"Dominion in my opinion is the best of the three and that is saying a lot. I especially like how Mr. Baker weaves in references and pays homage to past vampire history and lore. A new hunter with the last name Cushing, a rabbit named Van Helsing, a painting of Nosferatu and especially where the Vampyrnomicon was hidden. Mr. Baker knows his vampire history well and uses it wonderfully in this tale. If you are vampire fanatic like I am you will absolutely love this vampire trilogy. In fact I like this more then The Strain trilogy. I feel [this] is one of the best vampire stories I have ever read and I give it my highest recommendation."
Peter Schwotzer of Famous Monsters of Filmland
THE VAMPIRE HUNTERS TRILOGY BOOK III
13 FEBRUARY 1484. Three kilometers west of Bas-Courtils, France. The carriage swayed from side to side in a gentle rocking motion as it raced along the desolate road. An occasional snort from one of the mares sounded through the darkness, briefly interrupting the clopping hoofs of the four-horse team and the creaking of the wooden wheels against the dirt. Combined, the sensations would have been lulling for the passengers were they not about to enter hell.
Leaning to one side, Stewart Cushing used his right hand to push aside the curtain draped over the carriage window. Night had long since descended. With the carriage’s candles extinguished, the only light came from a full moon that bathed the countryside in an eerie luminescence. It set aglow the low-lying fog that hugged the marshland and reflected back into the night sky, generating enough light for him to distinguish the only man-made structure for miles around. The structure sat atop the cliffs of a small island a few kilometers off the coast, its spire and abbey walls towering over the village sprawled around the base of the cliff.
Mont St. Michel.
How ironic, thought Cushing, that this church was named after Saint Michael, the patron saint who led the forces of light against the forces of darkness.
Jacques Renaud leaned closer to Cushing so he could also look out the carriage window. The moonlight reflected off the folds of his cowled robe.
“This is insane,” Jacques mumbled to himself. “We should have waited until morning, Father.”
“You don’t need to call me Father. I’m no longer a priest.” The Vatican frowned on members of the clergy who beheaded a bishop, even if he was one of the undead.
Renaud was correct on one count, though. It was insane to come out to Mont St. Michel at night. The original plan called for them to depart Avranches, the closest city to the abbey, shortly before dawn so as to arrive by early morning. But difficulties in crossing the Channel and traveling through Normandy delayed their arrival at the city until dusk. The locals implored them to wait until morning, a plea Cushing ignored. As much as common sense warned him to hold off until dawn, his sense of duty compelled him to leave right away rather than risk missing their quarry. It already had been a week since the abbot of the island’s Benedictine monastery sent Cushing a letter informing him that vampires were heading for the city and begging him for assistance. Any further delay could allow the terrible secret to be revealed. Time was of the essence. While Renaud had prepared their weapons, Cushing had found a coach driver brave enough, or perhaps crazy enough, to take them to Mont St. Michel. As the sun settled below the horizon, the three set off.
Now, several hours later, their carriage approached the island enclave, which more than likely was infested with the undead.
Mont St. Michel disappeared behind a copse of trees. Cushing allowed the curtain to fall back over the window, plunging the interior into darkness. Across from him, Renaud crossed himself and murmured the Lord’s Prayer, his recitation barely audible over the clacking of the wheels. Cushing admired Renaud’s faith. It would do the young priest little good when battling the undead, but with a cleansed soul he would find it easier to get into heaven.
The carriage made a sharp turn to the right, lurching precariously to one side. A moment later, it slowed to a stop. Cushing opened the carriage door and stuck out his head. The only sound came from the horses that stomped their hoofs and snorted.
“Have we arrived?” asked Cushing.
“We’re as close as I’m going,” answered the driver, a burly man with half his teeth missing. He pulled back on the reigns, trying to calm the horses. “They’re afraid. They won’t go any farther.”
Cushing nodded. The horses showed more common sense than he did. He stepped out onto the road, doing so with difficulty because of his crippled right leg, then turned back to the cabin. “It’s time.”
Renaud crossed himself again. Grabbing their bag of weapons, he exited the carriage, closing the door behind him.
Cushing moved over to the driver and looked up at him. “How much farther?”
“Less than a kilometer to the coast.” The driver pointed to a road on their right that diverged at a ninety-degree angle from the one they were on. “Then another two or three kilometers across the bay. But you better hurry.”
“The tide will be coming in soon. When it does, the island will be cut off except by boat.”
“Will you wait for us?”
“Non. The horses are too skittish.” As if on cue, the team lead yanked at its harness. The driver pulled back on the reigns again, calming them slightly. “I’m heading back to Avranches. I’ll return at dawn and wait until an hour before dusk.”
“It’s the least I can do. Though I doubt you’ll make it till morning.” Flicking the reigns, the driver started the horses moving and maneuvered them into a nearby clearing, circling around to reverse direction. As the carriage passed by the two men, the driver called out, “Que Dieu soit avec vous.”
Neither man responded. As Renaud knelt by the bag and withdrew what they needed, Cushing limped down the pitch black road toward the coast. After a few hundred meters, the tree line came to an end. Ahead of him stretched the bay, and a few kilometers off the coast the island monastery of Mont St. Michel. He studied it, hoping to detect any signs of life, but found none. No movement on the streets winding up the Cliffside to the abbey. No sounds, not even of animals. Except for the city’s oil streetlamps and a few candles illuminating some of the abbey’s windows, the island seemed as desolate as a tomb.
Renaud stepped up beside Cushing and handed him a crossbow. “Here’s your weapon, Father.”
Cushing did not correct him. Taking the crossbow, he turned to face the young man. Renaud had draped a wooden crucifix around his neck, partially covered by the folds of his robe.
“You realize symbols of faith have no effect on vampires?”
“I know, Father.” Renaud clasped the crucifix in his right hand, raised it to his lips, and kissed the cross. “It’s to remind me that if I die while doing God’s work, I’ll be guaranteed entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Cushing admired the child’s naivety. He wanted to tell him there were no guarantees in this line of work, except perhaps an early and violent death, but spared him from reality.
Leading the way, Cushing walked down to the shoreline and onto the bed of the bay. The tides had receded hours ago, giving the sand time to dry and allowing them to cross without fear of quicksand. However, it did little to assuage Cushing’s concern. Out here on the open expanse of the bay they were in full view of anyone watching from Mont St. Michel, and completely vulnerable to attack. He kept the crossbow level, his forefinger gently wrapped around the trigger, ready to fire in an instant. He listened for any sound that might indicate approaching danger, anticipating that death would swoop down on them at any moment. The only thing that lashed out at them was a sea breeze, and the only sounds they heard waves breaking in the distance.
After fifteen anxious minutes, the two reached the wall surrounding the city. It towered meters above them, running to either side until the structure disappeared into the dark. Cushing reconstructed in his mind the map he had studied before departing Avranches, looking for the southern tower that marked the entrance into the city. He finally spotted it twenty meters to his left, a stone sentinel looming out of the night. Making his way along the wall, he circled the rounded structure and the dry abutment of land that allowed access into the city.
Cushing stopped short, not prepared for the sight that greeted him. Renaud failed to notice Cushing and walked into him. He turned to apologize, and instead began mumbling the Lord’s Prayer.
King’s Gate, the fortified entrance to Mont St. Michel, had been torn open like a wooden box. The drawbridge lay extended over the moat, the chains used to raise it severed from their moorings and left dangling. The jagged metal ends of the broken links indicated they had been snapped. The portcullis had been lowered across the entrance, but had failed to keep out the attackers. Something had torn lose the metal rungs and bent them outward. Rivulets of dried blood extended from the tower windows and the gate’s ramparts, and pools of blood congealed around the ravaged portcullis.
“We’re too late,” said Renaud.
“We should go back.”
Cushing shook his head. “We need to know what happened here, and to free those souls consigned to hell.”
Bending over, Cushing maneuvered through the portcullis, careful not to gouge himself on the jagged metal edges. He looked to see if Renaud followed. The young priest hesitated, his hands trembling, his eyes glazed over in fear. Cushing had resigned himself to continuing on alone when Renaud moved forward, following his mentor through the opening.
The two men slowly made their way up Grande Rue, weapons at the ready. A few streetlamps that had not yet run out of oil lit their way. They tried the door of each residence along the street, Cushing checking those on the right and Renaud those on the left. Most were unlocked. Each residence had been abandoned. Unfinished meals remained on tables, infested by maggots and flies. Furniture lay in disarray. Except for the insects, nowhere did they see signs of life.
At a slight bend in Grand Rue they passed by an elevated cemetery bordering the back wall of the parish church. As they circled around the front, Cushing raised a finger to his lips, indicating for Renaud to keep silent, and then motioned toward the building. Visible through the stained glass windows was the flickering of candles. Renaud nodded his understanding.
The two men ascended the stairs to the small courtyard in front of the church. Cushing rotated in a full circle, his crossbow pointed in front of him in case they walked into a trap. Nothing. Not that it made him feel any safer. He walked up the few stairs leading to the front door, with Renaud close behind him. Placing one hand on the doorknob, Cushing gave the area one final glance for any signs of immediate danger, and then pushed the door open.
An overwhelming stench billowed out. Cushing swallowed hard, forcing the rising vomitus back down his throat. Renaud stepped back and bent over, retching violently. Each man waited several seconds for their senses to adjust to the smell before entering.
A charnel house waited for them inside the parish church. More bodies than Cushing could count filled the interior. Stacks ten corpses high and three rows deep lined the walls, with another score of bodies scattered across the floor. At first, Cushing thought some of them might still be living because he detected movement. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light from the votive candles, he realized the movement resulted from the hordes of maggots and swarms of flies that covered the dead. On a closer look, he saw that the corpses’ legs jutted out at awkward angles, most likely having been broken to prevent the victims from escaping. Their skin was white and shriveled, indicating the bodies had been drained of blood. Considering that very little blood covered the floor, Cushing could only imagine the feeding frenzy that must have occurred.
At least now he knew what had become of the citizens of Mont St. Michel.
Taking the bag from Renaud and placing it on the floor, Cushing removed a dagger and stepped over to the closest victim. Kneeling down on his good leg, he rolled the body onto its front, lifted its head by the hair, and placed the blade against its throat.
“My God,” gasped Renaud. “What are you doing?”
“These people have all been fed on by vampires. If we don’t properly dispose of them, by this time tomorrow they’ll come back as vampires themselves.”
Turning back to the task at hand, Cushing began sawing through the neck, slicing through skin and tissue. When he reached the spine, Cushing placed down the dagger, rested his knees against both shoulder blades, grasped the head in both hands, and twisted. The sickening crack of bones echoed throughout the church. Cushing tossed the severed head into a vacant corner and turned to Renaud.
“Are you going to help?”
Renaud stood silent, pale and trembling. Cushing could not be certain if the young priest would pass out or run away. After a few seconds, Renaud reached into the bag and withdrew a sword. He stepped over to the nearest stack of corpses, picking the body at the top of the outermost stack. Raising the sword over his head, Renaud brought it down onto the corpse’s neck, severing the head in a single blow.
It took the men nearly four hours to complete their grisly task. Ideally, they would have staked each body through the heart and set it on fire to ensure that it would not come back as one of the undead, however, Cushing did not have enough stakes for the former, and he hesitated over the latter for fear of setting off a conflagration that might burn out half the city. He would need to be satisfied that by beheading the bodies he had done enough to ensure they would not arise. In either case, it had cost him valuable time.
Renaud followed Cushing out of the parish church and into the courtyard. Gore splattered the front of his robe. He dragged the sword behind him, the blade tip banging down each step. His eyes stared blankly into the distance, focused on nothing in particular.
“Jacques,” Cushing whispered.
The young priest staggered by, oblivious to his mentor.
“Jacques.” Cushing said it more forcefully.
This time Renaud responded. He stopped in front of Cushing and glanced around, finally focusing on the older man as if he had never seen him before. “What?”
“Why don’t you wait here?”
“You need my help.”
“I can manage.” Cushing led Renaud back to the stairs of the parish church and helped him to sit. “You stay here. I’ll be back soon.”
“I am tired.” Renaud plopped down and dropped the sword. It made a loud clang as it hit the stone. “Call me if you need help.”
Cushing limped back inside the church to recover the bag Renaud had left behind. Kneeling down for so many hours to behead the undead had taken its toll on his crippled leg, causing it to throb constantly. No matter, for he needed to complete his task despite the pain. He pulled out a pair of stakes, slid them between his pants and the small of his back, and slung the bag over his shoulder. Exiting the church, he passed by Renaud without saying a word. The young priest sat stoically on the step, as silent and emotionless as a cathedral’s gargoyle. Cushing continued across the courtyard. Once on Grand Rue, he made his way toward the abbey.
Grand Rue turned into a flight of stairs that wound up the Cliffside and circled around the base of the abbey. Romanesque walls towered one hundred feet into the night, forming an unscalable and impenetrable fortress protecting the monastery at its summit. He knew from the architectural drawings he had studied that there were only two ways to gain access. The first, for pulling supplies up the side of the cliff, consisted of an access ramp at a seventy-five-degree angle along the abbey’s southern façade, a small stone slide he knew he would never be able to climb. The other was the narrow stairway that wound up the southeastern façade between the exterior wall and the abbey’s outer wall. Access to this stairway was through a pair of thick wooden doors built into the base of the Chatelet Towers, twin fortifications towering thirty feet in height that guarded the abbey’s entrance.
As Cushing approached Chatelet Towers, he noticed the wooden doors were open. Not exactly open, though. The doors lay on the stone staircase where they landed after being knocked off their hinges. Beneath them, he could see the remains of the crossbeam, snapped in half like a twig. Kneeling beside the nearest door, he saw that deep scratch marks had been gouged into the wood.
He looked out the entranceway to the east. An azure sky stretched across the horizon, backlighting the tree line along the shore, and the undersides of the clouds glowed yellow. Dawn approached.
Summoning his courage, Cushing ascended the stairway one step at a time to favor his leg, keeping his back against the outer wall. Every few seconds he paused to scan the tops of the walls for vampires. Twice he stumbled because he failed to watch where he was going, the second time with enough force that he snapped the crossbow’s bow string. Discarding the now useless weapon, Cushing unslung the bag and withdrew the broadsword. It felt uncomfortable in his hands, more bulky and heavy than he would have preferred. Not his weapon of choice, but it would be effective in disposing of the undead. Slinging the bag back over his shoulder and clutching the broadsword in both hands, Cushing continued his ascent.
At the top of the stairs, a guardhouse commanded the entry into the abbey compound. Like everything else about the city, it was abandoned and left open. He quickly maneuvered through it and out the door on the opposite wall, emerging into the courtyard beyond. Off to his left and one hundred meters beneath him spread the vast expanse of the bay. In the distance, the tidewaters already had begun their slow march inland. Within a few hours, he would be trapped on the island. Off to his right was the Romanesque façade of the abbey. He crossed the courtyard and stood in front of the center wooden door and pushed against it. It creaked open. Adjusting his grip on the broadsword, Cushing stepped inside.
The cavernous interior dwarfed Cushing. Even though he moved as slowly and silently as possible, his footsteps echoed off the walls. The increasing amount of sunlight coming in through the Gothic choir at the abbey’s east end, with its expansive windows extending to the heavens between enormous support columns, still failed to light the entire abbey, leaving the corners and transepts dangerously obscured in shadows. Cushing followed the center aisle, staying in what little light existed, his eyes constantly scanning for any signs of the undead. Thankfully, he saw nothing. Only after he had walked halfway down the length of the abbey did he notice the flickering light of candles through the half-closed door of a small room off to his right. Cutting through a row of pews, Cushing made his way to the room, pushed open the door with his left hand, and cautiously stepped inside.
A semi-circle of floor-mounted candelabras surrounded a life-size statue of Christ on the cross. The crucifix was inverted with the top mounted in the ground and the figure of Christ upside down. As Cushing’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, he realized the figure on the crucifix was not a statue of the Savior but a human. The man was secured to the crucifix by one nail hammered through each wrist and foot, and a final nail driven through his scrotum, impaling his genitalia to the sedile, the small seat attached halfway down the front of the cross. As if such torment were not enough, the man had been skinned alive, a torture carried out with great precision to minimize the loss of blood and prolong his suffering. Plasma still glistened off the exposed muscles. These wounds were fresh, a few hours at most. If only he had not been delayed in leaving Avranches.
Placing the broadsword and bag onto the floor, Cushing knelt beside the figure. He went to close the eyelids, but they had been sliced off, along with the lips, nose, and ears. No recognizable features remained. Not that it mattered, however, for Cushing knew full well who the person was. Only one person lived at Mont St. Michel who the vampires had any interest in. Only one person warranted such cruelty from the undead.
Antonio Ferrar, the Spanish Inquisitor who had stolen the Vampyrnomicon.
Cushing reached out and made the sign of the cross over Ferrar’s skinned forehead. “Dear Lord, forgive this man, your humble servant, of his sins. Protect and keep him—”
A belabored breath interrupted Cushing’s prayer. He looked at Ferrar, whose head rolled to the side. The unblinking eyes focused on him, and the jaw opened. Cushing fell backwards and spider-walked a few meters away. Ferrar’s mouth moved animatedly as he tried to summon the energy to talk. He finally spoke in a series of gasps.
“I… didn’t…tell… them.”
Cushing crawled back toward Ferrar, desperately fighting back the terror welling up inside of him. “You didn’t tell them what?”
“I… didn’t…tell… them.”
“About the Vampyrnomicon?”
Ferrar made a motion that passed for a nod. “About… the… book.”
“Where is the Vampyrnomicon?”
“I… didn’t…tell… them.”
“You did well.” Cushing moved to rub Ferrar’s forehead but stopped short, knowing the physical contact would be agony.
“I… didn’t…tell… them.”
“You can tell me.”
“Yes you can.”
Ferrar shook his head.
“I have to know where the Vampyrnomicon is hidden so I can make sure it’s safe.”
“Nooooo.” Ferrar’s body went limp.
Cushing could not tell if Ferrar was dead or just unconscious. Not that it mattered, as long as he no longer suffered. He began to recite a silent prayer.
“Now we’ll never find the Vampyrnomicon.”
The voice, deep and husky, came from the far corner of the room. Grabbing the broadsword, Cushing sprang to his feet and spun around to face the intruder. A Nubian over six feet tall slowly emerged from the shadows. Though he kept his head slightly lowered, his eyes remained fixed on Cushing, eyes that glowed red. Cushing stared into them and felt his soul go cold. For a moment, he imagined they were portals into the fires of hell. The vampire paused beside Ferrar and glanced down at the man’s ravaged features.
“He never told us anything, no matter how much we tortured him. Even when I offered to let him join us as a master and relieve his suffering, he refused. A part of me admires him. His will is strong.”
“His faith is strong.”
The vampire ignored the taunt. It turned to face Cushing. “I hoped he’d tell you where the Vampyrnomicon is hidden. It was the only reason we allowed you to get this far. Now we have no reason to keep you alive.”
The black man morphed into his vampiric form. With his fangs bared, he lunged at Cushing. Rather than stand and fight, Cushing raced backward, the broadsword held out in front of him. He knew it was a feeble defense, but he only wanted to hold off the vampire long enough to escape. When Cushing reached the door, he felt behind him for the knob. The vampire quickened its pace, closing to within a meter. Cushing’s fingers found the knob, and with a flick of the arm he flung open the door. By now the sun had risen enough that its rays poured through the abbey’s massive Gothic windows, illuminating most of the nave in its brilliance. The vampire paused and averted his eyes, which bought Cushing the time he needed. He rushed out of the room and into the center of the abbey, stopping only when he reached the beam of sunlight pouring in through the Gothic choir windows. The beam extended the width of the center aisle and ran the length of the abbey, stopping three meters short of the door leading outside. Standing in the sunlight, Cushing felt safe until he looked around the abbey.
Only then did Cushing notice that a dozen vampires lined the interior walls of the abbey, each safely ensconced in the shadows, their eyes fixed on him. Most of them had gathered around the door to the room he had just left and the choir area. Only two vampires stood between him and the exit. They could make it to the door before he could, but he felt confident in being able to take down these two and make his escape before the others caught up with him.
Unfortunately, the other vampires reached the same conclusion. They slowly advanced toward him while remaining in the shadows. From the doorway of the room where Ferrar had been tortured, the Nubian stood centered in the opening, silhouetted by the candles.
“Get him,” ordered the vampire.
The horde of undead surged forward, racing down the abbey within the confines of the shadows. Turning around, Cushing bolted for the door as fast as his crippled leg would allow. The two closest vampires were two meters ahead of him on either side of the abbey, and in his peripheral vision he saw the other vampires gaining rapidly. As he approached the exit, Cushing brought the broadsword back, ready to strike. Just as he did, the closest of the vampires cut in front of him, placing itself between the end of the beam of sunlight and the door. Cushing swung the broadsword as he approached. The blade sliced through the vampire’s neck, lobbing its head to one side. Blood geysered from the neck and splattered the abbey floor. Cushing shoved the disintegrating body aside as he passed, exploding it in a puff of ash.
He paused at the door just long enough to pull it open. The sun-filled courtyard was a few meters away. Cushing lunged forward just as a powerful, cold arm wrapped itself around his neck and tried to pull him back into the abbey. He heard the vampire snarl, and felt its cold breath against his neck. Knowing he did not have enough strength to break free, Cushing bent his knees and fell forward. Caught off guard, the vampire fell forward with Cushing, its arms still wrapped around his neck. The two rolled out of the abbey and into the courtyard.
When the sunlight washed over the vampire, it howled. Despite being dazed from the fall, Cushing grabbed onto the vampire’s arm and held it in place. The vampire thrashed around frantically, the sunlight already searing its skin. It placed its free hand on Cushing’s back and pushed violently, breaking his grip. Cushing rolled onto his knees and scrambled to his broadsword, which lay a meter away. Picking it up, he stood and spun around to confront the vampire. The vampire staggered back toward the abbey, but made it only a few steps before crashing to its knees a meter shy of the shade. The flesh on its face burned and peeled off in tiny strips. It raised its hands to shield its face, only to have the palms and fingers sear off in strips. An agonized wail rose from its throat, a mournful cry that ended only when Cushing swung the broadsword in a wide arc and sliced off the vampire’s head. As the blade cut throat flesh and bone, the creature crumbled into a pile of ash.
Cushing felt his limbs grow heavy and his muscles become weak. He placed the broadsword’s blade against the ground and rested on the hilt. Having run on adrenaline for nearly six hours, physical and emotional exhaustion threatened him. And he had failed in his mission, for he never found out where Ferrar had hidden the Vampyrnomicon. At least the vampires failed to extract the location from him, so for now its hideous secrets were safe. He had survived, which was far more than he could have hoped for. With a good eight hours of daylight remaining, he had more than enough time to gather Renaud and make his way to the carriage waiting on shore, which would take him back to safety of Avranches. Then he could begin his search for the Vampyrnomicon in earnest. Once he found the book, he would rid the world of this ultimate evil once and for all. He was doing God’s work, and God would not allow him to fail.
Cushing bowed his head and closed his eyes. “Dear Lord, thank you for interceding on my behalf with your Divine intervention and for keeping me safe in the face of Evil.”
“Your prayers are premature, Father.”
Spinning around so fast he nearly fell over, Cushing raised his broadsword in defense, but now the blade felt unusually heavy in his hands. He looked upon the face of an exquisitely beautiful Asian woman. She wore the weathered clothes of a bar maiden’s outfit, an attire completely out of place with her regal looks. Though attractive, Cushing could sense the evil lurking within her. It terrified him.
“W-who are you?”
“My name is Chiang Shih.”
“What do you want?”
“For you to join us.”
“Never!” Cushing raised the broadsword over his shoulder. “I’d rather die.”
“You’ll beg for death.” Chiang Shih smiled sardonically. “Just like Ferrar did.”
Chiang Shih surged forward. Cushing swung the broadsword, aiming for the vampire’s neck. With a movement too quick for him to see, she reached out, grabbed his wrist, and twisted. The bones fragmented under the assault. Bolts of pain shot up his arm and through his body, overriding his senses. Before he could cry out, Chiang Shih’s other hand clasped over his mouth, squeezing his jaw so tight he thought his bones would shatter. Unable to move or speak, and with panic welling up inside of him, Cushing watched as Chiang Shih morphed into her vampiric form.
Cushing stared into the face of hell, his screams of terror muffled.