April 2020; Denver, Colorado

The white light of the teleport matrix faded, and the three of them looked around to find four Sentinels standing around them, their machine guns unwavering.

Takeshi raised an eyebrow. “Brothers and sisters, my name is Takeshi Nakamura, and I am the Wind of Earth. My companions are Anaba Nizhoni, the Wind of Fire, and Rory Brennigan, the Wind of Air. I was told you were expecting us.”

One of the women stepped forward. Her blonde hair was tied back in a long braid, and she gave them all an appraising glance. She was almost fifty years old, which was ancient in their profession. Standing directly in front of Take, she looked challengingly into his eyes. Then she gave a silent signal to the rest of her team to lower their weapons.

“Forgive the discourtesy, my Lord,” she said. “We can’t be too careful these days. My name is Marjorie Clemens, element Earth.” She indicated each of the others in turn. “My quad members are Thomas Jackson, Fire; Helena Carinne, Air; and Joseph Harvey, Water.” She turned back to Take and held out her hand. “It is truly a pleasure to finally meet you. Your strategy of watching and waiting was difficult to follow at first, but I can’t deny that it made us far more able to hurt them than in the past.”

Takeshi shook her hand. “I’m glad we’ve been so successful, Marjorie, but they’re not out of the fight yet. This counterattack just proves they’ve got some cards up their sleeves we haven’t seen.”

She nodded. “Yes, my Lord. We’ve been studying this new bloodsucker, and he’s a tough one.” Her mouth thinned into a bitter smile. “I knew most of the team members who died. They were well protected and experienced. The footage we’ve recovered from their security setup shows they were overwhelmed in minutes.”

Take grimaced. “Show me.”

The three Winds followed Marjorie to a bank of security monitors where the other members of the quad were waiting. Joseph slipped a DVD into the player and they all watched as the base was attacked, an explosion ripping through the walls of the concrete bunker. The first vampires through the breach were immediately immolated by the Fire Sentinel’s lances of white hot flame. Meanwhile, the Air Sentinel threw what edged weapons he could grab telekinetically and fling into the enemies ranks, using his limited magic to light and maintain consecrated flames on the missiles so the vampires couldn’t regenerate the damage as the projectiles stuck to their bodies like napalm.

The first rank of Nightwalkers went down quickly, while the second rank attacked using automatic weapon fire. The bullets ricocheted harmlessly off the green telekinetic shields that each of the Sentinels projected, the high-energy impacts absorbed and strengthening the shields.

Then the vampires stepped aside. An Asian Nightwalker stepped confidently forward, calmly pointing his sword at each Sentinel in turn. The green shields of force around each Sentinel flared white and disappeared, and the defenders went down in a hail of gunfire.

“Jesus,” said Take. “How much power does it take to burn out a kinetic shield?”

“A lot,” Ana said grimly. “That’s why no one uses modern firearms in the field. The vampires just regenerate from the damage, and we can shrug off the bullets. They should have won. They would have, if this new vamp hadn’t been there.”

Marjorie’s voice was bitter. “The second and third team recovered the security footage and saw what they were up against. They made their stand together and cast a composite ward over the base to prevent chemical combustion and neutralize the vamps’ ammunition and explosives. That battle was more conventional in nature.”

One of her team queued up the second recording, and this time, when the walls came down, the Sentinels were ready. The Air and Fire Sentinels attacked immediately from range, while the Earth and Water Sentinels waded into combat at close quarters. The combat was more evenly matched this time, but again the newcomer stepped forward after the battle was joined and focused his attacks on the two Earth Sentinels who were directing the defenders’ efforts. He engaged them both in combat at once, his sword moving in a blur as he struck at each of them in turn.

“Clever,” Take said grudgingly. “They’re linked to their teams, but not to each other, so he’s manipulating their attacks to make them interfere with each other’s tactics.”

“I agree,” said Marjorie. “He’s a master swordsman. A regular Earth Sentinel would have no chance against him without linked assistance to coordinate attacks.”

Take watched the battle professionally as the first of the team leaders was dispatched, followed by the other. Then it simply became a slaughter as the attackers inundated the remaining Sentinels.

“Turn it off,” Rory said in disgust. He looked at Take. “Whether or not this guy is Jiao-long, we can’t take him out one on one.”

“Agreed. We need to eliminate him, and I see only one way to do that,” Take said. He turned to Marjorie. “We need a linked team to even have a chance to bring him down. I need your team to keep the rest of them off our backs while we engage the leader.”

“You wish to take the field yourself?” Helena asked suspiciously.

Takeshi scowled at her. “It’s not my first hunt, Helena, despite what you may have heard. Rory and Ana have been acting as my sparring partners for years. They both have enough skill at physical combat to hold their own and support me, while bringing their own Gifts to the table. We have the best chance at taking him out, but only if you can keep us from being overwhelmed.”

“We should get Antonio down here, as well,” said Ana. “He may not have the authority of one of the Winds anymore, but his Gift is as strong as mine, and he’s more experienced than any of us.”

Thomas grinned wolfishly. “I like this plan better and better. Now, how do we find the leader?”

“We won’t have to,” said Rory. “We leak the location of this base to one of their proxies and let them come to us.”

Joseph laughed, his eyes changing color from blue to gold with slitted pupils. “This is going to be fun. If any of us are alive afterward, drinks are on me.”


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