked at Grad, who had turned his armchair to face the duel about to be played out on the concrete and already sat down in it, folding his right leg over his left. "You know, Grad, you're a heck of a heartless bastard." He nodded. "Of course. One must agree it wouldn't be as fun if I let such compunctious emotions rule me."

With that, Jessica, charged forward into a lunge. Chris jumped backward. He parried the next attack, and had an idea while he blocked the next attack. "He said she's not a normal vampire. I wonder if…" Chris jumped backward, until he was a good ten feet out of the way, and sheathed the sword on his back. "Forgive me." He withdrew the pistol, aimed with both hands, and fired. The first shot hit her in the right hand, causing her to drop the sword out of reflex. It also surprised her, and before she could do anything else, or rather, before Grad could force her to do anything else, he used the last chamber's round. It hit her in the right eye, and gave off quite a bit of blood as it knocked her backwards and immediately to the ground. Chris noticed the blood wasn't red as normal, but it wasn't as dark as the other vampires. Jessica stayed motionless on the ground. He then hit the switch on the side, the cylinder rolling to the left. He tapped the end of the ejector rod and got out the speed loader, tapping six new rounds before closing the cylinder and putting the empty plastic holder in one of his myriad pockets. His next shot hit the armchair. When the bullet arrived, however, the vampire had been replaced with a deep, miasma of purple mist hovering over the chair. The mist moved towards him and suddenly disappeared. He heard Lucian's voice behind him. "I'll have to say, you're quite fond of that thing." Chris closed his eyes. He had no idea what exactly he was doing, but he felt he could do it. Chris placed the revolver upside down on his right shoulder, and fired. He opened his eyes to hear grunting for a moment and the sound of metal hitting the floor. "Too fond of that thing." He turned around, but heard the sound of mist again, and then saw Lucian at the weapon case. He fired twice, but a shimmer of whitish light deflected the rounds. "Two bullets left Chris; I suggest you save them for later, because they're not going to work any longer." He put the pistol away, and took out both the longsword and the stake. When Lucian stomped the handle of the rapier and then caught it in his right hand, Chris was there. Chris deflected the rapier with an upward slash, and brought the stake in with a jab from the left. The tip stopped six inches of Lucian's chest, stopped by the same whitish intangible field. Chris continued to press the stake into the now-apparent force field. "What are you trying to accomplish?" The field began to crackle with purple streaks, and suddenly, one of the bolts of purple lightning crept up the stake and hit Chris in the chest. Chris was thrown backwards a good ten feet and skidded back two yards more. He put the stake away, and got up, using the sword as a support. He gritted his teeth and readied himself.

With kukri in left hand and the longsword in his right, Chris breathed deeply. He was getting tired. "I suppose, in this business, fatigue is a cause of death." Lucian ran forward towards him, blurring into multiple images as Valeria had done. Chris attempted to block, but the kukri was knocked out of his hands, landing to the left near the wall. The next hit disarmed him of the sword. Lucian held out his left hand, and without even touching him, a brief gust of wind focused around the vampire's hand and then shot, in a sphere, towards Chris. It knocked him back, flipping him vertically backwards once, landing him on his stomach. He slowly got up, watching as Lucian dropped the rapier. "I think I'll have some fun of the sort I haven't had in a good century." He smiled, almost demonically, as he lowered his head. His head twitched, slightly and then more violently, as he leaned forward onto all fours. By the time his hands touched the ground, they were no longer hands…they were paws. Standing before Chris was the largest wolf he had ever seen. It was easily the size of a large bear, covered in jet white fur and with glowing red eyes that were undeniably evil. The wolf spoke in a deep, throaty voice that sounded as vicious as it looked. "I bet you weren't expecting that, now were you?" Chris smiled. "No, but I've read about it." The wolf then charged, leaping towards Chris. He did not cower or put up his hands, but simply stood there. To his amazement, he was neither bitten nor clawed. Instead, as the wolf approached a rectangle of blue-white light glowed through his trench coat. Although with no sound, the light increased in intensity, and suddenly turned to a sphere of light around him, the wolf hovering diagonally above him, and was instantly forced backwards. The light then shimmered and disappeared. A now human Lucian stood before him. "A copy of the good book, hm? What most hunters fail to remember that it only works once." Lucian did the near-teleporting slide to the rapier, picked it up, and returned in front of Chris, walking forward. "You're out of tricks boy. You have no more gimmicks to save you this time." Chris stood still.

Lucian held his right arm backwards, and Chris watched as the blade as a purple mist covered the rapier's blade. Suddenly, Lucian gasped, dropped the rapier, and looked down as a wide saber blade emerged from his chest. Jessica stood behind the vampire, holding the saber with both hands. She leaned slightly around Lucian and looked at Chris. "Chris!" "Gotcha." With an action that was becoming disturbingly regular, Chris took the stake and plunged it just to the right and above where the saber blade resided. It went deep. Lucian screamed and fell to his knees. The encompassing violet flame sprang to life around him, but much slower than the others, as if to reflect his stature among his kind. "Chris?" Lucian spoke in a strained, airy, light voice that sounded as if he were already a ghost. "How many times… have you done this?" Chris looked at the almost pathetic effigy now being slowly dissolved by the ethereal flames. "Never. This was my first time vampire hunting." Lucian gave off something between a wheeze and a laugh. "I suppose…that explains…your erratic behavior…and without a relic, either. I never heard…your full name." Chris nodded. "Christopher Laurens Van Helsing." "A good name…I would say that I…would see you later…but we won't, will we?" With that, the last of Lucian Mihai Grad the Third dissolved into nothingness, the stake and the saber falling to the ground. A strong gust of wind blew through the building, just for a moment a few seconds afterward.

Jessica left the saber where it lay, but Chris picked it up and placed it back in the weapons rack. Jessica walked up to him…and promptly slapped on the right side of the face so hard, it stunned him momentarily. "Ah. What was that—?" Jessica interrupted him, sounding more perturbed than normal. "That was for shooting me…twice, moron. Just because I couldn't control my actions didn't mean that I was unaware of what I was doing. My senses still worked, and I can personally tell you, being shot in the face certainly hurts like hell!" Chris glanced left and right quickly and finally bowed his head. "Sorry." His guilt was then halted by a quick peck to the check. He raised an eyebrow. "And that?" "…was for saving me." She pointed her left index finger at him. "Don't get any ideas, Chris. One time offer, while supplies last, 'kay?" "Time to go home, then? Need a ride? My car's parked a few buildings down." She rolled her eyes. "Great. I'm supposed to be dead, but I'm stuck as a freakish mockery of life, instead. How wonderful. I suppose I can explain to my parents. Once they get over their initial shock though…oh boy. They'll see you as the valiant hero and shower you with more praise than you deserve. I just hope they don't decide to set me up with you." Chris looked at her. "Don't worry, if they do, I'll refuse." "Good."

Chris surveyed the living quarters of the warehouse and the small storage room. The later of which had apparently been converted to a bedroom. He noticed a large, carved camphor chest at the foot of one of the beds. "Say, Jess, any clothes you want to keep?" She shook her head. "Valeria bought clothes for me. Better than a hospital gown, sure, but…well…they scare me." "That was my opinion, although she really didn't appreciate hearing my thoughts." Jessica looked at him. "Is she dead, I hope?" "Again? Very." Jessica opened the trunk and took out most of the clothes, and put in the few hardcover books she had around the bed. She then lifted the chest with almost no effort. Chris was a bit…surprised. "Where's that going?" "Duh, I'm taking it with us, right?" Chris tossed around the idea in his head. "I don't think that pillaging would be such a bad thing. Sure, the furniture's out of the question, and I doubt that huge rug would fit in my trunk, but it would be cool to keep those weapons. Especially the whip."

Chris helped Jessica load a few knickknacks into the chest before it became evident that several trips would be required to load things into the car. As they walked through the warehouse in which he had fought Norton, he saw the rectangle of light had gone down in intensity to a mild ray from the sunset. "Careful there, there's some salt, you might want to walk around—. Never mind." As he spoke, Jessica walked with the chest directly over the salt scattered on the ground. She continued to walk towards the door. As she approached the sunlight section of the floor, Chris got panicky. "Wait! You want to kill yourself!?" He stood in front of her as he saw her growing irritated. "Like I said Chris, I'm not normal. I'm not a normal person, but I'm not a normal vampire, either. Sunlight…doesn't kill me. Sure, I sunburn inhumanly fast, but that's beside the point." A few minutes later, the trunk was in the trunk, and Chris had used the pair of keys on one of the tables to unlock the right half of the display case. As he took out the whip, he noticed that as soon as he touched it, it started to glow faintly deep blue. "Definitely keeping this one." A few trips later, he had over a dozen melee implements next to the camphor chest, wrapped in several coarse blankets he kept in the car for such uses. As he opened the driver's side car door, Jessica did the same. "Come on, let's go home." After he said it, Chris had a blinding flash of the obvious. "Hey Jess, what was your last name?" "Silva." "No, I mean before your parents got divorced. Maybe… what's your mother's maiden name?" She thought a moment before answering. "I think it's Harker, why?" Chris laughed uncontrollably for a few seconds before sitting in the driver's seat. "Nothing."