Chapter One of Vampires of the Scarlet Order

The Scarlet Order

From Rudolfo de Córdoba's writings of 1491:

"Rudolfo, come quickly, your father has been killed!"

I heard Don Diego's cry as my hand was exploring a nun's supple breast and my mouth was caressing the exquisite curve of her neck. Sister Inez gasped and I sat up in a whirlwind of disbelief and distress over the news of my father's demise. Admittedly, I was also peeved by the interruption of my afternoon's recreation.

"Rudolfo, where are you?" called Don Diego.

I was behind a hedgerow, against the whitewashed wall of the cathedral of Córdoba in Spain. The year was 1491, and I was hurriedly lacing up my shirt while Sister Inez adjusted her dress and hair. Before I continue, I should explain that Sister Inez was by no means a corrupt nun. Rather, like many of the Castilian clergy in those days, she was well aware that she was a creature of both the spirit and the flesh. Her spirit was firmly committed to Jesus Christ. It just so happens that a few moments before, her body had been committed to me. That day, I had been repairing plasterwork around the cathedral, when Sister Inez brought me lunch and an offer of an hour's distraction. In many parts of Spain, the Inquisition insisted that nuns wear black robes to distinguish themselves from ordinary parishioners. However, we in Córdoba had run our Grand Inquisitor out of town over a year before. Little did we know at that time how strong the Inquisition would ultimately become.

"Rudolfo!" Don Diego's voice took on a frantic edge.

"I'm sorry about your father," whispered Sister Inez sincerely as she brushed my cheek gently with her soft lips. "You'd better go to Don Diego now."

Taking a deep breath, I stood, then stepped through a break in the hedge. My father's friend, Don Diego, looked agitatedly along the length of the cathedral as I went up to him. Clapping my hands on his shoulders, I turned him away from the opening in the hedgerow and looked him in the eyes. "My father's dead?" I asked, not quite grasping the reality of those words.

Don Diego nodded rapidly. Behind him, Sister Inez crept around the corner of the hedgerow, making her way back to the cathedral. "Don Ricardo was shot by none other than Ibrahim Yousef, Vizier to the Granadan Emir," explained Diego.

My hands fell to my sides and my knees threatened to give way. My father was a captain in the Córdoban militia. He and his caballeros had been sent by the Queen to render aid to the garrison that surrounded Granada: the last stronghold of the Moors in Spain. Don Diego led me to a stone bench and helped me sit. Covering my face, I hid my lack of tears. Though I mourned my father's passing, few tears remained. A few years before, the black plague had taken many of my family: my beloved wife, my lovely children and my faithful brother. My father and a handful of cousins were all I had left. The church – and Sister Inez – offered some comfort, but I still felt isolated and lonely. "How did it happen?" I whispered.

"It was yesterday evening, shortly after sunset," said Don Diego. "Your father's men heard a pistol report and ran to investigate. They found your father atop a knoll, shot in the back of the head. They saw the vizier – Yousef – fleeing to the safety of Granada. Several of the caballeros tried to stop Yousef, but he reached the city walls before they could bring him to justice."

Many in the church said the Black Plague was a punishment sent by God. I wondered how a benevolent God could punish innocents such as my children; surely they had not lived lives of excess and corruption. I found myself wishing for a way to avenge my wife and children, but how can one achieve vengeance when the punishment comes directly from God "Like any father's punishments, God's punishments do not always seem just, but one must trust that they are," said Father Jimenez when I'd confessed my thoughts to him. Father Jimenez was lucky that there was a wall between us or I would have struck him. Instead, I went home, did my penance, and resigned myself to the fact that there was nothing I could do about the plague, no matter how unhappy I felt. A man, not the plague, had murdered my father. Murder was a crime that could be avenged. "I must join the garrison at Santa Fé," I told Don Diego. "Only by helping take Granada, can I do justice to the memory of my father."

"Your father wanted you here," protested the old man, twisting at the ends of his bushy gray mustache. "You're his only surviving heir."

"That may be, but who will inherit the hacienda from me?" I growled. "What will my father's house mean to me if I allowed his murder to go unchallenged?"

"Your father's murderer will likely be executed when Granada falls," said Don Diego, trying to talk sense into me. "The city is surrounded, cut off from supplies. It's only a matter of time before the Moors will be forced to surrender."

I stood, stalking off. "I'm going to Santa Fé!"

Don Diego rolled his eyes and leaped from the bench, following as closely as his short, arthritic legs would allow. "When?"

"This afternoon. There's still plenty of light. I can be there before sunset," I declared.

"You won't get there until nightfall, Rudolfo! You're more likely to be shot by one of the guards than welcomed as a soldier."

"My father's horses are fast, I'll get there before sunset!" I shouted, striding away, leaving a breathless Don Diego in my wake. A short way from the hallowed ground of the church, I found my horse, pulled myself on and rode out to my father's small hacienda on the outskirts of Córdoba. It was almost a joke to call the property a "hacienda." We only had a few olive trees and a press for making olive oil to sell at market. Still, the land did have plenty of grass and we were able to raise a few horses. We sold some of the horses to caballeros and would-be caballeros to supplement our meager income. Even with that, I still needed to sell my masonry skills. One man could not support our land by himself.

Within half an hour, I arrived at the hacienda. Without pausing, I led my horse to her stall. A little further into the stables, I found one of the mighty Arabian stallions that were my father's pride and joy. I saddled the stallion and rode as fast as I could toward the ancient city of Granada.

The sun was low on the horizon and long shadows carpeted the ground as I rode up to the great fortress city of Santa Fé; headquarters of the garrison surrounding Granada. Isabella the Catholic and her husband Ferdinand sometimes called the great fortress city their home. There seemed too few guards around the fortress for the Queen and King to be in residence. Still, I rode up cautiously. "Hola," I called when I was within shouting distance of the fortress wall.

"Hola," came the response. "Who goes there?"

"A lone caballero come to join the holy cause of the Reconquest," I called.

"Wait there," called the gate man. "The archers have you in their sights. If you move, you will die."

"I will not move," I acknowledged, then patted my horse's black neck, calming him.

Soon, a gate man rode down the trail from the fortress. "It is not wise to approach Santa Fé at night, Señor. Where do you come from?"

"From Córdoba," I answered.

"You should have waited until morning to volunteer," he said. "Come, follow me." The gate man spurred his horse on, up the trail. I followed closely behind. He led me through the gates of Santa Fé. There, he had me dismount at a horse block. A stable hand took charge of my horse while a man in light armor came out to the courtyard and spoke to the mounted gate man. The lightly armored man nodded to me and indicated that I should follow him. We went inside one of the buildings, where I was led down a dark, dank stairway. The guard opened the door of an underground room, went in and lit three candles on a simple wooden table. He motioned that I should sit in the room's solitary chair. "The Grand Inquisitor will be along to see you shortly," explained the guard.

The words filled me with dread, though I'm not really sure why. As a devout Catholic, I had nothing to fear from the Inquisition. The guard turned and left the room, leaving the door slightly ajar. I wasn't a prisoner, but I didn't feel welcome to leave the room either. From the chair, I peered into the shadowed corners of the room, trying to discern what was there. I grew cold in the dark little room and the hairs on my arms stood on edge.

Hours seemed to crawl by before the door swung fully open to reveal a tall, gaunt priest in austere black robes. The priest's white hair stood out from his head, as though he were a wild man. I stood, showing my respect, but the priest waved me back into the chair. "I am Father Miguel García, Grand Inquisitor of Granada and Santa Fé. Why have you come at this late hour?"

"I am sorry, Father," I said, sincerely. "I am Rudolfo de Córdoba, son of Don Ricardo de Córdoba, a militia captain."

"Ah… The captain killed yesterday morning by Abu Abdallah's heretical advisor," said Father Miguel, nodding. "Though your father was not a friend, most Córdobans are not, he was a good commander. He will be sorely missed."

"I wish to challenge this Ibrahim Yousef to a duel for the cowardly murder of my father," I said forcefully.

"That may prove difficult," said Father Miguel. "Yousef is safe inside Granada."

"I would, at least, like to join the caballeros blockading the city. In some small way, it would allow me to honor my father's memory." I said.

"Yes…" Father Miguel peered over his beak-like nose with dark eyes, like a raptor, ready to strike. "Your story is certainly convincing. You even look like Don Ricardo. But, how do I know your story is true?" Father Miguel folded his arms and began pacing. His words took on a hard edge. "I could just as easily believe that Yousef shot Don Ricardo as a ruse. Under cover of darkness he sends one of his people out of Granada, lets him ride off a few miles, then come back, claiming to be the son of the man killed the day before. That man would then be a spy in our midst. It's a plan worthy of Yousef."

"I assure you, I'm not a spy!" At that moment, I regretted not heeding Don Diego's advice to remain in Córdoba.

"Draco?" called Father Miguel, peering over my head.

"He is telling the truth." A deep, oddly accented voice echoed from one end of the room. I whirled around and peered into the gloom behind me. I could just make out the outline of a man, his eyes reflecting the room's wan candlelight. I could have sworn the man had not been there before, nor had he entered with Father Miguel. "This man is indeed the son of Don Ricardo and has ridden out to help with the crusade against the Moors." It took me a moment, but I finally recognized the man's English accent.

"Indeed!" Father Miguel's dangerous brooding metamorphosed into an even more dangerous glee. The priest looked from me to the shadowy figure in the back of the room. "Could the Caballeros Escarlata use a man who desires the death of Ibrahim Yousef?"

"I planned to assign the matter to Roquelaure," said the shadowy Englishman, firmly.

"But you said yourself that Roquelaure is not always reliable in these matters, that he might be better used in other areas."

"That is true."

"Would this man serve you better than Roquelaure?" asked Father Miguel.

The Englishman slowly emerged from the shadows. I lost my breath. His skin was extraordinarily pale, almost translucent. He was dressed completely in black; a cloak covered a black jerkin and leggings. These were not a priest's vestments. Rather they were the raiment of a noble. The Englishman's hair was short and combed back, giving him a regal appearance, not like the wild-haired Grand Inquisitor. "Rudolfo here is a man of great passion," said the English nobleman, looking me over. "I sense that he is alone in the world. He may well do."

As the nobleman spoke, I saw fangs, much like a dog's in his mouth. I shrank down. "Am I to understand that the Grand Inquisitor consorts with demons?"

Father Miguel chuckled. "Not demonio. Vampiro," he said, as though that would make everything clear.

"I am Desmond, Lord Draco – Knight Commander of the Scarlet Order." The demonic nobleman introduced himself. "My brethren are known by varying names throughout the world. Here in Spain and in Rome we are called vampiro or vampire. Perhaps you've heard of the apes of distant India. They are similar, but different, from man. So are we."

"Apes?" I asked, growing more confused. I had never heard of creatures that were similar, yet different from men. Though I knew of India and the Far East, I was ignorant of the beasts that lived in those places. I looked at Draco's translucent skin and his animalistic eyes. "I was not aware that creatures such as you inhabited the islands of Britain."

Father Miguel shook his head. "It is premature to presume that Lord Draco is a natural creature. What's important is that the Pope has never ruled that vampires are demons."

"We are not demons," said Draco, his jaw set. He turned and looked at me. "We are transcendent creatures possessing great power." Silently, Draco moved across the floor toward me, looking into my eyes the whole time and speaking softly. "Do you know how old I am?"

"I would say you are a man of nearly 40, if I do not miss my guess." Draco seemed only a little older than I was.

"Ah, but you do miss your guess. I am over a thousand years old." Draco smiled at my shock, as he put one of his hands on my shoulder and gave a gentle squeeze. My shoulder joint felt as though it would snap in his grasp. "Not only are we virtually immortal, we are very strong."

"Vampires make excellent warriors," added Father Miguel.

"I have the power to make you a vampire," explained Draco. "You could join the Scarlet Order and I could grant you the opportunity for the very revenge you seek."

I stood quickly, upsetting my chair, and backed toward the wall. "I do not want to become a monster – demon or not. Revenge is not worth that price."

I found myself falling under the spell of Draco's eyes again. "You would never be plagued by death," he said.

"What is the price of such a miracle?" I asked.

"You will need to feast on human blood in order to survive," said Father Miguel bluntly as he stepped to the center of the room and righted the chair. "You will never again be able to walk in sunlight."

"And what becomes of my immortal soul?"

"That's up to God and the Pope," said Father Miguel with a shrug.

Draco looked away, releasing me from the power of his gaze. "This offer is neither given lightly nor should you accept it lightly. You will be able to avenge your father's death, but after that, what will you do with immortality? Most choose to hide and become true creatures of darkness. A few of us, though, have chosen to serve human causes. Of course, service is fraught with its own difficulties. Though the powers of good and evil do not change, the clothes they wear often do." Draco inclined his head toward Father Miguel. "One's loyalties must remain flexible."

"Are you saying you're a mercenary?" I asked, finding my tongue.

Draco's nod was barely perceptible. "Though I must live exclusively at night, I do not wish to remain in the shadows. That choice requires gold. Otherwise, I must live in a cave or worse."

Slowly, I crept toward Father Miguel. Though he was an Inquisitor, I somehow felt safer by his side than by Draco's. "This is not an easy decision," I said. "I would like time to consider."

"You will have until tomorrow night. If you are safely ensconced in your chambers after sunset tomorrow, we will respect your wish to remain human. If, instead, you are out on the western ramparts of the city, we will know you wish to join our order," said Draco, simply. "If you do not join us, Father Miguel will take you to the Córdoban militia unit your father commanded. You may join them, if they will have you."

I swallowed hard and looked to Father Miguel. "How do I choose?"

"Pray," he said simply.

"And, if God doesn't answer?"

Father Miguel was as silent as I feared God himself would be.

* * *

In the early morning hours, a guard led me to comfortable sleeping quarters where, having spent a long night with the Grand Inquisitor and the mysterious Lord Draco, I slept much of the next day. When I did wake, I shaved, bathed and then went outside to bask in the sunlight as much as possible.

I walked through the streets of the fortress-city and thought about the times I wrestled with my brother and son. I wept as I thought of my poor baby daughter, who had learned to crawl across the floor of the hacienda a week before the Black Death struck her down. I remembered my wife, beautiful on the day of our wedding, in the great cathedral of Córdoba. The image of my father, proudly riding his beautiful Arabian horses across the plains came to me last of all. Death had been stalking me. As the last member of my family, I felt as much of a victim as those who had actually died. Draco offered me a form of revenge against the grim reaper. I didn't need prayer to know what I wanted. In fact, I was afraid that were I to pray, God would advise me to go hide in my room.

As the sun descended, I found myself climbing the ladder to the top of the western wall. Longingly, I watched the sun sink below the gently rolling horizon from the ramparts of the fortress city. Shortly after, I looked overhead and saw the first stars of the night appear in the sky.

"The time for the ceremony is nigh," said a silken voice near my shoulder.

I had not heard anyone approach and I gasped at the sound of the voice. Standing only a few inches away was a figure in a scarlet, hooded robe. At first glance, it looked as though Death himself had come to greet me. The grim reaper threw back his hood and revealed a stunningly handsome face. He had dark eyes and wore a thin mustache. "I am called Roquelaure," he said. "Lord Draco awaits."

Silently, Roquelaure turned and glided through a portico, entering a tall, nondescript building, not far from the one where I spent the previous night. He led me through numerous twisting, turning corridors that were strangely quiet and empty. Ultimately, Roquelaure stepped into a great chamber where candelabrums lined the walls. The flickering candles cast an eerie, ever-changing light across the room. In the center of the room stood eleven red-hooded figures. It was difficult to tell with the thick, heavy garments, but it seemed to me that a few of the figures might actually be women. Roquelaure took his place in the circle. With no further instructions, I stood awkwardly outside the circle of hooded figures, waiting to see what would happen.

A heavy wooden door at the far end of the room creaked open. Lord Draco appeared, carrying a basin of water. He wore robes of bright red silk, embroidered with an elaborate dragon. A towel was draped over his shoulder. He moved to the center of the circle of hooded figures and bid me to do likewise. I moved cautiously, aware that I was the focal point of hidden, predatory eyes. At the center of the circle was a wooden chair. With a wave of his hand, Draco indicated that I should sit. Kneeling in front of me, he pulled off my boots and eased my feet into the basin of delightfully warm and soothing water. With strong, yet gentle fingers, he massaged my feet in the water and the scent of frankincense rose from the basin to greet me.

"Know this," said Draco as he caressed my feet. "We vampires are not animals, nor are we walking corpses, as is rumored in some lands. We are transcendent beings of mysterious origin. As transcendent beings, it is our duty to care for one another. We are blessed with virtual immortality, but we are not unkillable. We are cursed to drink human blood to survive, but we have power to limit this need. Know that I am the master here and all that have accepted my invitation to join the Scarlet Order have sworn an oath of fealty to me. Know too that I am the guardian of the Scarlet Order. As master, I am the absolute authority. Yet, I will never be afraid to kneel before my companions and wash their feet." He paused and looked into my eyes. "I invite you to join the Scarlet Order."

I took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. Something in the back of my mind told me to run – leave this place. Part of me wanted to return to the safety of the hacienda and find someone to help me tend the land. Perhaps even Sister Inez might be compelled to renounce her vows and marry me. Then I thought of my enemy, Death, stalking me all these years. I swallowed deeply. "I accept your invitation."

Draco eased my feet out of the water and dried them with his towel. He stood and helped me to my feet then embraced me as a father might embrace his long, lost son. Just as I returned the embrace, Draco nuzzled then bit into my neck. The pain was blinding and I cried out, my hands trembling. Growing weaker with every heartbeat, I tried to claw, push and pull – anything to get this monster off of me. The weaker I became, the more timid my blows. Seeming to have taken his fill, Draco lowered me into the chair and stood back, opening his robe. My vision had blurred, but I could just make out his exposed chest. With a sharp fingernail, Draco opened a wound over his heart.

"Do you swear fealty to me?" he asked.

"I swear it," I mumbled.

He reached out and helped me to my feet, saying, "Take, drink. My blood will become your blood. You will transcend, never again needing bread or the fruit of the vine." With that, he cradled the back of my head and pulled my mouth to the wound on his chest. Tasting the blood, I swooned. Long suppressed instinct told me that I must drink to live and so I suckled at the master's breast and felt myself grow stronger. After a few moments, he gently pulled me away. I embraced Draco and lay my head on his shoulder. My breathing became more and more shallow and he eased me toward the floor. Shortly after, I lay limp, as though dead.

* * *

I awoke later, in a dark, damp room that smelled of death. Seeing shackles on the wall, I realized I was in a dungeon, somewhere within the great city fortress. In spite of the foul smells of human waste, mold, and decaying flesh, I grew ravenous. Though the room was dark, I could make out many minute details. Somehow, my vision had improved. Behind me was Lord Draco, still in his scarlet robes. With him was Father Miguel. Looking forward again, I saw a lump of a man huddled in the corner.

"His name is Fuad Shawki," said the calm voice of Lord Draco.

"He is a Moor who refuses baptism," explained Father Miguel, coldly. "The Inquisition has sentenced him to death for heresy. You are to carry out the sentence."

I required no further prompting. Like a great cat, I pounced on the huddled man. Instinctively, I bit into the pulsing jugular vein and felt his blood wash over my tongue, filling me. Joyously, I drew his blood into me and felt the edge taken from my hunger. I continued to suck at the wound long after the heretic was dead. Draco gently pried the body from my arms.

"Still hungry?" asked Father Miguel, a gleam in his eye.

To my shame, I nodded.

"There are plenty more heretics where this one came from."

"The initial hunger is the worst," whispered Draco. "After this, it is easier to control."

* * *

I soon learned that vampires normally do not require much blood to survive – a pint or two per day will keep us healthy and well. Under normal conditions, if we drain more than one body dry, we will feel bloated and sick. In fact, during that first night in the dungeons of Santa Fé, Father Miguel egged me on, encouraging me to continue draining the blood of heretics. My hunger had been so great, that I was willing to oblige. After the fifth unfortunate victim, I became sick and found myself doubled over. Draco's arms were around my shoulders as I vomited blood. For the next week, I lay in a darkened room, wishing I'd stayed in my chambers and not accepted Draco's gift of immortality.

Ultimately, I did recover and began to revel in my newfound strength and sensations. I discovered that I could hear distant conversations. From the ramparts of Santa Fé, I could peer into the windows of Granada. Passing buildings, I could hear snippets of unspoken thought. "You begin to understand why kings, knights and the church value us so," said Draco, finding me one night, wandering the streets of the fortress city. "Your gifts will strengthen as you age. Soon, you will discover the animal spirit within. With practice, you may even be able to transform into that beast."

My eyes went wide. "Can you transform into a beast?"

Draco inclined his head.

"Can you show me?"

Draco pursed his lips. "I do not perform tricks for anyone's amusement."

"I am sorry," I said, humbly. "I did not mean to offend you."

The English nobleman waved my apology aside, quickly forgetting my faux pas. He then told me the time appointed for our strike against Granada was near.

The vampires of the Scarlet Order met the next night in the chamber where I'd been welcomed into the order. Dread weighed heavily upon me that night. I was afraid our mission would be to rampage through Granada, killing as many of the citizens as possible. Instead, Draco spoke of killing only three Granadans: The first was a Sa'id visiting the city and rumored to be a friend of Emir Abu Abdallah's father. The second was an arms smith, said to be one of the best in the land. The third was one of the Emir's advisors – Vizier Ibrahim Yousef. One vampire would be assigned to assassinate each of these people. Without their support, Abu Abdallah's hold over Granada would weaken substantially, hastening the fall of the city. The remainder of the vampires were to seek certain texts and scrolls within the city. These texts contained knowledge that could also prolong the campaign.

"Do you still seek vengeance for your father?" asked Draco.

I nodded.

"Then your job will be to find and kill Ibrahim Yousef," ordered Lord Draco.

"Where will I find him?"

"Within the Al-hambra," said the handsome Roquelaure, blithely. "He often wanders the Courtyard of the Lions alone in the early evening."

The next night, the vampires of the Scarlet Order stealthily crossed the distance between Santa Fé and Granada. I was amazed how fast I could run over land. It seemed I was even more fleet of foot than my father's prized Arabian horses. Roquelaure led me through the city to the great palace of Al-hambra. From the outside, the palace looked even more stark and featureless than the buildings inside hastily built Santa Fé. Effortlessly, Roquelaure climbed the palace walls. My improved vision and strength allowed me to find and grip foot and toe holds I would never have managed as a human. Though slower than Roquelaure, I found I was able to follow him up the wall. At the top, he gave me directions to the Lion Court. He went the opposite way, seeking several of the scrolls that Draco wanted.

I crept along tiled roofs, stepping carefully so as not to shatter the tiles and alert guards to my presence. I found the Lion Court easily enough; it was a splendid, grassy courtyard. Four walkways cut through the grass and met in the center at a fountain guarded by a number of stone lions. Surrounding the courtyard were covered walkways. Narrow columns that blossomed into delicately carved arches supported the roofs of the walkways. The courtyard itself was empty and I had little to do but wait for Ibrahim Yousef – presuming he would arrive as Roquelaure indicated he would.

As I loitered among the columns admiring the fine work of the artisans who had built the Al-hambra, a lone figure emerged on the far side of the courtyard. He stepped into the open and stood near the lion-guarded fountain. Around the man's neck was a chain that held a metal disk with several metal circles mounted to its face. The man removed the chain from his neck, adjusted the circles on the disk's face, then held it up, as though sighting stars along its side. I presumed this man was Ibrahim Yousef, but I needed to be certain. Though I could detect some thoughts, my gifts were not sufficiently developed to probe this man's mind.

Casually, I emerged from the shadows and asked what he was doing.

"This is an astrolabe," he said, his eyes still on the stars. "I'm trying to get a good measurement of the alignment of two stars – the swooping eagle and the hen's tail. It will help us maximize our resources by telling us when we can fertilize our trees and gardens, and harvest the fruits and vegetables from around the city. By getting as much as we can from our limited resources, perhaps we can survive this blockade of infidels."

"That looks like it takes a great deal of concentration," I said, idly wondering whether it might be better to take Yousef back to Draco – press his skills into the service of Isabella and Ferdinand rather than simply kill him.

"It does, and it would be easier outside the confines of the city. However, the last time I tried, I was attacked by one of the infidels. It's not safe to go outside the city at night." He paused in his stargazing and looked me in the eye, his wispy salt-and-pepper beard blowing slightly in the breeze. "I don't know you. You are not one of the palace regulars."

"I'm not," I said, matter-of-factly. "My father was Don Ricardo de Córdoba, the man who attacked you outside the city."

He pursed his lips. "You've made it deep into the palace grounds without being detected. I presume you must be one of the red-hooded servants of Shaitan who are employed by the Castillian Inquisition."

"I serve Lord Draco."

"Shaitan, Draco," he said, rolling his eyes. "It makes no difference. They're both the same – creatures of darkness."

"Why did you kill my father?" I asked.

Yousef shrugged. "He interfered with my work and he was an infidel. That seems more than enough reason to me." I caught just a flicker of warning as Yousef dropped the astrolabe to the ground with one hand and drew a flintlock pistol from his robes with the other. He cocked the pistol's hammer as he leveled it at me.

A robed figure emerged from the shadows of the walkway behind Yousef and struck him. The pistol discharged and the ball hit me in the shoulder, whipping me around. I dropped to the ground, my shoulder seemingly afire. With a force of will, I turned my head and saw Roquelaure bent over Yousef, fangs in his neck, drinking the vizier's blood.

After a few moments, Roquelaure looked up at me and grinned. "Be wary of the time you spend among humans and what they say to you," said Roquelaure, still holding the limp form of Ibrahim Yousef. "They are dangerous, murderous creatures."

"Couldn't we have used his knowledge?" I asked, surprised that I was speaking of the man that had murdered my father.

"His knowledge lives on in the books that Draco ordered us to bring back to Santa Fé. Books are beautiful and permanent, much like us vampires."

"Books decay," I said, glumly. "What of vampires?"

"Books can be copied by patient hands. There are few hands more patient than those of immortal vampires," retorted Roquelaure. He dropped Yousef's body in a heap near the lion fountain.

Gingerly, I reached up and touched the bullet wound in my shoulder. I was surprised to find that it was mostly healed. Roquelaure held his hand out to me, helping me stand. "Come, we need to go so we can get that tended to," he said, gently. "It is healing, but you need blood."

I sighed and looked at the crumpled form of Ibrahim Yousef. "Somehow, I thought his death would bring me peace. Instead, it just leaves me uneasy."

"That's because loss is cumulative – killing a person to avenge another only leaves two dead bodies. It does not reconcile anything," said Roquelaure, quietly. "The older you get, the more you'll value life. I've been watching Yousef's movements for months. However, I could not bring myself to kill him until tonight – until I saw for myself that he did not respect any life but his own."

"That seems an odd attitude for a mercenary," I said.

"It's just as odd an attitude for a vampire," he said. "However, I must live with my own conscience for the rest of eternity. Likewise, you must live with yours." With that thought, Roquelaure took my good arm and helped me back to Santa Fé.

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