When the earth moved, the vampire Saloman felt a surge of exquisite pleasure almost akin to sexual release. The tension in him snapped, broken by the rush of rare, intoxicating fear.
Dawn approached, and he was too close to the earthquake’s centre for safety, too isolated in these Peruvian mountains to be discovered should he become buried under an immovable fall of rock. Already he could hear the thunder of incipient avalanches and landslides, drowning out the lesser destruction of man-made edifices, but if he honed his supernatural hearing, he could just about make out the distinctive thuds of collapsing wood and masonry in the distant villages. The sounds of wreckage brought him a certain amount of satisfaction. The villages were already empty of life—he’d seen to that over the last couple of weeks.
He, Saloman, was one of the very few able-bodied beings left on this mountain. Even the animals had fled, their instincts warning them that the Earth was angry. Unlike them, Saloman savored that anger, that knowledge of a unique power far superior to his own, a power before which even his strength could do nothing. And so he lay on his hard mountain ledge in the dark, reveling in his rare moment of helplessness, smiling up at the black, wavering sky while the earth under him heaved and cracked, splitting rocks and trees, hurling down the flimsy village buildings.
He knew the risk; he didn’t want to end his existence or to return to the tortured sleep of death. He didn’t want to leave this world. He didn’t want to leave Elizabeth. And yet still he had come closer than he should to wait for the Earth to shake—partly because he wanted to feel the massive power of it, partly because, like the rebellious boy he’d once been, he wanted to dare the danger.
It was an indulgence he shouldn’t have allowed himself. He acknowledged that as the ledge of rock split under his back, hurling him off the edge. At the last moment, he grasped onto the one stable corner, giving himself a modicum of control as he jumped the fifty feet or so onto the hard, jagged ground below—more from memory than sight, since the tumbling boulders and dust impaired his night vision.
By the time he’d found a flatter foothold, sheltered enough to prevent any more stones landing on his head and shoulders, the quake had stopped. The mountain, however, hadn’t. It continued to spit rocks down toward him, and below he could hear them gathering pace and volume. By morning, the mountain would have changed its shape.
Fear was good . He was glad he’d come up here, to remember what it was like to be afraid. Confront your fears, his cousin Luk had told him, even before Saloman had died and been reborn a vampire. Luk had turned him, and had taught him well, just as if he’d known that Saloman would be the last of their Ancient race. Saloman had learned to face soul-destroying loneliness; he’d fought and defeated everyone who threatened him. There was no one left who could invade his mind and find him wanting—which had been his first and most intense fear, the one that had formed his boyhood and never quite left him. And yet he could think of his father now without pain or hurt or terror, and he knew that if it had been possible for them to meet again, he would not be afraid. He had no reason to be.
Saloman lay down once more, gazing up at the steady sky while the mountain rearranged itself with noisy, dust-filled aggression. He smiled, because no one else could possibly have done what he just had. No one had ever done what he was doing now.
Watch me, Elizabeth. I will prevail. The world will do my bidding. You can’t doubt it.
It was his own thought. He didn’t send it to her. He wouldn’t even tell her about this; he would let her find out for herself. Perhaps he’d even go to her, so he was with her when she made the discovery. Hunger tore through him. Blood and sex and Elizabeth. A reward before the next stage began.
He sat up, unable to be still any longer. His lesson in humility had, in the end, fed his self-belief. Only he could have survived the earthquake from here; he alone could unite and direct the world. No one could stop him. And as the world learned his power, who would want to? He’d find his way down the mountain and drink some human blood before he began his journey across the world to Scotland.
But as he rose, a scream of rage and terror slammed into his mind. Saloman let out an involuntary cry, grasping his head in both hands to prevent the pain, the anguish, instinctively trying to squeeze out the howling voice that should have been mere memory and yet felt as real as the rocks sliding and crashing their way down the mountainside. The flash of impossible presence surged and then vanished as swiftly as it had come, leaving Saloman to drop his hands slowly from his face.
Which is when he realized he had no time to analyze himself for sanity or injury. In a moment, he was going to be buried deep under an avalanche. Saloman hurled himself forward and leapt into darkness.
Six thousand miles away, in a Scottish café, Elizabeth Silk caught her breath and shivered uncontrollably.
“What’s the matter?” her friend Joanne demanded, placing two large mugs of coffee on the café table before resuming her seat beside Elizabeth.
“Oh nothing,” Elizabeth said evasively. There’s a vampire in my head. Or at least there was for an instant. What would Joanne make of that? “Someone walked over my grave.”
The trouble was, it felt like Saloman, although her instant telepathic reach to him hit nothing. Not surprising. Although her abilities had grown by leaps and bounds in the last few months, she still operated best with peace to concentrate, even when Saloman chose to receive her. Something had happened, she was sure, though whether it involved physical danger or emotional upheaval, she had no way of knowing. Once, she would have denied the possibility of the latter. Now she knew him better, knew him as a being of profound feelings, even though they were often beyond her ability to understand. If something had occurred, if he needed her…
Thrusting her unease aside, she smiled and lifted her cup to her lips.
“I meant in general,” Joanne said dryly. She was a short, eye-catching woman with purple-tinged, frizzy hair and a razor-sharp mind. “You seem a bit glum.”
“It’s only ten in the morning and I was up until three.”
“Doing what?” Joanne asked.
“Writing. I think I’ve finished the book based on my thesis. I’ll send it off to your agent tomorrow.”
“He’ll be your agent too the day after,” Joanne said with a confident grin.
“I hope so. I’m finally happy I’ve struck the right balance between academic and popular—which is pretty important with a subject like vampires and superstitions!”
“You’re right there,” Joanne said, raising her mug in a toast. “Hat off to you. So that’s out of the way—what now? Glasgow?”
“Ah. Maybe that’s why I look glum. I didn’t get the job in Glasgow.” It had been a rare opportunity, a permanent, full time post at Glasgow University. Elizabeth had applied, knowing she would have to be stupid not to, and yet her heart hadn’t been it. Perhaps this had come across at her interview.
“Idiots,” Joanne said roundly.
Elizabeth gave her a lopsided smile. “Thanks for the support. I wasn’t even certain I wanted it, so I’ve no right to whine about not getting it.”
“I’m pretty sure there’ll be a vacancy here at St. Andrews next year,” Joanne said. “What else is still in the pipeline for now?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Nothing truly inspiring. A college in London, part time. And a maternity leave post at Aberdeen University.”
She hesitated, until Joanne nudged her and commanded, “Spill!”
Elizabeth laughed. “Well, there’s a one-year appointment at the University of Budapest.”
Joanne sat up straight. “Budapest!”
“It’s more my thing, includes teaching a special course in the historic value of superstitions, and there’ll be research opportunities in other areas. Also, I do speak the language, more or less…”
“And your man’s there,” Joanne finished with unnecessary relish.
Elizabeth felt her skin color, and took a hasty gulp of coffee to try and cover it. “Only sometimes,” she mumbled. “He travels a lot.” Then, since Joanne continued to stare at her, she lowered the cup and sighed. “I don’t want him to think I’m pursuing him.”
“He might like that you are.”
“But I’m not!”
Joanne blinked “Aren’t you? I bloody would be.”
Elizabeth couldn’t help laughing at her friend’s fervor. She still regarded the evening that she’d been obliged to introduce Joanne to her vampire lover as the weirdest moment of her increasingly bizarre life. Saloman had arrived in her flat without warning two months ago, while she and Joanne had been putting the world to rights in the sitting room over a bottle of wine. He’d come through the kitchen window but neither he nor Elizabeth had corrected Joanne’s assumption that he had his own key.
Joanne had watched their reunion with interest, clearly torn by conflicting desires to leave them alone and to discover more about Elizabeth’s mysterious lover. She’d compromised by subjecting Saloman to half an hour of penetrating questions—which he’d answered or deflected with equal amusement as the notion took him—and then departing earlier than she normally would.
“Fuck me, he’s gorgeous,” she’d informed Elizabeth at the front door. “No wonder you’re messed up.”
At the time, Elizabeth had jeered at the term “messed up”, for Saloman’s arrival had filled her with the complete happiness only he had ever brought her. But now, in his absence, she acknowledged her friend’s perception. She was messed up, had been since she’d first met him. But if Joanne knew the truth—that Elizabeth’s handsome and charming lover wasn’t merely mysterious but the most powerful vampire who’d ever existed—she wouldn’t put the cause down to his looks.
Joanne said, “So you’re hesitating over whether or not to apply for the job? Apply now and worry later.”
Elizabeth shifted in her seat. “Actually, I already applied. They’ve offered me the post. I just have to decide whether or not to take it.”
Joanne finished her coffee and set down her mug before rising to her feet. “Bite their hands off,” she advised, swinging her bag off the floor and onto her shoulder, to the imminent danger of the mugs which would undoubtedly have been knocked to the floor if Elizabeth hadn’t seized them out of harm’s way. Behind Joanne, a passing waiter stared at Elizabeth, wide-eyed. She must have moved too fast.
“I’ll miss you, of course,” Joanne added, oblivious to the entire incident.
“No you won’t, you’ll come and visit me or I’ll never speak to you again.” Which was another point against accepting. In Budapest, Saloman’s own city, there would be untold distractions from the world of academia—leaving love out of it, there were vampires and hunters and an inevitable conflict waiting to erupt which would place her squarely in the middle. Could she really hope to keep Joanne out of that?
But traipsing downstairs in her friend’s wake, Elizabeth couldn’t help feeling a secret leap of excitement at the prospect of moving to Hungary. Outside the Victoria Café, it was raining, a fine, misty drizzle that seemed to exemplify the Scottish summer. Dull.
“Well, back to the grindstone,” Joanne said happily enough. “What are you up to for the rest of the day?”
“I said I’d do a favor for a friend—visit this wounded soldier in Glasgow.”
“Badly wounded?” Joanne asked in quick sympathy.
“Badly enough, but he’s pretty well recovered physically. Apparently he’s still traumatized.”
“Sounds like a worthy but fraught day for you then,” Joanne observed, lifting her hand in farewell. She was clearly anxious to get back to her books. Elizabeth watched her scuttle across Market Street with a feeling that came close to envy. Once, being lost in academia had been enough for Elizabeth too. And visiting an injured soldier would have aroused a much simpler compassion in her, without this guilty, nagging hope that because the British vampire hunters had asked her to go, he’d have something paranormally intriguing to say.
She was bored, she realized with some surprise. Achieving her doctorate had been satisfying; writing the book had been fun; research and teaching at some academic institution were still a necessary part of her ambitions, to say nothing about putting food on the table. . Six months ago, desperately trying to keep her life stable and normal in the midst of unasked for and unwanted new responsibilities and dangers, she wouldn’t have believed this was possible; yet now, perhaps influenced by her earlier shiver of anxiety, she actually missed the menacing world of darkness and vampires; a world in which her mind and body could both stretch without hindrance, and succeed.
She missed Saloman.
With the sound of the vampire’s preternatural scream splitting his ears, Senator Grayson Dante knew it had all gone horribly wrong. Dante thought back to the accounts he’d read of Saloman’s awakening, taken from Elizabeth Silk’s testimony. She too had found an empty, underground chamber, except it had turned out not to be so empty. She’d been bleeding from a thorn prick and surmised that it was the drops of her blood that had first made the dead Saloman visible to her. She’d mistaken him for a stone sarcophagus.
Dante crouched down and delved into his bag to retrieve the vial of blood. It was a tiny amount, distilled from the stain of Saloman’s blood left on his shirt during their last violent encounter. He couldn’t afford to waste any. He was sure this room was enchanted, as the outer cave had been, to deter visitors. But simply staring wouldn’t break through this spell.
Dante unscrewed the lid with great care.
“What is that?” Mehmet, his Turkish guide, whispered.
It’s the blood of the Ancient vampire Saloman, with which I hope to awaken his cousin and enemy Luk, whom Saloman killed over three hundred years ago. Would Mehmet run or laugh if he said such a thing aloud? Instinctively, Dante knew his need for Mehmet was almost over. But only almost. The Turk had one more purpose to fulfill.
Dante crept around the dark chamber. The beam from his flashlight bobbed eratically around the rough, stone floors and walls, barely penetrating the profound blackness more than a couple of feet beyond his unsteady fingers. He hoped that if he couldn’t see the body, at least he might feel it with his hands or feet. Even so, when his foot struck something it felt like stone, part of the floor’s uneven surface, and he almost paid it no attention. Then he paused and placed his finger over the phial opening before he shook it and removed his finger.
Drawing in his breath with a quick, silent prayer to no one in particular that it would be enough, he shook his whole hand out in front of him. His finger tingled as the tiny spatter of blood sprayed downward. And there in the darkness, without suddenness or shock, was what he’d been looking for all these weeks.
A stone table on which lay a sculpted body. Almost exactly like Elizabeth Silk had found the body of Saloman a year earlier.
Mehmet’s breath sounded like a wheeze. “My God, I almost didn’t see it. I thought there was nothing… Is this it? Is this your nobleman’s tomb?”
“Almost certainly.” Dante felt dizzy. His whole body trembled, not just with reaction to his first glimpse of the deeply sinister figure illuminated by their flashlights, but with the enormity of what he was doing. He found it difficult to get the words out, and yet he had to concentrate, to ignore his sudden fears and stick to his plan. Mehmet had to continue to believe in the fiction that this was merely the lost tomb of a historic nobleman. And then, finally, Dante would reach his goal. Eternal life. Eternal power. Damnation, if it existed, was a small price to pay.
With carefully judged casualness, he passed the vial to Mehmet. “Here. I want to photograph this.”
Even shining his flashlight on the tiny drop of dark liquid, Mehmet could have no idea what it was. He seemed happy that Dante had found what he sought—even if only so he could get back into the fresh air and climb down the mountain again.
Dante produced his camera and pointed it at the tomb. “When I say ‘now’,” he directed, “pour the contents of the vial over the carving.”
“Why, what is it?”
“It’ll make the tomb stand out more in the picture.” Dante lied easily. He wasn’t a politician for nothing. “Okay…. Now!”
Dante held his breath as Mehmet shook the tiny drops of liquid over the carved face. This was it, the moment of greatest risk and greatest hope, on which all Dante’s ambitions rested. Religion, decency, nature itself—none of those things counted beside the huge power Dante was about to take….
At this point in the earlier awakening, Saloman had clamped his teeth into Elizabeth’s neck. Dante had been torn over this part of his plan. The blood used in the awakening had to be Saloman’s–Luk’s killer’s–or it wouldn’t work, but Dante didn’t know if any of the mystical attributes of awakening would be bestowed on whoever did the pouring. No one had ever done it like this before, to his knowledge. If there was power to be had from awakening, he naturally wanted it for himself; but on the other hand, he needed Luk to be as strong as possible, which meant drinking the blood of his Awakener and killing him to absorb his life force. So far, Saloman had failed to kill Elizabeth, and therein lay his weakness. Dante did not intend Luk to make the same mistake.
It was a pity for Mehmet.
Dante shone his flashlight unwaveringly on Luk’s dead face. It did indeed look like stone. He’d expected it to be more life-like, to give some hint of his Ancient strength, a clue that he could be awakened. Tiny droplets of blood splashed on Luk’s cheek, his nose, lips and chin. Nothing happened.
Oh fuck. It isn’t enough. After all this, I needed more blood….
“Did you take it?” Mehmet asked.
“What? Oh, the photograph, yes, I got it. Thanks.” He took a step forward, meaning to take back the vial and see if there was anything at all left in it. But before he could touch it, a sound like a faint groan issued from the carving.
Oh yes. Hallelujah.
Under Dante’s riveted gaze, the dead eyes of the sculpture opened, the lips parted. The skin moved, shifting slowly into an expression not of triumph but of shock. Even…fear. Luk sat up and Mehmet fell back with a low moan of terror. Luk’s twisted mouth opened wider, revealing his long, terrifying incisors as he stared at Mehmet.
The vampire’s scream started low, like a rattle in his throat, then rose quickly into the most horrific, gut-wrenching howl Dante had ever heard. Like all the pain of everyone in the world rolled into one pure, dreadful sound.
This isn’t meant to happen, Dante thought in panic. Something’s gone terribly wrong. I must have got the wrong vampire…
Then, in fury, the creature who may or may not have been Luk, swung himself off the stone table, and Dante stepped circumspectly behind Mehmet before giving the Turk a sharp, ungentle shove into the reaching arms of whatever they’d awakened.