Jack Templar and the Lord of the Vampires Jack is back. After his adventures at the Monster Hunter Academy (which included fighting a goblin army, befriending an ancient werewolf, and battling two fire breathing dragons), Jack Templar was hoping for a rest. No such luck. In Book #3 of the Jack Templar Monster Hunter series, Jack embarks on a quest to track down and acquire the first of the five mythical Jerusalem Stones, an ancient power found by his ancestors the Templar Knights. Only the reunited Stones can stop Ren Lucre, the Dark Lord who holds Jack’s father hostage and prepares for an all-out war against an unsuspecting human world. But each Stone is held by a different Creach Lord and recovering them will not be easy. Jack and his friends begin their quest by seeking out one of the most powerful and dangerous keepers of the Stones, the Lord of the Vampires. The fate of the world rests on Jack’s shoulders and he will be tested like never before. But true monster hunters always do their duty…come what may. Jack Templar and the Lord of the Vampires.
Book of the Year Finalist by Foreword Reviews.
As the man staggered into the narrow corridor of the castle, he knew the woman he left behind would be dead within minutes unless he did something. The thought of losing her gripped him by the throat as strongly as if a hand seized him and sought to wring the life from him. He tore at the tight collar around his neck and ripped it open, gasping for breath. His fingers brushed against the wound there, two deep punctures that seeped a slow trickle of blood.
“Vitus!” he cried. “I need you!”
His rushed down the stone hallway, bent over and running his hand along the wall to keep his balance. Since his birth in this castle, he had spent countless hours running through its many rooms. But tonight it felt as disorienting as one of the mazes the workers made out of the cornfields for Harvest Festival.
“Vitus! Show yourself!” he bellowed.
Stairs. Narrow and steep. The man half-ran, half-fell down them, growing more desperate with every step farther from the room where he had spent the last three days caring for his wife. Once the essence of life, she was now no more than a brittle husk, a frail body with a withered soul. He could still feel the damp on his clothes from holding her fevered body next to his as he gently rocked her, singing her the soft songs of their youth. But her breathing had only gotten worse, now a faint rasp of air, so strained that he feared each would be her last.
Finally, as the shadow of death filled the room and hovered over her, something had broken inside of the man. The promise he had made to her—no, more than a promise, a solemn oath bound by the strongest words her dying mind could conjure—suddenly seemed a transparent lie. In a flash of clarity, it appeared so obvious that he lurched from the bed, calling himself a fool, and ran from the room.
If she died, nothing else mattered.
Even if she hated him for what he intended to do, he didn’t care. He could not let her die.
The man came to the enormous oak doors of the banquet hall. He lowered his shoulder with a snarl and barreled into them. The doors flew open on well-oiled hinges, revealing a massive room with a soaring ceiling supported by rows of thick stone pillars. Tapestries and banners covered the walls. A long table, enough to seat dozens at a feast, filled the center aisle. Platters of food and goblets of wine sat atop the dark, polished wood. Fanciful flower decorations served as centerpieces, alternating the length of the table with candlesticks made of the finest silver. Every chair was filled with a gentleman or lady wearing the most fashionable clothing. Vests embroidered with gold and silver. Dresses assembled in layers of sheer fabrics. Cloaks of ermine and mink draped over the chair backs in case a draft should appear.
But a draft would not bother any of the assembled guests.
Even the coldest wind will not bother a corpse.
The dinner guests were all frozen in a dramatic tableau of death. Some lay facedown on the table. Others leaned back, dead, open eyes staring at the ceiling. The worst ones, someone had propped up as if they were still conversing, but pale white skin accented the bright line of red blood across their necks.
The room was dark, the candles long since melted into puddles of wax on the table. The only light came from a small fire burning in the giant hearth in the center wall of the room. A solitary figure sat in a wooden chair, rocking back and forth, keeping pace to music only he could hear.
“Vitus, I know you could hear me,” the man shouted. “I need you.”
Vitus cocked his head slightly toward the man as if picking up only the slightest creak of the floorboards in the middle of the night, but he continued to stare into the fire. Vitus’s beard grew down to his chest and stood in contrast to his clean-shaven head. The fire cast odd shadows across a weathered face, chiseled deep by time and pain. Vitus looked no different from any number of old men lost to his thoughts deep inside the flames of a hearth fire.
No different that is except for his eyes and stains of blood that ran down both sides of his mouth. His eyes were black wells that seemed to suck the light from the air and give nothing in return. No reflection from the fire or glistening from moisture, just dead endless darkness that saw both nothing and everything. For the first time since leaving his dying wife, the man paused, terrified at what he intended to do.
One thing you learn early on as a monster hunter is that the Creach are everywhere. They blend in with regular people. They can be policemen, teachers, shopkeepers, anything you can imagine. Hiding in plain sight, they bide their time, waiting for the Creach war to come when they will be in position to strike against us all at once.
But even though they can be anywhere, the ancient places of the world are crawling with them. I’m not sure why. Maybe monsters feel more comfortable surrounded by old stone buildings and cobbled streets as a reminder of a simpler time, back when superstition kept them safe and hunting was easier to do unnoticed. There are too many cameras in the modern world for an army of monsters to hunt and feed without making a mark. And that’s the last thing they want.
Not yet, anyway.
So, the challenge for any monster hunter is to balance the desire to seek out the Creach to battle them with the understanding that it’s possible to overstep, be too aggressive and find yourself in over your head. One or two monsters, depending on the type, are something most first-degree hunters can handle. But multiply that a few times over and you’ve got a real fight on your hands. In some of the older cities of the world, that number can swell to the hundreds before you can say, “Your mother was a mug-wump.” And then you have huge problems.
These were my thoughts as I watched the sun rise over the ancient Moroccan city of Marrakech. Low, square buildings stretched out in a ramshackle maze punctuated by the spires of dozens of mosques. In the early morning light, the red sandstone of the old city walls glowed a deep ruddy color showing why Marrakech had long ago earned the nickname the red city.
I imagined I could have stood on this spot a thousand years earlier and seen pretty much the same sight before me. Well, almost. Satellite dishes sprouted from most roofs like mushrooms in a field, and the tangle of power lines that crisscrossed the buildings looked as if a manic army of spiders had spent the night spinning metal webs. Still, even with those obvious signs of the modern world, the weight of history hung in the air.
Miles to the north, there were parts of Marrakech with modern skyscrapers, nightclubs and Internet cafes. But we were in the Medina, the ancient center of the city, filled with souks with their haggling merchants, taverns with rough, dangerous characters, open squares packed with performers, merchants, beggars and thieves. And, most important to our mission, thousands of hiding places existed for all kinds of men and monsters that wanted to be forgotten by the rest of the world.
I couldn’t help but feel the pull of the city. The idea of disappearing into its deep underbelly and losing myself in its honeycombed streets seemed for a second like the only reasonable thing to do. Gone would be the weight of the quest to find the Jerusalem Stones and save my father. Gone would be the fear that at any minute my friends would be killed because of the danger I’d put them in. Gone would be the impossible responsibility to stop Ren Lucre and the coming Creach war. I could leave all that behind and be a normal fourteen-year-old kid simply by going for a long walk and never looking back.
I let out a deep breath and let this fantasy go with it on the morning air. Behind me I heard the others stirring in our single, cheap hotel room we’d straggled into late the night before. After two long weeks on the road where we’d kept away from civilization as best we could, we were due for at least one good night’s sleep. Compared to camping out in abandoned houses and in fields throughout the south of France and into Spain, the threadbare beds seemed like the height of luxury.
The road from the Monster Hunter Academy had been uneventful compared to events before we left. Standing on the balcony, I thought back to the awful day when the Creach attacked. After the Cave of Trials, battling dragons, fighting off the goblin hoard, and watching the black wolf Tiberon transform back into human form and disappear into thin air, I hoped we would have at least a little time to recover before it was time to leave. But it didn’t happen.
The morning after the goblin battle, Aquinas summoned me to her tent. I made my way through a small tent city that had sprung up near the gates to the Citadel to temporarily house the students. The dorms had burned to the ground. Outside the Academy walls, a student work party shoveled dirt over the bodies of the two dragons I’d killed. Aquinas wanted a deep burial where no Regs (non-hunter humans) would find them. Her tent was easy to spot. It was large and round with a pointed center, like a miniature version of a circus tent. The leather flap covering the entrance was open, so I crouched down and stepped inside.
“Hey, that’s mine!” T-Rex cried, reaching out for the candy bar Will had snatched from his bag. The week on the road had thinned T-Rex down a few pounds, but there was still plenty of him to go around. His round face and red, chubby cheeks made him seem even heavier than he actually was. Like all of us, he wore jeans and a plain T-shirt to help blend in when we were in public. His unruly, curly hair stuck up in ridiculous directions from a serious case of bedhead.
Will, all hundred pounds of him, darted away, waving the candy bar in the air. “This is yours? How do you know?” he said, reading the wrapper. “I don’t see your name on it.”
T-Rex sat down on the edge of the bed and rolled his eyes. “Man, you’ve used that same line since preschool. You need to get some new material.”
Will looked disappointed. This obviously wasn’t how the game was supposed to go. “You’re not going to chase me? That’s no fun.”
“I don’t need to,” T-Rex said. “I’ve got Xavier.”
Just then a metal claw flew from the far side of the room, a spring trailing behind it. The claw grabbed the candy bar out of Will’s hand and then retracted back across the room, landing easily in Xavier’s open palm. He grinned and waved the candy bar in the air. In his other hand, he cradled a device that looked like a plastic toy gun. “Wow,” he said to no one in particular. “It actually worked this time.”
Xavier was kind of a genius. Like most inventors, his new creations tended to seem like an endless series of failures before he got them right. We’d become used to things blowing up in little puffs of black smoke around our campfires as he worked out a formula for a smokescreen grenade. Once, a piercing squeal almost blew out our eardrums as he fiddled with a device to scramble cell phones. So when something finally worked the way it was supposed to, no one was more surprised than Xavier himself.
Like most geniuses, he was also a little socially awkward. He was happiest when he could be alone with his thoughts, when his brain was caught up in a new interest or a puzzle he was trying to solve. He often hung around the edges of our group, seeming not to realize we were there. But then, every once in a while, he would say something that showed he’d been listening the entire time. And, because of the way his mind worked, he lacked any kind of filter to soften his opinions or ease into a disagreement. He just blurted out whatever he was thinking, sometimes to hilarious result.
He threw the candy bar to T-Rex. “Here you go, not that you need it.”
T-Rex grabbed it out of midair and frowned. He rubbed his belly. “Thanks, I guess.”
Xavier turned back to his device, reloading the spring back into a compartment and resetting the claw in place. Will looked guilty on Xavier’s behalf and for starting the whole thing. He walked over and patted T-Rex on the back. “He didn’t mean anything by it,” Will said. “That’s just how he is. In fact, I think this road trip is thinning you down.”
Daniel walked into the room. “Of course it is. A beef jerky and trail mix diet along with walking fourteen hours a day will do it to you.”
The wound where his nose had been chewed off was completely healed now and he wore a fake one in its place that blended in nicely. Unless you knew what you were looking for, it was easy to miss that his nose didn’t move quite the way it should and that it was a slight shade off in color now that the rest of his face had been tanned from our weeklong trip. Daniel tried not to show any vanity about his nose, but I had noticed he went out of his way not to look in a mirror.
He walked up to me and nodded back toward the balcony. “This place is something else, isn’t it? Once we get down into those streets, we’re going to be totally exposed. You know that, right?”
“Plenty of places to hide,” I offered.
“And our enemy will know all of them and we know none,” Daniel wasn’t arguing the point; he was just stating the fact the way someone might comment that dark clouds indicated rain was on the way. He had a lot more experience than I did as a hunter, so I would be foolish not to rely on him for help.
“What do you think we should do?” I asked.
He looked at me with an arched eyebrow. I tried not to notice the skin on his cheek tug around the edge of his prosthetic nose. “First, are you sure all this is really necessary?” he asked.
I gave him a deadpan look. We’d already covered this ground a hundred times on the journey here. “Aquinas said this man would have information for us. Vital information.”
“Okay, okay,” he said. “We hit the street in teams. Will and T-Rex. Xavier will be with me. And then you…and Eva.” He paused. The match-ups made sense, but the simmering rivalry between us for Eva’s attention wasn’t lost on either of us. Even just saying our names as if we were together had tripped him up. His face flushed, which just highlighted the dead color of his nose. It didn’t help matters that Eva chose that moment to appear from the bathroom door.
She was fresh from the shower and in a full-length bathrobe, holding a towel to her damp hair. She used the hook on her left arm with ease and rubbed the back of her neck dry. Even with her dark brown hair a wet mess, wearing a rag of a robe, she looked beautiful. No, that word is so overused that it hardly means anything anymore. I’m not sure how to describe her to you so that you’ll understand. I can’t be sure I’d tell how she looked or only how she looked to me.
In my eyes, there was no girl more attractive in the world. A single curl of her hair could hold my attention for an hour if I thought I could get away with staring at it. The upward curve of her lip when she was amused made me think endlessly on something clever to say just so I could see it. Her laugh filled me. The way she moved through a room was another endless fascination.
But as I looked at Daniel beside me and saw the way he stared at her, I knew the same brutal hold I felt had wrapped itself around him as well.
Unfortunately for the two of us, but fortunately for the sake of our mission, Eva seemed not to be stricken by any of these thoughts or concerns. Since the day after I killed the dragons, there was nothing but the banter of good friends between us. And I sensed the same was true between her and Daniel. Whether by choice or because of how she felt, she didn’t seem to have any interest in either of us outside of the needs of the quest.
Author Jeff Gunhus Jeff Gunhus grew up in Cyprus, Greece, and Saudi Arabia where there was a distinct lack of television. He quickly found books were the gateway to incredible adventures, fascinating characters and unbelievable discoveries. Now, with five children of his own (all who watch too much television, in his opinion), he has enjoyed revisiting his old books and reliving those adventures all over again.
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