Jack Slade: Demon Hunter
While on vacation in New Orleans, Jack Slade is approached by a young woman who asks him to stop her cousin, a powerful vampire, in his bid to control the world. Slade follows a trail of blood that leads him into the dark world of Voodoo where he battles murderous zombies, the vampire’s henchmen and finally the vampire himself in a fight to the death.
The dank, oppressive darkness of the West African jungle pressed heavily, like a living thing, on the broad shoulders of Antoine Duvalier. It pushed down on the canopy of branches overhead, clung to the vines hanging from the trees, dripped through the twisted underbrush and oozed onto the narrow, winding trail where Duvalier and a group of black men were making their way slowly by torchlight. The eyes of the torchbearers rolled fearfully as they searched the shadows for lurking danger. Duvalier guided them through a part of the jungle sacred to the Voodoo Loas. The Loas were jealous of their prerogatives and looked unkindly upon interlopers.
Indeed, the torchbearers as well as the men carrying supplies seemed ever on the verge of fleeing back down the trail in terror. They cringed at the night wind moaning through the trees like a dying woman, started at the sinister sounds of jungle animals keeping pace with them just beyond the flickering light and leaped away from the shadowy vines that coiled like serpents about their bare feet. Terrified of the Loas’ vengeance, there was not a man among them who would not have run screaming back down the trail if he could. But they were kept to the task by an even greater dread of the man who led them.
In his mid-forties, Antoine Duvalier was black like the others, but there the similarity ended. Where they were massively muscled, he was lean and whipcord tough. Where their features were thick and heavy, with bones piercing their noses and earlobes, his features were sharply defined. His skull was perfectly round, and beneath thick black hair, cut short, a high forehead rose majestically above a pair of piercing black eyes—eyes that did not simply radiate intelligence and power, but exploded with them. A high-bridged nose with fine nostrils reared like an eagle’s beak above a wide mouth with full, cleanly chiseled lips. Dressed in canvas pants, high-laced boots and a short-sleeved safari jacket, his tall, straight form moved with the sinister grace of a panther as he strode regally behind the torchbearers.
His outer appearance, although impressive, would not have been enough to dominate the natives and force them to enter forbidden territory fraught with deadly danger. It was his power that dominated them. Not only did it explode from his eyes, but it coursed through his aura, his slightest gesture was electric with it. The natives recognized him as a man of power, a high priest of Voodoo—a houn’gan—and something else, something darker. As a result, when he gave a command, although their flesh crawled and their very souls cringed, they obeyed.
The trail wound up toward a massive escarpment rearing gaunt and threatening above the jungle. There the trees thinned, and a mighty wall of black stone rose straight before them, its distant crest etched faintly against the stars. As the natives clustered about, murmuring fearfully amongst themselves, Duvalier pulled a map from his jacket pocket and examined it in the torchlight. Nodding, he returned the piece of paper to his pocket and addressed the natives in West African dialect.
“Clear that brush away from the base of the cliff,” he said in a deep, resonant voice.
Although reluctant, the natives peered nervously into his face, took deep breaths, then pulled long-bladed machetes from sheaths at their belts and went forward. As the torchbearers held their torches high, the men hacked at the thick undergrowth. Slowly, a way was cleared to the base of the cliff where the flickering light revealed the corner of a man-made portal.
“There!” Duvalier cried excitedly, pointing to the formation. “Cut away to the left. Clear that entrance.”
Under the chopping blades of the machetes, the underbrush fell away to reveal a gateway cut into the base of the escarpment. Although built of the same black basalt as the cliff-face—rendering it invisible in the underbrush—there was a clearly defined arched portal, with stones around the rim mortared into place.
Duvalier took a torch from a bearer, went forward and examined the entrance.
Smooth black stone closed the opening, its surface etched with strange designs he recognized as Voodoo vevirs—signatures of the Loas. Murmuring sacred incantations, he traced the signs with his fingertips. He stepped back, handed the torch to a bearer, then faced the portal. He expanded his vision to include the portal with its vevirs so he could get an image of the entire design. Clearing his mind, he allowed the sigils to speak to him, to tell him what he must do to open the gate.
A yellow flame flickered in the darkness of his brain. It blazed up until his head was suffused with light. It spoke to him in a soundless voice as Duvalier focused his attention upon it. It whispered to him of cosmic depths, of boundless gulfs, of abyssal powers that were ancient long before man set foot upon the earth. A vast panorama opened to his inner vision, where shadowy, amorphous creatures with flaming eyes and fang-rimmed mouths emerged from cosmic slime. They blazed like meteors through infinite space and over time spans so vast that his mind staggered in its effort to encompass them. They forged the building blocks of what would become the universe.
After countless Ages, other Great Powers arose, superseding the Old Gods, and the universe assumed its final shape. Earth became inhabitable, and man appeared. New gods ruled, and mankind began its long march to its ultimate destiny.
The Old Ones, however, although dethroned, never went away.
They sank into the cosmic depths to await the moment of their re-emergence. As a token of that re-emergence, as a sign their time was drawing near, they placed a power object deep within the earth. It was a talisman imbued with the force of the Old Gods, and it contained the power to call them forth again from the cosmic slime. Only one qualified—a special man from a special timeless lineage—would be able to find the power object. Only he would discern its importance.
When that man arose, when he held the object in his hands, the Old Ones would know that the time of their return had arrived.
Duvalier reeled under the impact of the vision exploding in his mind. He grasped the cosmic importance of what he did—of who he was. He perceived the almost unbearable responsibility he was placing upon his shoulders. Further, he understood, as the yellow light whispered, that the Old Ones did not tolerate failure. If he failed in his self-chosen task, he would be utterly destroyed.
With sure steps and steady hands, Duvalier strode to the portal, reached up and ran his fingers over the weathered stones lining the frame. Guided from within, he depressed the rocks according to a specific pattern. With a deep rumble, stone grated against stone. The gate lifted, and a black hole appeared in the cliff-face.
The natives shrank back. They covered their mouths and babbled in terror.
Duvalier pointed to the entrance. “Come! Light the way.”
This time his power was insufficient to command them. They stared at the black opening as if they peered into the darkest pits of Hell.
About to insist, Duvalier realized it would be useless. Dread paralyzed them.
“Very well,” he muttered and snatched a torch from a bearer’s shaking hand. “Give me the extras,” he commanded, and several natives handed them to him. After he strapped them to his back, he said, “You men stay here and keep watch until I return.”
Glancing at their rolling eyes and ashen faces, he had little confidence that they would obey. Sighing, he turned, approached the entrance, stooped and thrust the torch into the darkness. A long narrow corridor, cut from living stone, ran straight ahead until it was lost in shadow. Before he entered, with his eyes and fingers, he searched around the opening for hidden traps or cables that would suggest it was rigged to repel interlopers. Thrusting his hand inside, he quickly retracted it to see if an invisible light beam would trigger some disaster. Finally, he placed his weight on the stones just past the entrance with his foot to see if any could be depressed.
Reassured, with a last glance at the natives, who stared at him as if he marched to his doom, he stepped inside. After three steps, the gate fell with a crash behind him. Spinning around, he saw that the mountain effectively sealed him in. With a shrug, he turned back and continued down the tunnel. He was already committed. He’d either succeed, or he would die. The closed portal merely confirmed that. From that moment on, his feet were inexorably set upon this path, and the only direction he could go was forward.
The tunnel debouched into a vast vault. Duvalier raised the torch above his head and gazed in wonder at great ribs of stone arching upward until they were lost in shadow. Glancing down, he peered into a black pit yawning at his feet. He kicked a pebble over the edge and listened for it to strike bottom. Only silence returned his effort. A narrow bridge spanned the gulf. After glancing about, he saw that it was the only way forward. It arched over the pit, and he examined it by the light of the torch. It seemed to be carved from solid rock.
How could that be, he wondered. There should be evidence of human construction—bricks or blocks of stone. But only a slim span of black rock extended across the abyss until it disappeared in the gloom on the other side.
His torch sputtered, and he used it to light another.
He placed his boot tentatively on the bridge to see if it held. It felt solid, and he put out his other foot and started walking. He went slowly, trying not to let the yawning gulf hypnotize him. When he reached mid-point, he tossed the still flickering torch into the pit. As it descended sputtering through the darkness, he saw smooth walls that showed no evidence of pick or chisel. Then the torch disappeared into fathomless depths, and he neither saw nor heard it again.
Duvalier reached the end of the bridge and stepped off with a sigh of relief. Before him was a corridor leading even deeper into the earth. The same type of stone ribbing reinforced the ceiling that he had noticed in the vault. He moved quickly but cautiously along the smooth dirt floor. The entities who built that complex of caverns may have placed obstacles in his way, perhaps as a further test of his qualifications. However, he moved forward through the tunnel without mishap. At its end was a huge circular chamber.
Torchlight glittered off black stone walls that soared upward until lost to sight. As he stepped onto a perfectly flat floor that shined in the light like an ebony mirror, he noticed that it was devoid of any sign of chisel or hammer, just like before. Hieroglyphs covered the walls. Duvalier was an expert in occult sigils and runes. He studied them carefully, but they were unlike anything he had ever seen before, and they made no sense to him. He traced their outlines with his fingertips, and as with everything else, their smooth edges betrayed no sign of human artifice.
As he moved slowly about the chamber examining the hieroglyphs, he became aware of a refined vibration permeating the atmosphere. A vibration so subtle and pervasive that his mind had registered it as silence. But the longer he studied the signs covering the walls, the more the vibration revealed a coherent pattern. It was as if the walls were speaking to him. But they were communicating from within his own mind.
From the depths of his consciousness arose scenes similar to the visions he had witnessed in the jungle when he faced the portal and allowed the vevirs to speak to him. In a flash of insight, he realized that what he had seen then was this chamber—or the Powers that created it—speaking to him, calling to him. In his mind’s eye, he saw the Old Gods, amorphous and unspeakably grotesque, moving through a thick darkness hardly separate from themselves, shaping the universe from cosmic substance. He witnessed aeonic cataclysms as worlds were created and destroyed over uncounted Ages. Titanic struggles as new Powers arose to do battle with the Old Ones blasted his mind.
It flashed through his consciousness that what he was to glean from these visions was not a history of cosmos, but the principle that struggle was the most basic law of the universe. In cosmic creation and destruction, Powers struggled against other Powers for supremacy. The weak were crushed and swept away. Struggle was neither good nor bad; it was simply the way it was. Indeed, struggle was reality.
But the balance of power had again shifted.
The world was disintegrating. It was lapsing back into root substance. The Powers whose task it was to maintain form had lost their grip and were sliding into oblivion. The time was ripe for the return of the Old Ones—archaic powers hardly different from the slime they resembled. Their power had become greater than the Powers that had conquered them, and they were returning to complete the process of destruction. They but needed a trigger. A lever that would call them forth from the Deep.
Duvalier turned and, for the first time, saw, resting on a black stone pedestal on the far side of the chamber, a coffin made of intricately carved ebony. He circled the coffin, examining the designs in the torchlight. But, as with the walls, he could not decipher them. Placing his left hand on the lid, he closed his eyes. There appeared to his inner vision a being of gigantic stature with large eyes blazing with demonic fire. Duvalier recognized the being as his ancestor, the one who, in the dark mists of untold ages, first made contact with the Old Gods. He was the ancestor who began the sacred lineage of those who guarded the portal of the Old Ones. Antoine Duvalier was himself the last scion of that lineage, the one for whom the task had fallen to bring the Old Gods through during the End Times.