A Time of Change

A Prologue to Huntress: Blood and Lust

By Christopher W. Blaine

e-mail: darth_yoshi@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: All of the characters contained in this story are ©2002 by DC Comics Inc. and are used without permission for fan-related, non-profit purposes only. This original story is ©2002 by Christopher W. Blaine and may not be reproduced, posted or archived in any manner without the express permission of the author.

Author's notes: This story is meant to be a prologue for my Huntress series of stories, including "Huntress: Blood and Lust" and "Huntress: Gods and Man". These stories are available for reading on either my website (http://darthyoshi.topcities.com) or at Fan Fiction Net (http://www.fanfiction.net).

It was a feeling of both cold and hot, of pain and pleasure and of life and death, but Dick Grayson could only concentrate on the burning desire for revenge that filled his soul; a soul tainted by his dark fantasies of blood. He wanted to cry out in agony and ecstasy, his hand reaching up to grab the dark hair of his lord and master, and that caused a temporary wave of disgust to wash over him.

He was dying and yet he was being born. The pressure on his neck increased and he felt his blood leaving through one puncture and then returning through the other. There was a coppery taste in his mouth, and the nineteen year old knew he had bitten his tongue, yet there was no pain. His nerve endings were on literal fire with sensation, but there was no anguish.

His vision began to blur and the spots that were forming seemed to dance until he suddenly became aware that his eyesight was changing, not fading. He was seeing the movement of gnats and traces of their body heat as they buzzed around their heads. It was a warm night, yet Dick felt none of the heat from the Gotham City summer as death's cold hand embraced him, but did not grip too tightly.

His life drifted in and out of his thoughts, as he also pondered the new life he would lead as he joined Bruce Wayne in his crusade of immortality and justice. For years, ever since the night his parents had been murdered as part of an extortion scheme against the circus they performed in, he had thought of nothing but being able to strike back against those who sacrifice the innocent. As a mortal boy, he would have been no match for the forces of evil that made up the Gotham City underworld.

However, he was no longer a boy and in a few more minutes, mortal would be an insult. His mentor, the man who had been present that night to take him in when the world would have abandoned him, his guardian angel of the dark, was not born of two parents of the homo sapiens variety.

Bruce Wayne was of a species that had many names in many cultures, the most common term being that of vampire. Of the many different races of vampires, Bruce was of the most powerful, the most pure. He was born of the union between a vampire and a human, which meant he was, as far as vampires went, genetically pure. Many times his mentor had explained the many facets of vampire physiology; thereby preparing the boy for the day he would take his place next to Wayne's side.

That day was here, Dick thought, smiling with pale blue lips, as Bruce slowly lowered him to the ground.

Monsignor Clark Moses Kent sat with his hands steepled together under his chin, listening to the status report being presented by a red-haired father. The father, a man about a decade younger than the Monsignor, was of steady gaze and voice, but he had a slight Midwestern accent that Kent, raised in Kansas, found refreshing. In Vatican City, everyone spoke Latin and it had a tendency to affect their English accents.

"Final testing of all recruits will begin next week. We expect that most should pass and from there, they shall be partnered up with more senior members."

Kent nodded and dissected the information behind his steely blue eyes. "Father Harper, I take it then that I can report to His Holiness that His Titans are ready to begin the Church's mission?" It was a question that the Monsignor had asked several former leaders of the Roman Catholic Church's special response team. "Are we able to perform God's work?"

Father Harper bowed his head. "In truth, Monsignor, we are always able to perform God's work; it is whether we perform it well or not that we have to question."

Kent smiled and stood up. "A true statement, Father, but I'm afraid that isn't what the Holy See wishes to hear. The Titans have a long history…"

"Of course, Monsignor," the junior priest began, a slight blush coming over his face. "I meant that the Titans are of course ready at any time to perform the Lord's work."

"Peace Father, I meant no slight, only that if you plan to lead, then you must think like a leader," Kent said coming around to the front of his desk. He sat down, a rosary in his hand. He had a habit of concentrating on it even when speaking about something else. It was a curious one, Father Harper noted, made of what appeared to be glowing green glass. A jealous priest who said that the Monsignor had dared to spend Church funds on such a gaudy thing made a comment about it once. He had been severely reprimanded for his words and it was explained that it was hand-made by Kent, from a stone found on his parent's farm. "Without it on my person, I feel strange…as if the devil were trying to fill me with evil power, power that makes me want to do things that only God, not man, may do," Kent had once said.

"When I was first given the position of leader of the Titans, there were very few people of…unique abilities. You do know that the Church frowns upon the use of what are called 'metahumans' in our work. Your mission will be more difficult than mine was or your predecessor's."

Father Harper understood. "Yes, Monsignor; I have spoken at length with Father Logan and he explained that he ran into the same thing. There are so many government-sponsored teams out there, the foremost being the Justice Society."

"Yes, the Justice Society of America. You understand that while the Church tries to work with other government teams, the Justice Society is considered not a team worthy of notice. They have heretics and homosexuals in their ranks." Kent stood up and walked over to the large window. Outside, several recruits for the Titans, young priests and nuns, were busy running laps on the track.

"The Titans inherited the legacy of the Poor Soldiers of Christ, the Templars. Because of the actions of some of the Templars during the Crusades, it was decreed that a new organization be formed to deal with religious matters that required a more martial touch. This included the addition of laywomen. At the time, it was believed that their presence would be a calming influence upon the men."

"Not exactly the politically correct attitude," the priest replied. Kent considered explained that the Catholic Church did not use terms such as "politically correct". He decided it was easier to ignore it. Father Harper was one of the few priests that had been married prior to taking up his vocation and therefore possessed a more unique view of the world than most other men of the cloth.

"The Titans have been charged with doing what is required to protect humanity from Satan's minions on Earth. It is a war, Father Harper, and a bloody one at that. Are you sure that you are ready for the Titans?"

The priest was silent for a moment and Kent turned around to ensure the young man was all right. There was a faraway and painful look in the man's eyes and he looked very much like a child and not a man who represented the teachings of Jesus Christ. "Monsignor, are you aware of the circumstances of my taking the vows of the priesthood?"

Kent had to confess he did not, only that he had been told that the Titan's leader was a widower. "My wife, Donna, and my daughter, Leanne, were killed before my eyes…"

"I'm sorry, Father, I wasn't aware…"

"Please, Monsignor, allow me to finish," he replied, holding up a finger. "They were killed, slaughtered by a vampire clan that had invaded the archeological site where we were working. My wife was a photographer and I was a guide for the local tribes. I was raised by Indians, did you know that? No? A local missionary gave me my education after my father died, which is how I became Catholic."

"I see," Kent said, stepping away from the window. He looked up at the crucifix above his desk. Some argued that the Passion of Christ involved feeling all of the emotional pain that ever was and ever would be and he wondered if even God could withstand such sadness. Under the mournful gaze of Christ, he tried to console the young priest. "Try to not let your hatred guide you or let it fill your heart."

"My heart is not full of hate, Monsignor, but full of love. Love for humanity, for all souls that live and breathe as Adam and Eve. Anything else, well, according to Church doctrine, must be a mistake."

All Monsignor Kent could do was nod. Everything that Father Harper said was true or was at least in accordance with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but that did nothing to ease the feeling creeping up his spine. He wished he had some sort of X-ray vision so he could look into the priest's soul. Then he prayed for forgiveness for even considering such a thing. Again, he felt "old Scratch knocking at the door" and he gripped his rosary tightly. "Very well, Father; I find your report satisfactory. I see no other alternative but to recommend implementation of your proposed plans."

"Thank you, Monsignor, God bless you," Father Harper said walking over. He took Kent's hand and kissed his ring. "Peace be with you, brother," Kent said, blessing the priest. "Go in peace."

Father Harper left the room and nodded to the Monsignor's personal secretary, who went into the office and closed the door. Father Harper considered the Monsignor's choice of words and realized that something was not quite right. He wondered if it were possible that the older man knew about Harper's conversation with the Mossad agent when he was last in Tel Aviv?

He dismissed it as simple paranoia and checked his watch. If Kent did know something or even suspected, he would be obligated by his vows to block the appointment to leader of the Titans. If that were to happen, all of his plans would be ruined and his mission to save humankind would be in ruins.

Whatever the cost, that must never happen, he thought to himself.

Helena Joan Bertinelli slumped onto the ground with the other trainees and tried her best to catch her breath. Several of the students succumbed to their exhaustion and fell onto their stomachs, calling out several prayers for strength and forgiveness for wanting their taskmaster to feel their pain.

Father James Job Corrigan strolled over, the streak of white in his otherwise red hair reflecting sunlight. It seemed as if there were an actual radiance coming from him, even though one look at his face would dispel such ideas. "You are all pathetic! How can you call yourselves servants of the Almighty when you can't even run a simple course?" Not so simple when one considered the 25-kilometer length of it, Helena thought as she struggled to get to her feet. "Your pain is nothing compared to the suffering of His Son upon the cross! Draw strength from the Lord and get up!"

Helena said a small prayer of forgiveness for her weakness and stood up. Though she was barely out of her teens, today she felt a million years old. The past year of training, after being specially selected by His Holiness himself, had run her ragged, taken her to the edge and beyond of her physical, mental and spiritual abilities. "Look here, you unworthy patsies," Father Corrigan cried out, coming over to stand next to Helena. She immediately began to shiver as if a wave of cold followed the priest everywhere he went. So tough was his physical training that the students had come to call him the "Priest of Vengeance".

"This is what I am talking about! All of you have made a commitment to God and the Church, pledged your minds, bodies and souls to waging war on the mortal plane. Do you think the Satan's minions are going to allow you to catch your breath?" Corrigan surveyed the rest of the students and spat.

This was the so-called "cream of the crop" of the Titans training program, which occurred only once every ten years. It was a fact, though not one that was publicized, that the average life expectancy of a member of this holy order was not very long at all. Helena could expect not to see her 30th birthday unless she became very good at what she was training to become.

The history of the Titans was well known to her, though she privately thought that naming a Church paramilitary organization after the forefathers of the Greek gods of myth was something of an oxymoron. However, its mission was a just and holy one that required those who had chosen service to God as their vocation to perform duties not normally taught at the convent.

"You have ten minutes to find your souls before firearms training," Corrigan said to the assembled students. He put a hand on Helena's shoulder. Were they not members of the Church, she would have broken the hand for such a familiar touch. "Is there something you require of me, Father?" she asked.

"If you don't mind, Sister, I would have a private word with you," he said softly.

Normally, a request for a private conference with Father Corrigan meant that you had washed out of the training program and you would be reassigned. If she were male, she might have been able to transfer to the Order of St. Dumas, a martial order older than the Templars. Being female she would have to settle on wherever the Church deemed she would be most useful. "Of course, Father."

They walked in silence away from the group and moved towards some beautiful marble benches set around a small pool. This was normally a place of silence and meditation, but since it was empty, it would serve as a sentencing arena for Helena. She wondered what she had done wrong.  "Is there a problem, Father?" she asked as they sat down.

"Let us pray first, for guidance and…honesty," Corrigan said. Helena said nothing, but bowed her head as the priest began to pray, his Latin eloquent and beautiful. Helena was reminded of the chanting of monks, something she had always appreciated and enjoyed. When they had finished, they both made the sign of the cross and looked at each other.

"Sister, have you decided on a code-name yet?"

Helena smiled. "I was thinking of something dangerous, yet feminine…Huntress."

Corrigan nodded his approval. "There are some within the Church that would say that wanting a feminine name is selfish and self-indulgent; I say that it is good that while you serve God, you not forget what a wonderful creation you are." He paused, as if he were mentally trying to soften his tone. When he spoke again, it appeared that it worked, for his voice sounded almost angelic. "You realize that you will graduate very soon and you will be assigned a partner for your first three years. I have requested that your be given Brother Jean-Paul Valley of the Order of St. Dumas."

Helena was shocked. "Father, forgive me, but I thought that the Order of St. Dumas had their own mission for the Church…that they have very…different vows…" Helena found herself struggling for the correct and most polite terms. The Order of St. Dumas was notorious for forgiving the excesses of its members. It was even rumored that many of the members kept the company of women at night. "Who is this Brother anyway, Father?"

"Jean-Paul is an expert vampire prosecutor, perhaps the best that the Church has, plus he has dealt with other situations not related to the vampire problem. However, he as made the statement that he feels his good fortune…or I should say his heavenly grace…is about to run out and he wishes to train a replacement."

"And Monsignor Kent agrees with this? Putting a woman with him?"

Corrigan took in a deep breath. "It is true that Jean-Paul has developed some unique methods of dealing with the Morningstar's lackeys, but his soul means well."

Helena was puzzled. "But still, wouldn't Father Harper be better suited?" Helena had not met or even seen the newly positioned leader of the Titans, but his name was well known to all in her class. "Brother Valley personally selected you. He claims that his Guardian angel told him that you and him were destined to become the best of friends."

"Prophecy, Father? Has the Church approved this?"

Corrigan laid a hand on top of hers. "He does not claim to be a prophet, but we cannot deny that he must indeed be receiving special protection. I worked with him when I was still a field agent and the things I saw him get out of…" Helena nodded, and accepted that if Father Corrigan was impressed than so should she. As the Titan agent known as the Spectre, Corrigan had served with distinction on Monsignor Kent's Titans as an undercover operative. He would infiltrate vampire cults, becoming the ghost in the machine, providing real time intelligence for the Church. He had been forced into retirement after he had been killed. Monsignor Kent had been the one to provide the CPR that had brought him back. They said that he had seen Heaven in those few moments. "It is an honor, Sister Helena; however, His Holiness has decreed that you must willingly accept him. Otherwise, you will be assigned one of the other agents. Your position in the Titans is not in jeopardy."

"That is assuming I graduate, Father," she said, flashing a mouth full of straight white teeth. She was stunningly beautiful and could have commanded any one of the fashion runways in Rome. Her obvious Roman features were accentuated by the Olympic figure. Many young priests had found themselves confessing of lustful thoughts for her and yet none of it affected her pleasantness. Despite the loss of her family, orphaned at such a young age, she still believed in the goodness of man, regardless of his occasional slip-ups. It had made her the most popular of students.

Father Corrigan stood up. "That's why we're here. Congratulations, Sister; you are now a Titan. Report to the operations barracks by evening mass."

When the priest was safely out of sight, Helena jumped up and whooped, singing songs of thanks and praise to God above.

I'm going to die!

The fear tore through Barbara Gordon like a hit knife as she was pushed back into the bushes with in Gotham Park. The man who had gabbed her smelled of tobacco and strong drink, and his hands were sweaty and greasy. Her attacker had an odd laugh, an almost hysterical cackle that made her skin cringe even more.

She shouldn't have been out here in the first place, just as her father had told her. Her butt hit the mud without a sound, except for a small yelp from her. "You smell real good, slut," the man said, wiping his drooling mouth with his dirty jacket sleeve. "Are you a natural redhead?"

Barbara understood completely what the man was getting at and the large knife in his trembling hand indicated that she would have no choice but to submit if she wanted to live. She had already struck at the man, employing the rudimentary judo skills her police commissioner father had taught her, but the man had just laughed at her. The laughing was the worst part of all, as she imagined him on top of her…that smell…that laugh…

"You tell me, meat, are you really a natural red blood?" came a raspy voice in the dark.

Barbara did not recognize the voice, but her attacker began to slash the knife around. He mumbled something about the "Bat-Man" and started to move away from her. Obviously, the voice was overriding the man's desire to bed a young college freshman and despite her fear, Barbara was curious.

"I'm no boogey-man, meat," the voice said again. Then there was a laugh, but it was not the maniacal call that her would-be rapist was so good at, but something more primal and evil. It carried with it an artic cold that froze the hairs on the back of Barbara's neck. She slowly stood up as the man stumbled out of the bushes, still hacking at the empty air.

She brushed her red hair back and fought the urge to flee. She wanted to know what was going on. For years, homeless men, drug dealers, pimps and all sorts of other criminals had been disappearing from Gotham City, no trace ever seen again. It was happening to too many of the same type of people that it could not be coincidence. Her father, in investigating the crimes, had come across several references to a "Bat-Man", a man-like figure that swooped down from the sky and scooped up the criminals to take away to some unknown cave or something. Her father was positive that it was vampires, or possibly harpies or hobgoblins.

Such a thing would have been laughable some twenty years before when creature of myth were considered just that…myths. The awful truth had been revealed during a live telecast from the Olympics in Sarajevo, when a vampire attack and an actual vampire had been captured. Very soon after that, the Catholic Church made a full disclosure about a two thousand year battle against what they called the forces of darkness. Scientists heralded it as the coming of the next generation of humankind.

Barbara peered from the bushes, noting momentarily that her shirt had been ripped open and she was exposing her naked flesh to the thorns of the bushes. She looked down for only a second to see of she could somehow preserve her modesty when whatever it was attacked.

There was a blood-curdling cry and something wet hit Barbara in the chest. In the dim moonlight, she saw that it was a dark liquid and she immediately felt faint. She looked at the man only to see a teenage boy and a young woman ripping him to shreds with their teeth. Horrified, Barbara screamed and turned to run.

The boy leapt down in front of her before she could get fifteen feet away. He was a handsome boy, except for the blood all over his mouth and the evil look in his eyes. He was dark-haired and for a moment, he reminded Barbara of her boyfriend, Richard Grayson. "Don't hurt me," she pleaded.

The boy stepped forward. "You ever done it with a minor, sweet-blood?" He sniffed the air. "Yum, yum…virgin…I can smell it, you know? Like a fine wine. Can you smell it, Dinah?"

The blonde appeared to her left, holding a bloody scrotum. "Bite?" she offered.

Barbara felt herself going into shock as she realized that her bad situation just became much, much worse. The prospect of becoming a vampire's meal was not at all pleasant. "Where you going, virgin?" the boy asked, his hand going to his crotch. "You ever gotten a cold one?"

The blonde grabbed Barbara and pulled her close. Her breath was coppery and foul. Barbara wanted to throw up, but she hadn't eaten anything that day and all she did was dry heave. "I want to watch, Jason," she said.

The vampire called Jason smiled, showing his crimson-coated fangs. "This is going to be good; I've been wanting a piece of you since the first time I saw you."

Dinah's hold on Barbara tightened and Barbara wondered where she had seen this boy before or even his older companion. Jason reached out and tore off her shirt and bra, his ice-cold hands tracing circles on her breasts. Despite what was going on, she found herself compelled to look at him as he molested her. When their eyes met, a strange feeling overcame her.

It was not subtle, more like a battering ram of lust that washed over her and much to her embarrassment, she found herself thrusting her chest out towards the vampire, physically begging for his touch. A warm feeling was beginning in the pit of her stomach and Dinah's tongue on her neck was bringing her waves of pleasure.

"Get the hell away from her, Jason!"

Jason turned and hissed. "Go screw yourself, meat!"

Richard stepped into their field of vision. "Move or die."

"He's changed," Dinah said. "He's not meat…you smell it?" She let go of Barbara, who simply slumped to the ground, feeling drunk and horny, embarrassed and shocked. Her vision was hazy, everything looking as if it were very far away, at the end of a tunnel. She recognized the voice of her boyfriend, confronting the vampires.

He had come, just as he had promised! Now, those vampires would pay and she would reward her man with a big kiss and maybe so much more. She drifted into a lustful fantasy and Richard found the anger welling up inside of him as he watched her arch her back and moan on the ground. "I thought I warned you about going near her, Jason. You above all should know better, Dinah," Richard said as he bent down to check Barbara's neck. "You're damn lucky that she hasn't been harmed."

Jason smirked. "Just because you're technically the older brother doesn't give you the right to push me around, you understand? You think because Bruce finally turned you that you have some special rights? We all have the same standing in the family, you piece of flesh-rot."

Richard stood up and said something in the ancient vampire tongue. Dinah giggled. "You need to work on conjugating verbs, sweetheart. However, I'm all for it if you two are."

"Shut up, bitch!" Jason said. He had been turned at fifteen and never looked back. In Bruce's family, he was the black sheep, the problem child who was unable to control his lusts either for blood or sex. Vampires were sexual creatures by nature, but Jason took it to extremes. He was lucky that Dinah, one of Bruce's blood-brides, also shared the same psychological extremes. "That little heifer needs to breed and bleed! I have standing over you, so get out of my way, newbie!"

Richard erected to his full height, which was at least six inches above that of Jason. Long claws extended from his hands and he displayed the prominently. For years, he had trained in the art of vampire fighting with Bruce, using special equipment of course since he had been human. Bruce had found it necessary to allow Richard to lead a normal life for a time in order to give credence to Bruce's cover as an eccentric playboy. What self-respecting vampire would keep a human child after all? "Standing or not, I'll kill you of you touch her."

Jason started laughing. "You really love this little dish, don't you? Wake up, Grayson! Once she sees that you're vampire she'll go running to her daddy and then the jig is up! We'll be on the run like so many of the other families. She's a liability. C'mon, we'll both do her and then we'll eat her." Jason took another step forward and Richard reached out and grabbed him by the throat and lifted him up. The action caused no real pain and since vampires stored oxygen from the blood they drank, there was no chance of choking him. However, Jason had once been human and those years had taught him the symbolism behind the gesture. "You're a fool, Dick! One day, you'll realize that when I'm running things."

"You'll die that day, Jason, if you cross me," Richard said as he threw Jason down.

Barry Allen rubbed his eyes and once again applied them to the microscope. Next to him were stacks of slides containing various samples of vampire genetic material. For three years now, ever since he joined the Justice Society of America as the Flash, he had been using the impressive government facilities to further his research into the origins of deviant species. At one time, before the accident that had granted him his powers, he had been a devout disciple of Lex Luthor, the world's leading geneticist.

Like any scientist worth his salt, however, young Barry had decided that there were flaws in some of Luthor's theories and he had been cast out. It was only that he had the ability to move at super-speed that he was able to continue his research and was not relegated to a dismal life of forensic science for some police department.

"At it again?" Ralph Dinby, the Elongated Man said. As eerie as it was to watch, Barry was starting to get used to Ralph extending his limbs like they were made of putty. Right now, Ralph's arm was out of sight, no doubt heading to the kitchen. "Think you can find the gay gene in there?"

Barry lifted his head slightly and turned to his teammate. "Ralph, as much as you would love to have the evidence to throw in the Catholic Church's face, homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, not a genetic mutation. You're gay because you want to be." It had become more than just a simple joke, the statement about the gay gene. It was one of Luthor's newest theories about human evolution. Luthor had proposed that certain members of the species were predetermined to be homosexual to prevent over-population.

It was that sort of crackpot science that Barry could not digest, respected and educated men trying to explain every whim and decision with nothing more than four-syllable words and a PhD. Because he had come out publicly about his homosexuality, Ralph Dinby had been excommunicated from the Church, of which he had been more or less very devoted to for his entire life. That had generated a desire to find some explanation for his way of life other than a simple desire to live that way.

In fact, of all of the members of the team, Barry was probably considered the most normal one, with the exception of his powers. He was Lutheran, however, and could give a care less what the Catholic Church thought. "Do you have an actual reason for bothering me, Ralph?"

"Actually, yes; I was wondering if you're friend Hal was available?"

Barry returned to his slides. The Justice Society of America was officially sanctioned by the United States government to apprehend and deliver vampires to Lex Luthor's labs. The idea behind it was to try and find a "cure" for vampirism. Hogwash, mostly, as Barry understood that the military was very interested in vampire physiology. Vampires had incredible immune systems and rapid cellular growth potential. Barry was able to get his own samples in much the same way. If there was a so-called cure, if vampirism was a disease, he knew the only person who would actually be searching for a cure would be him and him alone. On the other hand, if they were an actual separate species, he wanted to prove that beyond a doubt. "Hal is straight, Ralph, sorry."

"Too bad," Ralph mused. He picked up a slide and looked at it, extending his finger and prodding the sample. "Don't!" Barry shouted. "That's active vampire cell culture; there's a possibility of exposure if you aren't careful."

Ralph set the slide down and pulled his other arm back. In his hand, just as Barry had guessed, was a plate of cheeses and some crackers. "Hungry?"

Barry sat up straight, listening to his back pop as he did so. He looked up at the clock and saw he had been at it for over twelve hours. "No, I think I'm going to go to bed."

Barry started picking up the slides to put them away in a refrigerator. "Barry, have you ever sat down and talked with Hawkman and Dr. Fate?"

Barry nodded. "Sure. I'm not much into the entire reincarnated Egyptian motif, but they seem to be pretty solid guys. I miss Hawkgirl, though, she was really nice to look at."

"Oh, please…there was a wonder bra in the halter top, Barry!"

Barry shrugged. "I don't care. Look, maybe you don't like a pretty girl, but I do, okay? When she and Hawkman broke up, I honestly thought I had a shot, but then she just up and left. I hear she's coming back…they've got a weird relationship."

"They think they're reincarnated Egyptians…with blonde hair no less!" Ralph shook his head and put his feet up on a nearby table. "I'm just saying that talk like that doesn't exactly make me feel safe when we're supposed to be going up against the forces of evil, you know? How do we know that we won't run into a master vampire or something that these guys knew back in Ming Dynasty?"

Barry suppressed the desire to explain that the Ming Dynasty had absolutely nothing to do with ancient Egypt, but thought more about ending the conversation so he could go to bed. "I really wouldn't worry about it, Ralph. Just do what you're told…Hawkman and Dr. Fate are capable leaders."

"I'm just saying that it's kind of weird. You know, in another time and place, we'd be fighting super-villains."

"And what the hell do you think we're doing? We aren't fighting bank robbers and embezzlers; we're going after those individuals who would harm society…we bring justice."

Ralph raised his eyebrows. "Do you believe that? Let me ask you, how many vampires are there in the world, Barry? Just an estimate…"

Barry shrugged his shoulders, closed the refrigerator door and said he had no idea. "I'll tell you what the latest figures are saying; approximately 1 million out of a population of 6 billion. Now, we know for a fact that not all of them survive on human blood…some have actually developed a taste for other species…"

"God, Ralph, not that Chupacabra theory again! Goat-eating vampires…that's too much for even me to believe," Barry said shaking his head.

"Listen," his friend said, suddenly sitting up. "I'm serious here, man. Now, we've declared war on the vampires, even though it's a fact that we humans kill more people than the vampires could ever hope to. Sure, there are some psycho baby-killing vampires, but they really are few and far between and you know it! We're going after them because of some primitive prejudice and fear…we should only prosecuting those that commit crimes."

"Sure, Ralph, and maybe we can open up the blood banks for the good ones. It's a nice theory, but a little far-fetched. Vampires kill humans, so humans kill vampires." Barry started to walk back to shut down his workstation. "What is your problem tonight?"

"Man, think about it. What happens if we wipe the vampires out and not learn to live with them? We've coexisted for thousands of years and now they've become a great scourge? When they're gone, who are the people in charge going to go after next, especially with secret weapons that believe they'll live a thousand lifetimes?"

Barry looked at Ralph like he was crazy, trying to figure out exactly what it was he was getting at. What did he mean about who would the government pursue next? Then a thought occurred to him, Ralph was talking about himself. For now, in the battle against vampires, the conservative forces in the government were willing to overlook Ralph's homosexuality. If the major threat were out of the way, could they start looking towards a more domestic agenda?

He wanted to say no, that it wasn't possible, but he couldn't deny the possibility. "Ralph, I'm sure everything will be okay…"

Ralph looked at him and his eyes conveyed that he did not necessarily believe in what Barry was saying. "Well, just remember what we talked about, Barry. One day it's vampires, then they come for anyone who isn't like them."

Barry watched him leave and found himself clenching his fists. It took him nearly three more hours before he could fall asleep.

Jean-Paul Valley, Brother of the Order of St. Dumas on loan to His Holiness's Titans, sat up and started coughing immediately. In reaction, he reached for the pack of Marlboro cigarettes on the nightstand on the opposite side of the bed. His tanned forearm brushed against the shoulder of the unnamed female next to him. He tried to remember her name, but it failed to come to him.

Grabbing his cigarettes, he got up out of bed, made the sign of the cross, and walked over to the balcony. He was not surprised to see a familiar face sitting at the small table, eating a piece of toast. "Good morning, Brother Azrael," the man said.

Jean-Paul regarded the man, slightly miffed that he was being addressed by his Order code-name and not his actual one. He returned the courtesy. "Bonjour, Zauriel; I trust you are out doing the Lord's work this morning?" He lit a cigarette, coughed again and inhaled deeply. "I did not expect to see you for at least another few years. An undercover mission in Iraq, wasn't it?"

"Alas, my cover was blown," the other man said. He appeared to be older than Jean-Paul, but still youthful despite the gray hair. He nibbled at the toast. "You know, you took a vow of chastity."

"Under duress…" came the quick reply. "I joined the Order to serve God as a weapon, not as a eunuch. I am a man; besides, our Order doesn't take such vows…it was some B.S. that Monsignor Kent had me do. You know how the black robes want everyone to fall into line."

"You do represent the Church…"

Jean-Paul held up a hand in chopping motion. "Stop! I am aware of my vows, my duty and my responsibilities. I have done more in the name of God than any of those whining little mass-makers could ever dream of. They preach for man's soul; I kill for it." When Zauriel put his eyes down, obviously chastised, Jean-Paul plopped down into the chair opposite of him. "You still haven't answered my question."

Zauriel looked up. "There's something going on in Egypt, but we're not sure what just yet. It looks like some sort of death cult. There is also another matter going on in Germany we'd like you to look into."

"I'm busy," Jean-Paul said, pouring himself some coffee. "I'm being assigned a new partner, plus Father Harper himself asked me to stay on."

"Ah, yes, Sister Bertinelli…not quite your type," Zauriel smirked. Then he got serious again. "Jean-Paul, perhaps you didn't hear me when I said my cover was blown."

Tossing the cigarette on the ground, Jean-Paul breathed out hard and flexed his arms, stretching the hard muscles. "What do you mean? I figure you screwed up…"

Shaking his head, Zauriel played with a small spoon on the table. "No, my cover was perfect. We think that someone knew I was there and let the wrong people know about it. You know that the Order's business extends well beyond His Holiness's obsession with vampires." He was silent for a moment, and then he brought his head up to look into Jean-Paul's blue eyes. "We think there may be something going on in the Vatican, some sort of secret society thing."

Jean-Paul was silent as he pondered the implications. The Order of St. Dumas had been originally established by Frankish knights who sought to serve as the pontiff's personal internal affairs division. As such, they were charged with duties that would include bringing nobles to justice that plotted against the Church. This brought them into conflict with the Templars during the Crusades, and the Order was forced to scale back its operations and begin taking new approaches towards age-old problems such as avarice and greed. The Church was eternal and good; its members were a different story.

"Sounds like paranoia to me."

Zauriel looked around, as if expecting to see someone watching them and then leaned in close. "It's not. If you haven't noticed, there is a power change occurring in the Church and we are not sure the direction it's going in."

Jean-Paul leaned in close as well, a smile on his face. He looked around as well, but in a more comical way. "We take orders from the Pope, not from our baseless fears." 

"There may be a base to our fears that we do not see, Jean-Paul."

The Frenchman rolled his eyes and sat back, taking in the smells of the Parisian morning. "Is that all you came here for? To try and get me to back your fears? Did you ever stop to consider that maybe you are just a bad operative? Perhaps a life of meditation would be better suited for you."

Zauriel's reply was chilling. "If what I fear comes true, we will not have time to meditate because we will all be dead." He moved back as well and picked up his remaining toast. "Just think about what I say, Jean-Paul and keep your eyes open. I'm actually here to warn you, and this comes from the Order: stop the flagrant disrespect of the Church's ways. While attached to the Titans, you will accord yourself in a manner that does not reflect poorly on the Order. There are many who would see our Order dissolved and absorbed into, say, the Dominicans. We are an old order and we would like to stay active so that we may perform the Lord's work."

"Oui, oui," Jean-Paul said, waving his hand. "Whatever…you try hunting vampires for a living and see how it affects you. They fill your mind with such thoughts…"

"I'd say those thoughts were already in your mind, Brother. I'm curious, though, why did you even join the Order or the Church. Forgive me, but you simply don't seem like the type to do so."

Jean-Paul mumbled something in French, and then cleared his throat. "Angels. Angels appear to me sometimes and tell me what I must do. Sometimes I think if I do the wrong thing, they'll go bother someone else. Lord forgive me, but I wanted to be an artist, not a killer." He reached for the cigarettes again, taking one out and tapping the butt on the pack. "Just like the angels said I should work with this Bertnelli woman, this nun warrior the Church has created. God! What are we doing? We should be out do good works, not slaughtering…"

"We do what we must, Jean-Paul, for we are not privy to the Lord's plan. We can only know our small part in which we play. Do me a favor? Lay off the wine, women and song before your friend Father Harper finds out. He's very conservative…"

"He was my partner for five years; he knows what I am like."

"Jean-Paul…don't make me order you."

They were silent for several minutes and the Zauriel shrugged and stood up. He wished Jean-Paul peace of mind and soul and left the balcony, not even glancing at the sleeping woman in his brother monk's bed. Jean-Paul huffed the cigarette down and then went over to the open bar and pulled out a small bottle of American whiskey. Downing it, he considered hopping back into the bed to warm up, but then he remembered what was being asked of him.

A reluctant monk, the angels had steered him towards and order that more or less operated independently of the Church. It was there he could do what they required while not surrendering the passions that made him who he was. He wished there were a better outlet, perhaps in his paintings, but it had been fifteen years since he last picked up a brush. He had traded that for his sword.

The blade hung in its scabbard just inside the balcony doorway. He briefly wondered if he could count how many had died so he could perform the Lord's work and he wondered why God would even allow such things to exist if all they were going to be was killed by him. He knew that Zauriel was right, he was burning out, losing his edge and they were afraid that his actions while a Titan would cause the Holy Pontiff to end the Order of St. Dumas.

He would have to mend his ways or quit. The angels would not let him pursue other vocations, so he decided to wake the woman and tell her she had to go.

Barbara Gordon opened her eyes slowly, a chill overcoming her senses as she tried to determine if she was asleep and dreaming or awake and living a nightmare. There was very little light and she could smell mildew and decay in the air. The air itself was cool and moist and she felt like she was in her grandmother's basement. She moved to sit up and realized that she was naked, save for a simple blanket wrapped around her.

She heard a thrumming sound to her left and as her eyes adjusted, she could see that there was a doorway. On weak legs, she stood up and closed the blanket to hide her nakedness. There was water on the floor, but it was more from the air condensing and not from some type of flooding.

The hallway beyond was unlit, but there was a door at the end and she could see light underneath. Her head hurt and the images that were going through her mind were confusing and frightening. Images of carnal acts, blood and violence assailed her. By the time she reached the door, she felt sick in her stomach and soul. Opening the door, she stumbled into the light.

Richard called her name and moved like lightning to catch her falling form. In his strong arms, she found safety. She looked up at him and saw that his face was red and there were streaks running down it. Crimson streaks like tears; tears of blood. She touched one and saw it was moist.

They were in a laundry room and the sound had been the clothes dryer that Richard had been standing next to. He lifted her up without little effort and set her down gingerly on the top of the dryer. Its warmth was welcome on her soggy bottom. "Richard…"

He looked away. "I'm sorry, Barbara, but I can't look at you. You see me as a monster…a freak…"

"I want to understand why you would do what you did? Why would you stop being human and turn your back on what you are."

He still kept his face hidden. His voice was soft. "What the hell is so great about being human? It was a human that killed Bruce's father and mother, and his mother was human by the way. It was humans that killed my mother and father. Everyday, humans kill each other for things as ridiculous as a pair of shoes." He moved a little farther away from her, as if her very disdain for him caused him pain. "Humans tear unwanted children out of wombs, their governments attack and torture their own citizens and they refuse to exact equal punishment upon their law breakers." He then turned, the blood tears flowing freely. "You tell me what is so great about being human."

Despite her fear, she felt her heart breaking as she realized that her lover had been holding so much back for so very long. In all of the time they had been together, she had avoided talking about his parents. She was aware that he had been adopted by Bruce Wayne, the eccentric billionaire, and that his parents had been murdered, but she never pressed it any further.

Then the realization set in as facts began to fall like puzzle pieces and she was busy making the big picture. All of the disappearances of criminals over the past several years had been Bruce Wayne and those other vampires! Now Richard was one of them. "Is this what you really wanted?"

He reached out for her. "Barbara, you have no idea what it is like, how different everything is. I see emotion, I feel shadows…I can read your mind."

She straightened up immediately. "Well, don't…don't read my mind! Is that what that other vampire did?"

"His name is Jason and he's my brother…my adoptive brother. Bruce turned him almost immediately…not very smart." He looked down again. "I wanted to wait because I didn't want to be a kid forever. Bruce is different, he ages very slowly because he's a real vampire…born that way…"

Barbara reached out and cupped Richard's face and brought it up. "I don't care about that; I want to know about you! Why did you do this? Why now, when we were getting so close. My God Richard, I love you."

His lip trembled and she caught sight of a fang. Not quite sharp yet as it must have been still growing. "Nothing in this world can describe how I feel about you, Barbara. You are the beat to my heart, the resonance of my voice and the fire of my passion. I want to love with you forever."

His eyes were pleading, tearing at the heartstrings and making her breath heavy. She understood what he was saying; he wanted her to join him. He was not only offering himself but also offering freedom from death. "Richard…you kill to live; don't you understand? It's inhuman!"

"I'm not human! My humanity was taken away the day my parents died! Bruce showed me that; he showed me what a truly disgusting creature man has become. I renounce my humanity!" He banged a fist on the dryer and it made her jump. "You are the only thing I have ever found that meant more to me then burying the pain…I'd rather die than not be with you. We can be immortal, Barbara!"

She looked at him and all of her fears left her as she fell into his arms, their lips meeting in a hot embrace. She half expected him to be cold, but found him to be hot and he tasted sweet. He grabbed her face and forced her to look into his eyes.

The room faded away and they were alone on top of a high mountain. It was springtime and she could smell the flowers in the night air. A high moon illuminated their faces as their hands explored naked bodies. In the distance, a wolf announced the beginning of their lovemaking to the moon.

The grass had that new smell and she could feel droplets of his sweat as they fell onto her chest. She made him look into her eyes as their rhythm started to match the breezes. As their tempo intensified, so did the winds and as she heated on the inside from his attentions, the air cooled her skin. She screamed with each thrust and put her nails deep into his back, symbolically and literally penetrating him at the same time.

He looked at her, unable to force enough air through his throat to speak, his chest flexing as he strained to gulp oxygen. His eyes, however, conveyed his love, his desire and passion for her. As they approached the peak of the moment, her world suddenly went red and she found herself still kissing him in the laundry room.

She backed away, trembling. He was sweating, the effort of such a potent link of their minds, of witnessing his fantasy, had physically drained him of strength. Barbara realized that whatever Bruce Wayne had done to him must have occurred not too long ago. "Richard, sit down, please." He nodded and set down on the laundry table opposite of her. "Your clothes are drying. I'm sorry I can't sew, but you can borrow one of my shirts to wear."

"I don't know," she said, still trying to shake off the effects of their link, "I kind of like this running around naked." He laughed and she was surprised to see just how human he looked and she could see how Bruce Wayne had been able to survive for as long as he had. She thought back, trying to find one time she had ever seen Bruce Wayne in daylight, but all she drew was a blank. "Richard, now that I know about you…"

"Nobody will hurt you so long as I live."

She thought of her encounter with Jason and how sinister and bloodthirsty he had been and she realized that if there were any more vampires like him around, Richard could end up dead. "I can't ask you to do that."

"Then don't; join me…together we can go anywhere for as long as we want. We can truly live happily ever after."

"Really? And along the way we kill some children and drink their blood?" The thought almost made her cry as she realized that eventually he would have to drink blood to survive. "Can you live with that?"

"We punish the guilty. What about that guy who tried to rape you tonight? Aren't you glad he won't be doing that to someone again?" His eyes were fiery as he spoke.

He was right. Whether it was morally or ethically wrong meant nothing to her. "Yes, a part of me is glad he's dead…"

"You don't have to decide now, Barbara; give me a chance to prove to you what we can be together." He smiled and for a moment, he was the high school athlete nervously asking her out. "Together, my love, we can be forever."