Chapter One – The World of Swords
The wind died just as the sun set on the ruins of Eridu. The still, quiet of the Iraqi desert belies the fact that this was the hub of civilization for centuries. Those days are long gone. Now only archaeologists and their support teams roam the sand-covered streets. Unfortunately, neither Doctor Laila McCarthy nor Colonel Kimberly Roberts can enjoy this moment as they are running for their lives.
Professor Laila McCarthy, Ph. D., vampire, loves quiet moments. She appreciates the pause after a long sigh at the end of a trying workday. Being head of the interdisciplinary Ancient Cultures Department at the University of Atlanta had been fun. A recent promotion to Dean of the new College of Archeology, Anthropology, and Vampirology caused the politics and paperwork to raise the stress level too high to enjoy. This is why Laila is eager to accept consulting jobs with both the U.S. Bureau of Evil Elimination and the U.N. Anti-Extraordinary Powers Group whenever possible. (It is certainly not for the money, and is in spite of those groups’ terrible names.)
Laila is tall at almost exactly six feet in height with long, black hair. She considers herself very fit for a vampire, since many rely on naturally occurring extra speed and strength and let their physical condition slide. For the average vampire, such an advantage is hardly needed nowadays, as humans and vampires have lived comfortably side-by-side in the open for around five hundred years now. Well, if not comfortably, then not dangerously uncomfortably either.
The modern world has become almost too easy. But every time Laila has that thought, something reminds her that the world is still a dangerous place. She always marvels at the hubris of looters she startles at archaeological dig sites. In spite of her height and the fact she always carries a sword, they never back down. Only a few run when she moves her hair aside and see her pointed ears that warn, “Vampire!”
For this reason, Laila is rarely at a dig alone, and this time she is accompanied by Colonel Kimberley “Kimmy” Roberts of the UNAEPG. Laila is helping scout the ruins for rumored “items of interest”. Usually that means the items have a magical purpose or could, at least, be used to store magical energy.
Kimmy is the perfect companion for these missions. She is smart, well-trained, and skilled with a sword. She has a confidence that puts people at ease, rather than irritating them. She is not nearly as tall as Laila, has short red hair, and very light skin. Kimmy doesn’t drink, she doesn’t smoke, she knows when to talk, and more importantly when not to talk. Like Laila, she can recognize moments that earned appreciation.
“Come on, Roberts! Faster!” Laila yells.
“I’m only human you crazy vampire!” Kimmy screams back. She is less than ten meters behind, but the professor is obviously limiting her pace in deference to the soldier. As leader of a top black-ops team, Kimmy is perfectly fit. But the fastest human in the world is still slower than a vampire.
“These are not looters. They are wearing uniforms.” Laila says. “But they are not Iraqi soldiers or insurgents.”
“So, huff, huff, what?” Kimmy manages to ask
“So move it, lard-ass.” Laila’s words have the desired effect and Kimmy’s anger propels her a bit faster. The group of six vampires chasing them with swords drawn are still moving closer.
Laila is thinking that if she and Kimmy can make it through the arch ahead and onto higher ground then they can make a stand.
“We should be able to…” Was all Laila manages to get out before being interrupted.
“Sir, we have them cut off!” Another uniformed vampire shouts from the arch ahead. Six more vampires are blocking the only escape route.
Laila skids to a stop and looks in both directions at the approaching threats. Kimmy stops alongside and puts her hand on the hilt of her sword. She rather obviously unlocks the blade but only slightly slides it out. They stand back to back as the vampires surround them.
The women prepared for a day of poking around the ruins, not combat, and dressed lightly. Laila is wearing her favorite purple tank-top and jeans while Kimmy is in her usual camouflage t-shirt and khaki shorts. The katanas they brought are rather light-weight but will serve them well. And, more importantly, neither is wearing body armor.
Kimmy says, “We’ll have to fight our way out.”
“We?” Laila replies. “No, no. You are Miss Military Gal. I am just an adviser.”
“Then advise your pointy-eared cousins that we’re about to kick their asses.”
The only soldier with a rank insignia, a Captain and obviously the leader captain, draws his sword and announces, “Doctor McCarthy, I have a deal to offer you. We will release the human now if you will agree to translate these tablets.”
Three vampires step forward, each holding a stone tablet with hieroglyphics carved into them. Laila unlatches her katana and draws it slightly. She warily leans toward the vampires to get a look at the tablets.
Laila stands up straight, then widens her stance a bit by sliding her right foot forward and out very slowly while turning her left foot to the side. She does a quick scan of the group of vampires and is not impressed. The slightest hint of a smile appears even as she narrows her eyes.
“Colonel Roberts,” Laila’s smile widens, “fortune favors us. These gentlemen have the very tablets we came to Eridu to find.”
Kimmy gives Laila a quick glance and returns her attention to the lead soldier. “Well, gentlemen, I’m glad we slowed down so you could catch up to us.
“I am Colonel Kimberley Roberts, U.N. Special Forces, and I am authorized to take possession of those artifacts under international law.”
The leader of the vampires is so surprised that he lowers his sword. “You… you can’t be serious. We are not giving these to you!”
At this point, Kimmy wishes she knew a lot more about her partner. This is their first mission together. How is this lucky? There are twelve against two. But Laila is definitely moving herself into an attack position. If fortune favors them, then there is only one way to proceed.
“I have a deal to offer you: give us those tablets and you can walk away alive. Undead. Whatever.”
The vampire Captain opens his mouth, but he can think of no words. He begins rapidly blinking his eyes.
He starts laughing, slowly and quietly. “Heh, heh heh.” Then it builds into a full “HA HA HA HA HA” as his men join in.
Suddenly, the Captain stops laughing and shouts, “Grab them!”
Laila rushes the nearest soldier, in one motion she draws her sword and slashes up and across his chest at an angle, cutting deeply into his shoulder as she moves forward. She takes another step and spins, cutting the head off of the solder next to him. She finishes the spin by stabbing the first solder in the heart. Both soldiers fall and begin melting away.
Kimmy draws her sword to meet an onrushing vampire, slicing up to stop his sword, and then slashing down across his chest. Another soldier mistimes his rush and she turns the opposite direction to put her sword squarely into his heart. She withdraws the sword and turns to take the head of the first soldier.
Out of the corner of her eye, Kimmy sees Laila take down two more with a quick stab to the heart of one and a flowing swing to behead another. The soldiers with the tablets have put them down and retrieved the swords of fallen comrades. Kimmy is almost too slow to block with her sheath and gets a slash across her right arm. The soldier is not very skilled and his jerky motions allow her to block his return swing, slash across his neck and chest, and then finish with a stab to the heart. She ducks the sword of an onrushing vampire, kicks his knee, flips him to the ground and finishes with a stab.
The rest of the vampires have turned their attention to Laila. The Captain shoves one of the men towards her. She stabs him in the chest as he falls into her. At the same time she raises her sheath to stop two incoming slashes and manages to fully block one. The other glances off and cuts through her shirt just catching her side about elbow-height.
Laila lunges for the soldier with incredible speed and rips his throat out with her teeth. She finishes removing his head with her sword. An extremely loud roar fills the air. So loud that Kimmy, left standing alone, covers her ears. The sound, along with an enormous set of fangs, has emerged from Laila’s mouth. Kimmy sees the rest of the fight in a blur due to Laila’s speed as she dismantles the remaining soldiers. Twelve vampires are now melting away into dust. She and Laila are the last two standing. Laila is facing the other direction so that Kimmy cannot see her face. For the first time during the fight, Kimmy feels uneasy.