They’re simply victims of a disease called X-P, xeroderma pigmentosum, a congenital condition in which DNA can’t repair the damage done by ultraviolet rays. Thus, they have to avoid sunlight or be burnt to a crisp. In fact, the Strigoisti can be blamed for starting the vampire legend if someone wants to point fingers. Since the aventurieri, as they’re called in their native Transylvanian, have existed as long as the rest of us, they’ve managed to acquire a bit of magic, un-human physical characteristics, and a few skills not possessed by normal humans, such as the ability to transport, telepathy, possessing wings…and that rather upsetting habit of drinking blood (though they do eat regular food, also, and have an especially…uh…sweet fang…for pastries.). Otherwise, they’re just plain folks… by turns, jealous, spoiled, petty, curious, amorous, and reckless. They make mistakes and sometimes do foolish things, and in their own way, are still very much “human.”
Members of this family are: Marek, the ghidaj or leader, his womanizing younger brothers, the fraternal twins Vlad and Andreas, his sister Ruxanda, and their bisexual cousin Bogdan. Marek keeps a tight rein on his brothers who have very little status as younger sons, except as warriors. Ruxanda is Marek’s half-sister from their father’s second marriage and is over 20 years younger than he. Bogdan was raised by his uncle after priests killed his parents and crippled him. Being someone who hates vacillation in any form, he’s been celibate his entire life because he can’t decide which sex he wishes to pursue. As for Marek himself, revenge and caring for his family are his two prerequisites and he has yet to fall in love, but when he does, it will be dvastating.
Though the sun had been down for many hours, Elsabeta Suvoi was still abed. Her lover liked her that way, wanting his woman where she was convenient whenever his lust seized him. Elsabeta was slavishly in love with Mircea Ravagiu. He was violent and insatiable, as cruel in bed as out of it, but she worshipped him. It had been so from the moment they met, after her father’s reluctant invitation to a banchet at his castel. Elsabeta had taken one look atthe black-eyed warrior, saw the lustful gleam in his eyes, and left with him that night against herparents’ wishes. She’d sullied the Suvoi name to become his iubita...and she didn’t care.
He never spoke aloud that he loved her, though often he praised her body for the satisfaction it gave him. He said straightaway she should never expect marriage or offspring, but Elsabeta was a female of her time from a family of women considered mere chattels to their males, so she accepted his domination without argument. Running away with Mircea was her one independent act.
At first horrified by the bloody orgies and attacks upon the deomi, the humans living on the edges of his estate, she now ignored his rapaciousness and his brutal games, letting his prowess in bed distract her. When her lover and his soldati returned from their hunts, she locked herself in her bedchamber, its thick walls drowning out the screams from below. It was the cries of the children cut most into her soul. At those times, she thanked the Oracle Ravagiu swore he’d never get her with child, for it came into her mind should it happen, it might be her own infant shrieking out its life in the castel banquet chamber.
To Elsabeta, Mircea Ravagiu was like one of the dreadful Ancient Ones who devoured its own offspring. She truly believed he wouldn’t hesitate to rip out his own child’s throat and drink its blood should the thought come to him. Yet, with that perversity Nature renders some, she loved the man and never thought to leave him.
She was jerked from her semi-slumber by the chamber door being kicked open, sat up to stare at the figure in the doorway...Mircea, upper body bare, wings hovering around him. They were still quivering, evidence he’d flown rapidly and had just landed. From where she sat, she could hear his harsh panting. He held something in his arms.
“Get dressed.” No words of greeting or love. Just an order.
“Why? What’s the matter?” A loud crashing came through the doorway, voices crying out. “What’s that noise?”
“My men are disposing of the vanjosi.” He answered as calmly as if merely announcing the moon had risen. “Strigoi’s freak’s on his way here and we have to go.”
“You should’ve expected this.” She dared remind him of what he’d done, though it jeopardized her own life. “Did you think you could slaughter his family and he wouldn’t retaliate?”
She’d been horrified when he returned from his brother’s castel announcing they’d been executed by the Prince’s Taietor, didn’t believe it when he said he planned to kill the Shadow Lord and his family. She hadn’t thought he’d succeed and waited to be told he was dead, resigned to living the rest of her days as an outcast for the choice she’d made. And then, Mircea returned, bloodily triumphant...and Janos Strigoi and his wife were dead and their children carried away to be tortured before their blood nourished their father’s enemy.
“I never thought that book-bound scholastic’d have balls enough to take a sword in his hands.” He stalked into the room. The sounds from below got louder, women screaming, men shouting, voices abruptly cut off to be replaced by others just as terrified. “Get up or you’ll join my servants.”
Sliding from the bed, she hastened to obey but as she reached for her chemise and overskirt, he said, “We’re flying. Make certain your wings are unhampered.”
The bundle he held began to move. It squirmed, kicking itself free of the swathing blanket. A plump little leg, an arm...a baby, a little girl-child, tiny and out of place in Mircea’s deadly embrace.
“Dear one.” Elsabeta stopped with the garment in her hands. A sick dread twisted inside her. “W-who’s that?”
“My daughter.” His answer was as short as if he’d bitten the word. “Now.”
Daughter? How can he have a child? Hadn’t he told her he wished no brats, that the only thing he wanted from them was their sweet, immortality-laden blood?
Shrugging her wings out of their concealing pouches, she peered at the infant. The child whimpered, turning her head and holding out her hands. She was blond and blue-eyed, not quite a year old. This is Janos Strigoi’s child. Elsabeta’s heart felt as if it had been wrung dry.
“What are you going to do with her?” Even as she asked the question, she knew she had to prevent it. If she had to risk her own life and finally brave Mircea’s wrath, she couldn’t let him harm this child.
“It’ll be fitting, don’t you think?” His laugh was harsh. “Raising the Shadow Lord’s brat as my own? Teaching her how to be a Ravagiu and some day, letting the survivors know?”
“No! Please…” A woman’s scream floated up to them, dying away in a bloody wail.
“Are you ready?” He thrust the child into her arms. Elsabeta cuddled it against her naked breast, holding the little body tightly. I must do whatever it takes to protect this baby. If it kills me.
He held out his hand.
“Where are we going?” She placed her own in it. He led her toward the window.
“I’m fortunate my brother saw fit to have holdings in other countries and I’ve traveled to them.” One fist struck the shutters, sending them flying. He climbed upon the sill. “We’re going to Budapest. Hold tight to the brat. If you drop her, I’ll kill you.”
He flung himself through the window into the air. Naked as she was, Elsabeta was pulled along, clutching the child. Releasing her hand, Mircea circled and rose swiftly, his body completing a graceful curve as he aimed himself over the trees, Elsabeta trailing after him.
Below them, the killings continued for another hour.
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