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Book Cover: VS1

Chapter 1

Strange Beginnings

In the beginning,
God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty.
Darkness was over the surface of the deep,
And that’s just the way we liked it.

Gnaeus Julius Agricola, Grand Master, Vampire Council of Elders
Orsova, Romania 1003

On the border of Russia and Kazakistan…

XX“Incoming!” A shout ran through the company like wild fire. Yuri lie prone in a ditch, watching for the line of Taliban so-called ‘freedom fighters’ that were most assuredly on their way across the dusty expanse in front of him. Soon they would appear, like a shadow out of the filthy mist. What was left of his company would die, quickly. They were outnumbered and short of ammunition, a deadly combination in a deadly position.
XXX“Captain Milassoviech, your orders?” Sergeant Kraznikoff asked hopefully. Yuri had grown up with Kraz in Siberia, playing together as children, then competing good-naturedly as young comrades. They often raced across the wild steppes of Siberia on their ponies.
XXXThey also enlisted in the army and trained together, until Yuri’s parents scraped up the rubles to purchase their son a commission. Kraz’s parents were not quite as fortunate, or as forthcoming. “Survive,” came the stalwart answer. “It’s a bit late for formalities, Kraz. Your duty is now to survive, as is mine.”
XXXThe first grenade exploded a few yards away, accompanied by anguished screams and a hail of rapid gunfire. Twelve men left to face thirty or more crazed terrorists.
XXX“Yuri, comrade brother, I shall do my best to follow those orders.” Kraz rose slightly to peek above the ground. “They come. Luck and life to you, moi-ya tovarish.”
XXXWith that, the fight was on. Terrorists dressed in a ragtag assortment of everything from smock-like dishdashas to military pants and shirts charged in a rush, overrunning the diminished company pinned down in their hastily dug ditches. Kraz was one of the first to take a bullet and fell to lie motionless behind Yuri in the cold sand.
XXX“Kraz! No, damn it. No!” Yuri returned fire, aiming his last remaining bullets carefully, taking out as many of the oncoming soldiers as he had ammunition. Kraz’s death would not go unrewarded and each bullet found a target with Yuri’s blessing. Oblivious to the carnage around him, each target he aimed at went down and did not get up. Each bullet took him closer to an empty magazine and the deadly, yet unavoidable end that awaited.
XXXA hot searing piece of metal slashed across his forehead and still he fought. Too soon, the trigger of his AK-47 clicked. No more rounds. Empty. Yuri crouched, holding the rifle as a bat, ready to take at least one more Islamic pig with him to his impending end. A bullet slammed into his shoulder and still he held on. Two enemy fighters slid over the bank and into his ditch. He swung and heard the resounding crack of a skull. Sweet music to his ears. He swung again and missed, scrambling down the ditch after the retreating fighter. Mid-swing on the third try he heard another crack. Pain exploded in his brain and the sky lit up a strange sharp, white color. Then his entire body vibrated. A wild humming sound filled his ears and everything went black.
XXXA deep voice floated through the blackness to tickle the throbbing pain within Yuri’s head. “Check the names. We must find the Milassoviech man. He is the one I am paid to take.” The fighters scrambled to do the bidding of the tall brutal man who was their leader. Teffas Hamza stuck his rifle muzzle beneath Kraz and lifted, flipping the dead soldier over.
XXX“Hmmm. Not this one.” He fired into the corpse and walked away.
XXX“Over here. I have found the Milassoviech!” An excited shout sent Hamza sprinting across the field.
XXX“You are sure? This is the Milassoviech? Quickly, his tags, show me.” The young fighter pulled Yuri’s body into a sitting position and fished beneath his uniform for the identification tags that would display his name.
XXXHanding Hamza the tags, the young fighter was curious, “Why is this man’s death worth so much? Who is he?”
XXXHamza slammed the butt of his rifle into the subordinate’s head. “Do not question me. This is Milassoviech.”
XXXYuri groaned, semi-conscious and bleeding from his shoulder wound.
XXX“And he is alive. This is better than dead, much better. Tie him. Bring him with us.” The smile that seemed to light Hamza’s face frightened the soldiers around him more than the battle they had just fought.

*****

Castle Vyrubova, Vilyuchinsk, Kamchatka Krai, Siberia, Russia…

XXNatalia gasped in agony. Her head felt like it had been hit with a fireplace iron and her shoulder burned as if she’d been struck with a hot poker. What was happening? She stumbled across the old tile floor to her bed and fell onto the mattress. She was dizzy and having trouble forming thoughts. Wild splashes of color played across her visual path and bright flashes momentarily blinded her.
XXXHolding her head, she rolled over and buried her face in the down pillows that lie in disarray at the top of her sumptuous bed. Breathe Natalia, she told herself, and took a deep freeing breath. The pain disappeared as fast as it had appeared. Her vision cleared as she sat up, testing her limbs and neck.
XXXWhat in the world was going on?
XXXVampires don’t get sick.
XXXNatalia sat for several minutes monitoring the minds of those around her. It was early evening, dark outside, and she could walk where she wanted without risking exposure to the damaging rays of the sun. She rose slowly testing her limbs and balance. Nothing was left of the strange pain that, moments ago, invaded her mind and body. No nausea or vertigo remained. How odd!
XXXShe descended the long stone staircase that led to the common rooms below her private quarters. Some of her staff worked late into the evening hours and they would still be at their tasks. Petra, the night keeper and her human familiar, assistant and confidant, would be at her desk. Maybe she would know if Natalia were ill, or experiencing some kind of strange manifestation. Petra had an intuitive nature that was amazing and Natalia valued her friendship, as well as her homegrown advice. Petra had been a servant at the castle since childhood and knew more secrets than Natalia could remember telling. Petra was also highly educated, a member of the local Polit Bureau and an accomplished research assistant.
XXX“I thought I would see you soon, Natalia. There is something strange in the air that puzzles me. I felt a… I do not know. Did you feel it too?” Petra smiled as she rose to greet her friend and employer.
XXX“Possibly for you it was strange, for me it was horrendous pain. But very short.” She kissed each cheek before warmly hugging Petra. “Any ideas? I am baffled. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I can’t seem to think straight, like a cloud swirling in my mind.” Natalia took her usual seat in the worn, comfy rocking chair next to the ornate coal stove. Her fingers traced the Italian patterns on the tiles that decorated the warm stove.
XXX“Tell me what you felt and when.” Petra sat and spun in her modern office chair, crossed her legs and focused her attention on Natalia with a worried expression clouding her crystal blue eyes. Russian to a tee, Petra’s creamy cheeks glowed red from the heat of the room.
XXX“I was just standing in my bedroom. I woke several hours ago, took a shower as usual and dressed. All of a sudden, a pain hit my head. Then a burning sensation appeared in my shoulder. I got dizzy and lights flashed in my eyes. It was horrible and got worse before... it just ended. Thank God it disappeared quickly.” Natalia spoke carefully.
XXX“Who flashed lights in your eyes?” Petra pointed the security remote towards a series of camera pictures on a large television screen.
XXX“No, not from outside. From within, like pin pricks of light behind my lids. I was alone.” Natalia pulled a thick afghan over her legs and tucked her feet beneath her. Spring in Siberia was always a good reason to cuddle beneath a wool knit blanket made by loving hands. For a vampire the warmth was unnecessary, but the cuddle was divine.
XXX“From inside your eyes? Strange. Let me check the area for an interloper. A rogue could be responsible for attacking you, if he or she were strong and skillful enough.” Her fingers hit the keyboard with vicious accuracy. Petra was extremely protective of Natalia. “No other vampire has come into our territory since that wandering rogue, what, fifteen years ago? The Council of Elders usually alerts me to any company that may be headed our way. It is in their best interest to keep our politics and potential conflicts quiet. And, it’s just good manners.” Petra had considered herself a member of the vampire’s collective society since she first learned of their existence as a teen. Despite a touchy and volatile relationship, she was ultimately trusted by the Council, as a human asset.
XXX“You amaze me, Petra. I am lucky to have you with me. You’re a good friend with whom I don’t have to pretend or cover my true nature.” Natalia smiled, her eyes glowing a soft deep red with emotion. As an employee, Petra was hard working and loyal. As a friend, she was simply family.
XXX“Just keep those beautiful teeth to yourself and I will be happy. Of course, a little extra in the paycheck is always a great incentive, Nat.” Natalia could see Petra’s grin in the reflection of the woman’s huge panel of computer screens. When had she purchased a thirty-six inch monitor for Petra?
XXX“Pah! You make more than the Prime Minister now. How much can one woman spend when she never takes a vacation, and dresses in hand-me-downs from her sister-in-law? Really, Pet, you need a life.” Natalia rocked slowly, completely comfortable in teasing her assistant, who could be a great beauty with little effort.
XXX“Focus, for heaven’s sake. No one on my loops has knowledge of uninvited visitors. The sensors around the castle show no alerts. Security has been uninterrupted. The stock market is up forty points; Velechee’s still carries your favorite shoes and perfume. There is no sunspot activity. The northern light envelope is minimal this night, and I do not need a vacation or fancy clothes. I have a life that I love here with you. I am safe and appreciated. Oh, and minimally paid for what I do.”
The last three keystrokes pulled up the castle’s extensive security system. “Nothing unusual on the horizon. Tell me again what you felt.”
XXX“Ah, I do not believe it will help. It was like nothing I have ever encountered in all my years alive, or dead. Do you think it could be…”

“Yuri?” Both women spoke at the same time.

 

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