"In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."
Dan followed the priest's lead and blessed himself, making the sign of the cross as he had done hundreds of times before. They were to have a small communion service right there in the lounge room, to consecrate the passing of forbidden knowledge. A little melodramatic, Dan thought, but he had already made up his mind and was ready to accept the consequences of that decision. He was surprised to hear Father D recite the incantations in traditional Latin, a practice performed by few American priests since the Second Vatican Council. His own high school Latin was a little rusty, but he managed to follow along.
Father D continued, his head bowed in prayer. "Introibo ad altare Dei…"
I will go to the altar of God, Dan translated the words in his mind.
"…Judica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta…" Do me justice O God, and fight my fight against an unholy people…
"…emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam: ipsa me deduxerunt et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum, et in tabernacula tua…" Send forth Thy light and Thy truth: for they have led me and brought me to Thy holy hill and Thy dwelling place...
"Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Amen." Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The priest then turned to the table where the two chalices lay, and removed the top cloths. Dan saw the wafer-thin Eucharist contained in one chalice, and dark-red wine in the other. In all of his life and in all of the times that he had ever received communion, never before did they convey such meaning as they did to him now.
Father D raised the chalices over his head, one by one. "Christi accepit panem, bene dixit, fregit, deditque discilulis suis, dicens: Accipite, et manducate ex hoc omnes : hoc est enim corpus meum." Christ took bread, blessed it and broke it, gave it to his disciples saying: 'Take all of you and eat, for this is my Body.' The priest continued in Latin. Christ took the cup, blessed it and gave it to his disciples and said 'Take all of you and drink, for this is the cup of my Blood.'
The priest set both chalices down and prayed, "Corpus et Sanguis Domine nostri Jesus Christi custodiat animam meam in vitam aeternam. Amen." May the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve my soul to life everlasting. Amen.
The wafer was broken in half and split between the two men. They ate the wafer and drank the wine in silence.
God, if you're still looking out for me, Dan thought to himself, help me understand the path I'm about to follow…
Dan guessed, in the windowless room, that it was well past sunset by the time they were done. He still felt extremely tired, though the small bit of food he ate after communion helped a great deal.
Father D folded his large hands together and rested them on the table between them. His mood appeared exact and full of purpose, like a court prosecutor delivering his opening statement. "I'll try to be as clear as I can, Daniel, but bear with me. The vampire is a wholly evil creature, an unearthly predator who has fed from mankind even before civilization. No human knows their exact physical origin because that is a well-guarded secret that few of them even know. One supposed theory says that it started with Cain after he slew Abel, but we can't be sure. In any case, they have dwelled among us through the ages. So no, they don't just come from Transylvania, though there was a prolonged peak in activity there centuries ago which most likely popularized the legends. In fact, every culture in recorded history has its own version of a blood-drinking creature. Bhuta, chiang-shih, kyuketsuki, bruja, lamia, vampyre, strigoui, nosferatu…all different names but all basically the same parasitic entity. They do mainly feed from the neck of the victim, but in essence any source of human blood can suffice, as long as it is living blood."
"Why is that?" Dan asked immediately.
"The vampire's body is dead, which explains why it is cool to the touch. To re-animate it, they need a living source of life to take. Human blood, the source of life for us—created in God's image—is on the highest order. Dead blood is no good to them."
"Makes sense. But how does a person become a vampire to begin with? It's through the bite and blood sucking, isn't it?"
The priest shook his head. "That's a simplified myth propagated through superstition. As far as we know, becoming a vampire is a complicated business. Folklore around the world offers plenty of reasons why a person becomes a vampire after death. The vampire bite is the most common. Once bitten, a victim does not immediately become another vampire, contrary to popular belief. However, the vampire does gain a kind of psychological hold on the person. The hold becomes stronger as the vampire feeds more and more from the victim, causing him or her to behave in an increasingly irrational manner, almost to the point of complete mental breakdown. In the event where the bloodletting human has outlived its usefulness, the vampire can choose to sire a new vampire, or kill the victim outright. Not all vampires can sire, however. It seems to depend on age: the older the vampire, the greater the potential to sire more vampires.
"How they start out as vampires to begin with is mere speculation. It's generally believed that various crimes committed in life may damn a person after death, a 'vampire born of sin,' so to speak: murderers, liars and thieves, satanists, excommunicants from the Church, suicides and the like." The priest's face then turned grim, and Dan suddenly felt a coldness enter the room. "But in some European countries, blasphemers and those who forsake God were the worst offenders. It was thought that anyone who committed these wicked acts were damned for eternity, with no hope of redemption."
"Because they renounced God who gave them life," Dan thought aloud.
"Precisely. The Baltics and Slavs believed that these particular sinners were sure to become vampires. However, don't take the myths too literally, because they run the gamut from the heinous to the mundane. Believe it or not, untimely deaths and even those with unhappy lives were considered candidates."
Dan chuckled incredulously. "Well that should cover just about everyone on planet Earth! By that logic, we should be up to our eyeballs in blood-suckers."
"Like I said, turning into a vampire is not easy, and these are just myths. Most of what we track today are fledglings, newly 'turned' vampires who are inexperienced in dealing with the vampirism. They're the least difficult to hunt and kill. The older ones are a lot smarter, a lot more careful. They hide in the woodwork of society, often surrounding themselves with layer after layer of protection. Some will even command human servants to protect them during the day."
"Human servants?" Dan repeated in disbelief.
"They're called familiars. Humans who may or may not be bloodletting for their vamp masters, promised immortality in exchange for their services. In the end they're just tools, and the vamps will kill them if needed. Understand, Daniel, that self-preservation is the vamps' top priority, and like animal's instinct they will do whatever is necessary to ensure their own survival." Father D paused. "But by no means are they simply blood-drinking zombies. They can still think, and even feel, for themselves. Some even retain the identities they once had in life, because their souls have been trapped in a corrupted body after death. As I told you before, the reason why we and others like us are hunting these creatures is to set their souls free from eternal damnation. To re-unite them with God, so to speak."
"You mean you're trying to do God a favor, by correcting his mistakes. Basically cleaning up after his mess, right?"
"Say it however you want, detective. But vampires are an abomination on this earth, and they must be dealt with."
"So how do you kill them?"
Father D stood and began pacing around the room. "It isn't easy. They have enormous advantages over human beings. For one, vampires are extremely strong and very fast-moving. You've seen that for yourself, detective. Their senses are heightened, and they can see in the dark. We're not certain that they can shape-shift into bats and wolves or such, but we do know they definitely use shadows and dark places to their advantage. Their wounds heal at a phenomenal rate, we've learned, given that they have a healthy supply of blood in their bodies. Some have other unnatural powers that we're not sure of.
"But, they're not entirely invincible. There are in fact a number of methods in which a vampire can be permanently destroyed. It is true that sunlight and fire have proven to be the most effective. Piercing the heart is not enough to kill, it only incapacitates them. At that point you can cut off the head or rip out the heart, then burn them. Given their incredible stamina though, it often helps to weaken them first. Let me show you something."
Father D went toward the cabinets and retrieved a large, expandable attaché case. He set it on the table and opened it, presenting to Dan many odd-looking items as well as some familiar objects inside: a large, intricately carved crucifix, glass and metal ampoules filled with clear liquid, vials of grayish-white powder.
"What are these?" Dan asked curiously.
"Reliquaries," the priest answered, holding the items one by one. "Water from the spring of Lourdes, Gregorian water blessed at the Vatican, pages from an original Gutenberg Bible, the ashes of several saints. They work on occasion, but crucifixes and other holy relics are useless unless the vampire was a Christian in life. These vials here contain the essence of garlic specially grown in the hills of Judea, where Christ lived. Garlic is effective against some vampires, but not all."
Dan examined each item in his hand with keen interest. Having seen such relics gave him a sense of legitimacy to the world in which he was now entering. He'd have to remember to tell Jo about all of this, if he ever saw her again. "What about conventional weapons, like guns?" he asked.
Father D replaced the relics and locked the attaché case. "Guns don't inflict any lasting damage to their bodies, but we've found that silver bullets do slow them down better than your ordinary ammo. Again, vampires are not invincible. They are most vulnerable when they sleep during the day or when they are in the process of feeding. We try to use that to our advantage when we can. Different methods of hunting work for different groups, but here we try to mix and match it up a bit."
Dan eyed him closely. "That's twice you've mentioned that there are groups other than you."
The priest smirked as he sat again at the table. "Vampire hunters are a tricky subject, Daniel. As you can imagine, hunters have been around nearly as long as vampires. But we don't all have the same 'agenda,' so to speak. It may seem strange to you, but not everyone who hunts vampires does so to do God's work."
"You all don't work together?" Dan asked in a puzzled manner.
"We don't usually keep in contact with other hunters. In fact, we rarely communicate with them at all. It's better that way, you see. If the possibility should arise that one of us were ever turned, then the amount of information used against other hunters would be minimal. The vamps would only know about our own particular outfit. In addition to that, only I plan our operations while Ethan does most of the grunt work." A pause. "I'll admit, I try to tell Ethan as little as possible about a specific assignment, which may actually endanger his life. Deplorable, I know, but it's the only safety net we've got."
"You keep your own teammates in the dark? You must consider yourself extremely valuable then, Father. Should the vamps ever get a hold of you…"
"You're right," the priest cut in quickly. "I do consider myself very valuable. And that's why the damned vamps will never get me."
Dan nodded, staring at the priest's hands. His mind reeled from learning so much in such a short time. Yet he knew he wanted more answers. "What about me?" he finally asked. "I've already been bitten. You said earlier that vampires had a hold on their victims. What's going to happen to me?"
There was no emotion in Father D's expression. "As long as you are not fed from again by that vampiress, this female we're currently after, then eventually you will fully recover."
Dan felt like his head was spinning. He remembered the dark-haired girl then, the one who enraptured him on that stairwell and who became a monstrous abomination. In the instant that he did, his still-recovering heart began pounding so much it hurt. He pushed forward, wanting to learn everything all at once. Connections were slowly being made, but not nearly enough and still he hungered for more. His legs couldn't stop shaking. "Why are you after her? What do you know about her? What's her name?"
The priest sighed heavily. "We don't know her real name. We've only discovered a few aliases that she's used before. No medical records or history of her past, which leads me to believe that she's very old. Molly and Ethan refer to her as the Daemon; there's a history there that I'd rather not get into."
"You mean they've been after her before?"
Father D seemed to ignore the question. "We first tracked her in the U.K. several years ago for another mysterious death, but she disappeared off the radar. Then word got out about your homicide cases, and we had a hunch it was her. Turns out we got lucky. This vamp is extremely hard to find, even for us." His eyebrows furrowed, thinking. "But this time she seems unfocused, almost careless. That burnt-out apartment where Ethan found you…normally she would have been long gone before we'd ever found out she was there. Ethan tells me that he found the two of you on that stairwell. Talking." Here, the priest leaned forward. "I'm curious, Daniel. What did she say to you?"
Dan shifted uneasily in his chair then. "She asked me to help save a woman named Jackie, who was my prime suspect at the time. She lived in that apartment, but now it seems to me that she might have been a familiar to that girl…that vampire." Even now, it was still difficult to call that dark-haired girl a vampire. It was something he needed to get used to; he was in too far now to go back.
"That's interesting." Father D sat back with arms crossed, rubbing his day-old beard. "Did she say anything else?"
"No." But she had. A simple 'Thank you' that struck a chord within his soul. A thought occurred to Dan then. "You followed me from the nightclub to Jackie's apartment, didn't you? You weren't able to find her for yourself, so you kept track of my movements and my investigation!"
"As I've said before," Father D interrupted calmly, "this vamp is extremely difficult to track down. You had all the leads and all the evidence. We needed all the help we could afford, so we led you down the right path. Think about it. The crucifix at the police station? The room in the nightclub which I sanctified with holy water and the Eucharist? All of that was to get you on our side and on the same page. We were in fact helping each other, detective, whether you knew it or not."
Realization hit home, flushing Dan's pale face with heat. "Was that what you meant earlier, then, when you said you needed my help? You want me to join your group. That's why you're keeping me here, isn't it?"
The priest faced him. "You are one of the best and brightest on the force. You also have a penchant for the unusual and an open mind. We could use a man like you on the team. The reason why I've told you everything here in this room tonight is because I trust you. I trust your judgement, and know that you will do the right thing. And I also know that you want to find the truth behind these murders. We believe that girl is searching for something or someone in particular, but we haven't figured out who or what yet. You, Daniel, could help us find this vamp, and prevent the loss of more lives. Remember, this is a creature that, by its very existence, defies God's Creation. Help us put a stop to her for good!"
Doubts began sprouting into Dan's head. Instinct told him to never just accept something until he had heard all sides to the story. But in this case, who was the other side? Could he try to find her, and perhaps learn something from her? That's ridiculous, his mind shot back. She just drank your blood, and now you want to go looking for her? And could he really trust Father D and the others? He couldn't be sure now; he already had the nagging feeling that the priest was keeping a lot of things from him, despite everything he had revealed. Never before had Dan felt so conflicted than at this very moment.
Father D stood to put the attaché case away. "I know that you're starting to question what you're hearing," he said over his shoulder. "I make it sound like a concrete fact, that they're all evil, that there must be a flaw or loophole in my reasoning. That they can't all be evil creatures, and that their vampirism can be explained away by modern medicine."
"Isn't it possible? New diseases are being discovered all the time; why not vampires as people needing help?"
"Believe me, if vampirism was a mere medical condition, like this so-called 'Renfield Syndrome' psychs are throwing around these days, then we wouldn't be talking here right now." He turned and faced Dan. "Sleep on it tonight, and think it over. I want you to make the right choice on your own. But before you do, perhaps it would help to see a glimpse of the world in which we operate."
"What do you mean?"
The priest put on his overcoat and checked his watch. "There's an underground network operating here in Philadelphia that you're probably not aware of. A network run by vampire familiars to recruit more human servants. One of our secondary objectives is to put it out of commission. Why not tag along with us tomorrow night, Daniel?"
Dan couldn't answer at first. A vampire familiar network? The idea was intriguing, and curiosity was in his nature. He began to see that peeling back the layers of this new world was happening much faster than he thought. But this was what he wanted when he had said 'yes.'
He stood. "No better time than the present to learn a few things, right?"
Father D only nodded. "Good. Keep resting, and we'll link up with Molly and Ethan tomorrow night. Look alive, detective! We're going to pay an unexpected visit to some dead-head wannabes."