Julius Jordan eased around the bend in the sewer tunnel and stopped when he saw the body. Darkness pressed in, giving him pause. He couldn’t shake the feeling like this scene was somehow important, staged for someone to find. Why, or how he came to that conclusion, he wasn’t quite sure. It was pure instinct. Growing up on the streets of Queens, Julius had learned to rely on his instincts. They had kept him alive time after time. Most vampire hunters didn’t live to see their one year anniversary. Yet he had already seen his fourth.
He squinted behind his night vision goggles paying close attention to the chest cavity, hoping to see it rise and fall with the tell-tale sign of life. Nothing moved. It was quiet as a tomb down there. Moving closer, silent and stealthy as any experienced vampire hunter would, finger hovering millimeters over the trigger of his shotgun, Julius was ready for anything.
Having no military or police training made Julius a prime candidate for being named his unit’s point man. At first he despised it. After a while the position grew on him. After a while the position grew on him. Point men, while typically first into battle, were often out in front alone. Getting away from some of the other grunts, not to mention his idiotic Commanding Officer, could be heavenly. Whenever there was dirty work to be done, it always seemed to come his way.
Julius neared the body and immediately noticed a lack of stench and blood. Strange. It couldn’t have been here that long. There should have been some sign of attack. The woman appeared beautiful, even after death had claimed her. The corpse’s pale blue eyes stared unblinking, yet seemed to follow him as he knelt for a closer look. Her hair floated atop a fetid pool of water and it almost seemed like she was moving ethereally along the floor of the tunnel. If, you know, it hadn’t been for the whole being dead part.
Goosebumps dotted Julius’ skin as icy breath seemingly exhaled down the back of his neck, like the woman’s ghost lingered behind him. He rubbed at the spot absentmindedly unable to shake the feeling like he shouldn’t be down there.
“We’ve got another one,” Julius said softly into his radio. His words bounced along the tunnel walls and distorted with a slight phantom quality. It sounded like his ghost was mocking him. He didn’t like ghosts, or being in dank sewers.
“Copy,” Special Agent Kent’s response echoed back. None of the other grunts had much respect for the guy. He never seemed interested in getting his hands dirty. Kent cleared his throat. “How many does that make?”
“That makes three in as many days,” Julius responded, not trying to hide his annoyance. Someday his superior officer would listen to him, the first time.
Julius eased the corpse onto her back with his boot. Something gnawed at him. There was no denying the bite marks were vampiric in origin, but the gaping hole above the heart had him stumped. All three corpses had been found the same way, and all three had been women.
“Each one died the same?” Kent asked. It was the same question he asked after the discovery of each body. “HQ is going to want specifics.”
Julius shook his head incredulously. “Copy that, sir. If you want to be sure, you’re going to have to come down here and see for yourself.”
Laughter crackled through the small speaker clipped to Julius’ shoulder. He couldn’t blame the other grunts. They all knew Special Agent Kent wanted nothing to do with dark places and dead bodies. He hadn’t followed his men into a den yet. Julius was beginning to wonder if his commanding officer knew how to properly discharge his sidearm.
“That’s a negative, Jordan,” came Kent’s reply. “Your report will be more than enough.”
Ever since V-day, when the feral vampires first emerged four years ago, the pale skinned freaks had taken to the sewers and other dark places of New York City. Any kind of bright light was lethal to their kind. It was the OVA’s, or Office of Vampire Affairs, job to deal with anything and everything vampiric in origin. Any vampire incident was channeled through local law enforcement to them.
Julius hurried back up the ladder to his squad, staying as quiet as possible. Some Feral may be close by. It would be better to have the jump on them instead of the other way around.
“Listen up people,” Kent said, addressing the seven men fanned out before him. “I want a thorough sweep of these tunnels. Split into three teams of two and report anything suspicious. Avoid any firefights if you can. We don’t need another bloodbath on our hands. I’m mostly talking to you, Gorman.”
Gorman did his best to look offended and said, “Who me? I was just trying to save Boscoe’s sorry ass last time.”
“Yeah, Boscoe, make sure your boots are tied before you tuck tail and run,” one of the other guys added, with a snicker.
“Hey, screw you guys. Like any of you never tripped before.” Boscoe nudged Gorman. “Fifty bucks says I kill more suckheads than you.”
Gorman raised an eyebrow and cracked a smile. “If you’ve got money to throw away, I’d be happy to take it off your hands.”
“Fall in and shut up,” Kent barked. “I want this done by the book. Understood?”
“Yes, sir!” the team responded in one intimidating voice. Any trace of a brevity vanished.
The OVA had been established shortly after V-day. The US government had to scramble to save a modicum of its reputation with the general public. The recruiting had been fast and furious with ex-military, members of various law enforcement agencies, and anyone with vampiric expertise getting the call. Hell, any mercenary with a thirst for blood had been accepted.
It had been easy for Julius to get into the OVA after his partner vouched for him. Julius met Luke Gorman four years ago down in the abandoned subway tunnels under Central Park. Together they escaped with their lives from the first contact with the feral vampires. They had been inseparable ever since.
“Gorman, you and your partner have point,” Kent ordered.
“You got it boss,” Luke responded.
Julius was reminded again why didn’t like Special Agent Kent. The guy was a gutless coward who didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground. He liked to act like he did, but a closer look revealed the truth. They had lost so many good agents in the first four years that the less reputable ones were left to pick up the pieces and run the show. It was wearing Julius thin.
“Let’s get the job done and come home safe,” Kent said, his tone softening. It sounded more like an afterthought.
“What about you, sir? You coming hunting?” Julius asked, his words as sharp as the combat knife on his belt.
“I’ll be guarding your six with Private Ortiz.”
That made sense. Ortiz was still too green to be running into a den of Feral. He was a good kid, but one look and anyone could tell he had already soiled himself.
“Keep your ears open and your goggles on,” Julius said, clasping Ortiz on the shoulder. “If someone approaches without giving the challenge word, shoot first and ask questions later.”
Ortiz swallowed hard and nodded, clearly caught up in the gravity of the situation.
“Hey, kid,” Gorman called. “What’s the challenge word?”
“You got it. What’s the response?”
“Honey,” Ortiz said, sounding a little more confident.
Gorman turned to Julius and said, “Don’t worry about him. He’ll be just fine. Besides, he has Kent here to watch over him.”
“Ain’t nothing getting out this way,” Ortiz said through a thin smile.
“Check your ammo and gear before going,” Gorman reminded his men.
Foxtrot squad looked each other over one last time before embarking on their mission. It had become a ritual since Lieutenant Minh lost her life because her pistol’s safety was still engaged. Each member readied their weapons, made sure their goggles were on, and checked that Boscoe’s boots were tied. They all dressed in matching uniforms, covered in black from neck to toes. Some wore Kevlar helmets, others balaclavas, and some, like Gorman, wore nothing atop their heads at all.
They broke off into three teams of two as commanded. Julius and Luke took the center tunnel while the other two teams broke off into adjoining tunnels to the left and right of them.
When they were far enough along Julius said, “Can you believe that guy?”
“What a turd,” Luke said through laughter.
“If he sticks his head any further up command’s ass, his skin might actually turn brown like mine.”
“Tell me about it,” Luke griped. “If ass kissing was a sport, Special Agent Kent would hold all the records.”
Julius tensed. The stale smell of unwashed bodies hung on the air. Some Feral were probably close by. Either that or Luke badly needed a shower. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Luke held up a hand. They stopped. Julius crouched and donned his goggles. He switched to the thermal setting. Two heat sources. He held up two fingers. His partner nodded.
Julius readied his automatic shotgun. Luke preferred his silenced sniper rifle. Satisfied they were ready, the two OVA agents nodded and moved forward.
Luke led the way. His eyes easily cut through the darkness without the aid of any technology. One of the many perks of being a vampire.
They crept around the bend. Two feral vampires slept below a leaky set of pipes. Normally that would be a welcome sight, but the Feral usually had a sentry or two guarding the sleepers.
As if on cue, a shriek from one of the other tunnels broke the silence. The two slumbering Feral jumped to their feet. Both their bellies were bloated from a recent feast. They’d be sluggish, slow to react.
Julius grinned. Easy pickings. He rushed the closest one and unloaded a round into its face. It wouldn’t be getting up anymore. The other creature turned and lunged toward him when a single bullet exploded through its head. The chunks hit Julius in the face. It was a good thing his mouth had been closed.
“That’s just nasty,” Julius whispered. He wiped most of the gore onto his sleeve.
“Chalmers, Boscoe, report.” Luke spoke softly into his radio then waited.
There were more screeches from the mouth of the tunnel. No chatter from the radio.
“We’ve got to move,” Julius whispered with a newfound sense of urgency.
By the time Julius and Luke reached the mouth of the tunnel, they noticed a group of five feral vampires splashing away from them. It looked like the creatures were trying to escape. Two of them separated from the main group and turned back toward the two OVA agents. Probably the sentries.
Julius ran out to greet them. His shotgun plowed into the milky white flesh and made quick work of them. Luke followed as fast as he could, but Julius was too light on his feet. The other three vampires were headed toward the entrance, right for the rookie.
“Julius, wait. You don’t know how many more are out there,” Luke called after him.
Julius heard but didn’t stop. If anything he ran faster.
The screams that echoed from ahead were definitely human. Julius’ blood froze. The sound of a man being ripped to shreds still had that effect on him even after four years. The only thing he could do was find another speed, so he did.
The Feral must have taken Ortiz by surprise. The rookie lay there barely alive with two Feral gnawing at him, one at his arm the other at his leg.
Julius eased up behind the closest feeding vampire and squeezed the trigger. The first vampire was so engrossed in its meal that it didn’t notice the gun barrel until it was too late. The second looked up and shouted out a shrill challenge which Julius gladly accepted. Before the emaciated vampire could get to its feet, a single round greeted her face and sent her flying, ending her snack.
Julius grimaced at the sight of so much blood. “What happened?”
“It was Kent. That bastard pushed me into those things so he could get away.”
“That son of a bitch.”
One look at Ortiz and Julius knew he didn’t have much time left. Soon he would turn into one of those pale skinned freaks and try to eat the rest of the team. It was best to take care of him now, before the change.
Luke finally caught up. “What in the hell happened here?”
“Kent fed Ortiz to the freaks so he could escape.”
“How bad is he?” Luke asked.
Julius looked from Ortiz to Luke and shook his head.
Luke motioned Julius away. “Go check on the others. I’ll take care of Ortiz.”
Julius couldn’t get away fast enough. He never could bring himself to take care of people he knew. It was one of his few weaknesses. Luke had always done the dirty work in their unit. A good man deserved a clean death. Ortiz was a good man even if he was new to the unit. They were brothers in battle, and brothers were supposed to look out for each other. He’d be sure to remind Kent of that lesson, if he ever got his hands on the coward.
“Hey, Julius,” Ortiz called.
Julius turned. “What is it?”
“Tell my wife my last thoughts were of her.”
“You got it. We’ll make sure she’s taken care of. Don’t worry. You have my word.”
Ortiz nodded. He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them he said, “I’m ready.”
Julius ran as fast as he could down the tunnel and away from the killing. He jumped when he heard the gunshot. Even though he knew it was coming, he couldn’t help it. Murdering the Feral was one thing, but pulling the trigger on another human being was something completely different. He wasn’t sure he had the nerve.
Julius raced toward the tunnel on the left. He paused at the threshold. There weren’t any thermal signatures. Where the hell were Boscoe and Chalmers? They should have checked in by now.
It was quiet. Julius didn’t like it. He checked his ammo and realized his shotgun was half empty. Without looking, he found the pocket with the spare shells. As quietly as possible, he placed one slug into the weapon at a time until fully loading it.
The sound of water sloshing broke the silence. Julius swept his goggle covered eyes across the tunnel. He found nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing with large heat signatures anyway. He switched to night vision and again found nothing obvious.
Julius eased his hand up to the radio. “Boscoe, come in Boscoe.” He spoke in little more than a whisper.
While there wasn’t a response, the crackle of a radio could be heard further down the tunnel. Julius was no coward, but also realized a single man against a den of Feral didn’t stand much of a chance. Intel was vital to their survival. There was no way to know how many freaks were lurking around. Better to err on the side of caution.
Julius glistened with sweat. His mind drifted back to four years ago when he had been a MTA employee. That had been his first contact with the Feral and if he hadn’t run track in high school, he would be dead, or bitten like Ortiz. His mind sounded a silent alarm. Despite the bad feeling, Julius forced himself to take a step forward, then another, and another. Soon he arrived at the bend.
More sloshing. Closer this time.
Julius scanned the area where he thought the noise originated. Night vision shrouded the tunnel in various hues of green. He crept along a short straightaway until reaching another bend. Keying his radio, he heard a static pop ahead. Boscoe was close.
“Honey,” Julius said in little more than a whisper. After a long moment without a response, he slithered around the bend and straight into something out of a horror movie. Having spent four years tracking and killing feral vampires, Julius had seen his fair share of gore. This, by far, was the worst.
He couldn’t tell which pieces went to whose body. It was like they erupted from within and coated the tunnel with bloody chunks, various organs, and bone fragments. Julius reached into a bloody pile of mush and switched one of the radios off. It was still warm. Whoever did this was probably still around.
He scanned the area for the other radio, still as a statue. Where in the hell was it?
A large rat scurried along the edge of the water. Julius jumped back at the sudden movement, just catching himself before pulling the trigger. The rat raced to claim a large chunk of flesh. Julius kicked it and watched as it landed with a splash before squeaking away. That would explain the sloshing noise.
The sudden crackle of his radio startled him a second time. “Talk to me Julius.”
“Dammit Luke, I nearly dropped a deuce.”
“Glad to hear you still have control over your bodily functions. What about Boscoe and Chalmers?”
“Dead. What’ve you got?”
“It looks like some psycho’s funhouse down here. Montanez and Reedus didn’t put up much of a fight. Strange.”
“Sounds similar to what I’m looking at over here.”
“I’m going to follow this tunnel for a bit. I’ve got a feeling there’s something else down here.”
Julius swallowed. “I’ve got the same feeling. I don’t like it. Be careful.”
“C’mon, this is me we’re talking about. Meet up in ten, at the split.”
“Copy,” Julius said. He kicked another rat. Those nasty little things made his skin crawl. As if feral vampires weren’t enough, now he had to worry about disease carrying vermin too. This mission kept getting better and better.
Julius walked around Chalmers and Boscoe’s leftovers, careful not to step in anything, when a dull thud reverberated through the tunnel floor. It came from the direction of the main entrance. Stay or go? There wasn’t much of a choice, it was his duty to go and investigate. Julius hoped it was Kent. Ortiz deserved some payback.
“Luke, what’s your position?”
“Still in the right-hand tunnel. I think I’ve got a straggler.”
“Copy,” Julius said turning around. “We’ve got a situation.”
“Stay put, you hear me? Do not engage,” Luke’s voice came through the small speaker with a sense of urgency. “I repeat, do not engage.”
“Negative,” Julius responded. He thought for a moment, and said, “What’s the first rule of hunting?”
Luke paused. “Always have a clear exit.”
“Wish me luck.”
“Watch your ass.”
So far this hunt had to have been the biggest disaster Julius had ever been a part of. It occurred to him that they were either set up or had stumbled onto something big. Either way, he was caught in the middle.
After four years he had gotten used to the dark. When he did have to hunt, he could do it with his normal night vision if the need arose. The goggles hindered his peripheral vision, almost costing him his life on more than one occasion. The band was cutting off circulation anyway. Julius lifted the goggles and waited for his eyes to adjust. Seeing through his own eyes was refreshing.
Moving back toward the entrance, he slowly eased his head around the curving tunnel wall. No sign of an intruder. Everything appeared normal. Julius couldn’t shake the feeling like he should check on the strange female corpse. It wasn’t that far. Feral vampires would eat anything, even a corpse.
A blade would be stealthier, he thought. Julius weighed his options and pulled his combat knife free of its holster. He was just as deadly throwing it as he was wielding it. Kent wouldn’t know what hit him. Alone, and in the dark, he walked on.
Another thud vibrated along the tunnel floor. It seemed to come from the direction of the corpse. Julius walked foot over foot, slow and steady, barely making a sound. After a moment of careful searching, he saw someone kneeling in the half-light. They were inspecting the fatal wounds.
Julius’s heart thundered in his chest. The good news was it wasn’t a feral vampire. The bad news was he couldn’t distinguish much else. Judging by the hips, he was likely looking at a woman. He couldn’t be sure without his goggles. One mistake in the field was all it took to end up like the Boscoe and Chalmers. Julius silently cursed himself.
The crackle of his radio broke the silence. “Julius, what’s your position?”
Julius froze mid-step, fumbling to silence his radio. It was too late. The intruder rose and turned toward him.
“Stop or I’ll shoot,” Julius called out.
“Not with that knife in your hands,” a woman replied.
Julius let his blade fly. The woman reached out and effortlessly plucked it out of the air. “Relax. I’m not here to hurt you.”
It was easy to tell the woman meant what she said by the tone of her voice. Julius relaxed a little, letting his hand fall toward his shotgun in the event things went south. “You shouldn’t be here. This is a restricted area, not to mention a crime scene.”
“I picked up your CO’s transmission about the female body. Let’s just say I was curious.” The woman held up her hands in a non-threatening manner. “Go ahead and put on your goggles.”
Julius slipped his goggles back over his eyes. He saw a woman wearing a tight leather jump suit with two swords strapped to her back. She was tall and lithe, athletic looking. With a quick wave she motioned him over.
“What do you know about her?” the woman asked.
Julius shrugged. “That’s the third body we found. Hey hold on a minute, who are you?”
“My name is Mitsuko Nakamura, and I’m very interested in what you know about all three of those bodies, Mr. Jordan.”
Julius tilted his head and asked, “How do you know my name?”
“I’ve been following your career for some time, you and your partner, Luke Gorman. The two of you make quite the pair.”
Julius didn’t like the fact that someone had been watching him through the years. This woman had some serious connections if she knew about current, classified OVA operations. She didn’t look like a typical…anything. Julius decided to start the questions off with an easiest one he could think of. “What agency are you with?”
“Me?” Mitsuko asked as if amused. “I’m not with any official agency, per say.”
“Typical OVA bullshit.” Mitsuko sighed. “It’s a shame. A man with your skills shouldn’t be waiting to die walking point for a gutless turd like Kent.”
Julius sheathed his knife and fully relaxed. He couldn’t help but wonder who this sword wielding ninja-woman was. As he searched her eyes, a red dot floated up to her forehead. He held up a hand and said, “Stand down.”
“I got worried when you didn’t answer the radio.”
“Good,” Mitsuko said. “I want to hear from both of you, the vampire first.”
“Oh, I like your friend,” Luke said, flashing his most charming smile. “I hope we can be friends too, Miss…”
“Call me Mitsuko. Think of me as a private investigator. Like I told your partner, I’m here because of that corpse you found. Believe it or not, she was an angel and was murdered for her halo.”
The smile faded from Luke’s face. “Well that changes things, now doesn’t it?”
Julius looked from Luke to Mitsuko and back again. “Will somebody please fill me in?”
Luke put a hand on his partner’s shoulder. “When we met in those subway tunnels four years ago, I was down there to help test an experimental technology that would let my vampire elders into heaven.”
“Heaven is real?” Julius thought about it for a second and said, “Okay, if vampires are real why not heaven and angels?”
“Wow,” Mitsuko said. “He took that much better than I expected.”
“I’ve seen a lot of shit in four years.”
“You said this was the third body, but it’s actually the fifth.” Mitsuko knelt and pointed to the hole above the heart. “This is where an angel’s halo is located. Any angel, even fallen ones, can absorb memories and all of the power from different halos. The fact that all five were women is my main concern. My species is dying, and with so few left, any decline in the female population could be catastrophic.”
“What do you mean ‘my species’?” Luke asked.
“I’m a Nephilim. Half angel.”
“What do you want with us?” Julius asked.
“I think we should work together to catch the killer. It’s imperative we stop this monster sooner rather than later.”
Julius looked at the corpse again. “The bite marks suggest a vampire.”
“Not entirely,” Mitsuko said, shaking her head. “As we all know vampires became mortal four years ago thanks to the DeFlavin incident. Angels are immortal and a bite would be meaningless.”
“You’re telling us there’s something worse than vampires out there?” Julius asked.
“Yes. Think of death on a grand, extinction scale.”
Luke’s eyes thirstily drank Mitsuko in. “I don’t know about you, Julius, but I’ve always wanted to be a hero. I mean, I’ve already got the looks. This could be a dream come true.” Luke smiled again, his eyes roaming along Mitsuko’s body until settling back on her eyes. “Besides, I’m a sucker for a pretty lady.”
Mitsuko rolled her eyes, turned, and stormed away mumbling in a different language.
“What?” Luke looked at Julius, a puzzled expression on his face. “Was it something I said?”
Julius slapped his friend on the back and laughed. “It always is.”
“She likes me. I can tell.”
“C’mon, loverboy,” Julius said shoving his friend forward, “we’ve got work to do.”
Luke pressed back. “Um, what about the OVA? We can’t just leave. There’ll be dishonorable discharges and court marshals. Maybe even treason.”
“After what Kent did, they can assume whatever they like. As far as I’m concerned, we’re on our own.”
“Are you two coming, or what?” Mitsuko’s voice echoed from ahead.
“Just remember, I saw her first,” Luke said before hurrying after Mitsuko.
Julius sighed. Like it or not, they were a team. Hopefully the Nephilim with the purple streaks in her hair knew where to start their investigation because Julius was at a loss. “Here we go again,” Julius mumbled before running to catch up.