Against The Tide

taibhrigh_banner-AgainstTide

Title: Against The Tide
Fandoms: Sylum Clan Universe; The DaVinci Code; Predator vs Alien; Historical Figures;
Characters/Pairings: Ababuo/Sebastian de Rosa; Loch-Nah/Juba; Allan Quartermain; Robert Langdon/Leonardo DaVinci; Members of Ghost and Darkness; Medjai; Lealta Clans; Original Characters
Ratings: PG
Word Count: 20,340
Summary: After being Turned, it seemed like Ababuo spent all her time going against the tide of society and expectations. Sebastian did what was expected of him until he didn’t.
Author’s Note: THANK YOU to Taibhrigh for the terrific banner art for my Sylum stories.
Disclaimer: Except for the work noted as being originally mine, all works of fiction and characters thereof belong to their original creators/studios/producers/publishers. No money is being earned, and they are used without permission. I apologize for any typos I missed.


Sylum Timeline:  Autumn 198 BC – June 1920

A great marriage is not when the perfect couple comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences … Dave Meurer

~ The Central Sahel Region of the Chad Basin ~ Late Autumn 198 BC ~ 

After spending the day harvesting wild rice along the river, a laughing, grumbling group of women and children returned to the village. Their baskets of rice were set aside as they began preparations for the evening meal. It was growing closer to the time for the men and boys to return with herds, and the bounty of the day’s hunt. Thankfully, with the end of the rainy season there was an end to endlessly slogging through the same red clay mud they used to make their jars and bowls.

Ababuo could form perfectly serviceable pottery for her family’s use, but she was not as talented as others in the village. As the wife of a well-respected warrior, and the mother of two warrior sons, and a beautiful daughter, Ababuo could well afford to pay others for their exquisitely decorated pottery. Pouring millet into her grinding bowl, she considered their food stores for what to prepare for the evening meal.

It didn’t take long to grind enough millet for their evening bread. Grabbing a clean bowl, Ababuo headed to the underground room her husband had added behind the house to provide plenty of storage space for the family’s harvest. Glad her daughter was playing with friends instead of underfoot, Ababuo smiled when she heard one of the village dogs bark. The men must be returning with the herds. Her family would soon be together and safe in their home one more day.

Instead of hearing the bleating of goats and sheep, along with the lowing of cattle, Ababuo heard the thunder of galloping horses’. Running to the front of the house, she watched in horror as the sun baked clay and stone walls crumbled under the onslaught of black robed men brandishing swords. Staying in her doorway to avoid being slung across the horse’s withers like a dead gazelle, Ababuo only left her haven when she saw one of riders bearing down on her daughter.

“NO!!!” She screamed as she ran. On the cusp of womanhood, her daughter would be a prize in the slave markets. Ababuo literally shoved her daughter into the arms of her best friend. “Run to where the men have the herds! GO!! GO NOW!!” She screamed as she felt herself lifted off her feet.

Flailing her arms legs, Ababuo tried to unseat her captor, or spook the horse into throwing her off. Travelers passing through the village often told stories of the black robed men they called Ghazi, and how their captives disappeared into faraway lands … Never to be seen by their families again. Those thoughts chased each other through her terrified mind as she continued to fight.

Before their first son was born her husband thought it entertaining to teach his beautiful wife to defend herself. Family responsibilities had stolen those times from the couple, but she well remembered the lessons, and practiced whenever she could steal a few moments to herself. She tried to get enough purchase on the saddle trappings for the leverage to put those lessons to use in freeing herself. Angry with the fighting, screaming, kicking bundle across the front of his saddle, Ababuo’s captor pulled his horse to a stop, and shoved her to the ground.

Twisting to try to do a shoulder roll, Ababuo still thumped her head on the hard-packed sand. Dazed, she attempted to get to her feet, and move before the man in black got off his horse. She’d made it to her knees before she was shoved facedown onto the sand. Hands now bound, Ababuo was thrown properly into the saddle. Her feet were then tied under the horse’s belly, and the ropes around her hands were tied to the saddle. Swinging up behind her, her captor kicked his horse into a gallop to catch up with the rest of the group. When her head cleared, she looked around and saw the other riders had done the same with their captives. She was sweaty, disheveled, and covered with sand. The other women were pale and wane, crying and pleading. One or two were nearly catatonic from the shock of being ripped from their village and families. Once she calmed down, Ababuo realized she could mostly understand what the men in black were saying. There were some things she couldn’t translate, but for the most part she knew their words. The words she was hearing did nothing to calm her anxiety. She was not looking forward to when they stopped for the night.

~~}~~

The women were surprised when the only demands their captors made was they prepare the evening meal. Huddling together for warmth as the night chill filled the darkness, Ababuo used the stubborn nature that often vexed her husband to push down her fear. The Ghazi were treating them as though they had value. Though they had not been treated gently, they had not been beaten or raped. The raiders had ridden far enough from the village that even their swiftest warriors, and best trackers would not be able to catch them. She was drawn out of her thoughts when the same black cloaks worn by men were dropped at their feet. At least the cold desert night was not a misery with which they would have to deal.

It was still dark when kicks and insults roused the women from their troubled sleep. Dried meat and tepid water made up their breakfast as they were lead to the horses. Stiff from sleeping on the ground, and her bruises from battling her captors, Ababuo was slow to move.

“Are you injured, woman?” A hoarse voice demanded.

Understanding enough of his words to comprehend, she shook her head and moved toward the horse.

“If you are done fighting, I will not tie you to the horse. There is nowhere for you to go, but with me.”

Nodding her agreement, Ababuo pulled herself into the saddle, vowing to conserve her energy for whatever was to come at the end of their journey. 

~ White Nile River, Sabaloka Game Reserve, Sudan, Early Winter 197 BC ~ 

They pushed the horses hard. Sometimes everyone rode, and sometimes no one rode. The days were long, and the nights short. Their only respite were the stops they made at the oasis to rest the horses and refill their water skins. The moon had hidden her face twice while they travelled eastward. Ababuo watched as her fellow captives became comfortable with the men that had stolen them from their village. When asked, the women said they were making the best of the situation, and their captors had not been overly cruel. She began to feel isolated as the other women began to act as though they were being courted by the men who had ripped them from their lives. Other than complying when ordered to prepare a meal or mount and dismount, Ababuo continued to hold herself aloof from her captors. Any liberties the men attempted to take with her body were met with rejection that proved painful to the perpetrator.

They travelled to the northeast until they stopped at a wide river teeming with life, and tents. There was much cheering and people leaving their chores to encircle the riders. When hands reached to pull Ababuo from her captor’s horse, their face was impacted with the heel of her foot. Holding a bloody nose and cursing her lineage, the others laughed and jeered, but backed away as her captor slid from the horse.

“Sami, you are truly a courageous man to have captured such a fighter. How is it that you have escaped being bloody and bruised?”

“I know the proper way to treat a woman.”

“He’s had three moons for her to train him.” One of the other riders jibed.

“Come, Ababuo. I will show you where you will stay until your fate is determined.”

“I will determine my own fate, but I will follow you … For now.”

The women laughed as the men practically salivated over who would tame this fury. “The women will show you what is needed.” Eyes shifting away from the woman he had come to respect over the past three moons. “The single men will come to your tent. They will wish to bed you, so they can claim you as their woman … To bear them strong sons.”

“I have a man, strong sons, and a beautiful daughter. I have no need to be tainted with the seed of cowards who steal what is not theirs.” Ababuo snarled as she entered the tent.

Sami exchanged a look with the Ghazi woman who was preparing to follow Ababuo into the tent.

“You were once in her shoes, Nofret. Make her understand.”

“You rip women away from their lives because you can’t find a willing woman from your own tribe. Maybe we should be more like her and less like those other simpering idiots.” Nofret gave him a scowl as she disappeared into the tent.

Feeling the heat of shame color his face, Sami began thinking he had taken the easy road when he left his tribe to join the Ghazi. Perhaps it was time to ask the Gods his destiny instead of listening to braggarts who pulled him into this life. Leading his horse to the rest of the herd, he took extra care. The animal had carried him and Ababuo faithfully no matter how hard his leader had pushed them on their journey. He touched the tattoos on his face. He would see how the situation with Ababuo resolved itself, then return to the great compound in the desert to reaffirm his true self.

~~}~~

Ababuo learned her keeper’s name was Nofret, and she too, had been taken captive from the tribe of her birth. With clean clothing, she was lead to the river and allowed to bathe. After travelling so long, it was a pleasure to be able to remove the sand that crept everywhere.

“What can you tell me about what will be happening?” Ababuo asked as she combed out her long hair.

“They are like male lions over a fresh buffalo. The strongest coming to take what they consider their due. You were a wife. You know how men can be.”

“My husband is a respected warrior who properly courted me. Ours was not only a match between our families, but we respected and cared for each other and our children. He was not like these brutish men who call themselves warriors.”

Nofret nodded her head, remembering years before when the Ghazi came to her village. Her family did not survive. “Count yourself lucky … Your family still lives.” She took the comb, and began to pull Ababuo’s hair into tight braids. “These will be better to fight, this will give them a smaller number of hand holds.”

There was no more conversation between the women as they walked back to the tent allotted to Ababuo. As she watched the men, she noticed Sami, her captor, standing with several other men with similar facial tattoos. The man whose nose she broke stood leering with his friends. Remembering her husband’s lessons, Ababuo reached down and grabbed the hem of the backside of her dress. Pulling it forward between her legs, she tucked the dress tail firmly in her sash, freeing her legs from tangling in the material.

“You cannot win, woman.”

“Neither will you.” She grimly promised.

Believing his size and arrogance would cower the captive, he charged like a buffalo, arms spread wide. Ababuo simply stepped to the side, and watched as he tripped over a water vessel. Muffled laughs caused the enraged man to lose his tenuous hold on his temper. As he moved forward once more, Ababuo slipped under his arms, and falling to her knees landed a well-aimed punch to his genitals, in which he had such pride. She moved quickly out of the way as he fell to his knees … Retching.

And so, it continued. The three moons on the trail had hardened Ababuo in body and spirit. It seemed these Ghazi only knew of war from horseback. They seemed to have little knowledge of unarmed ground fighting. As she stood bruised, scraped, blood and sweat covered … She also stood straight and proud. She would not show these curs her hurts. She would not be cowed. She was the wife of a highly respected warrior. Her sons were the best combination of both parents, and her daughter was a beautiful, strong young woman. She was Ababuo of the Sao, and she would not bow to common thieves.

After the fourth man had been held at bay, a man taller than the others, but with lighter skin than the rest of the tribe stepped forward. Most of his face was hidden behind a cloth Ababuo had learned was called a shesh.

“Enough!” Everyone froze. “This woman has held her dignity and honor since the day she was taken. She has bent but not broken, nor resorted to a woman’s wiles to make her lot easier. As she has shown us her warrior heart, so now will we take her into the ranks of our warriors where she will be given that which tells the world that she is one of ours.”

“Ra’id!” The man first battered by Ababuo shouted. “You cannot do this.”

“Are you questioning my decision, Thabit?”

Silence fell as even the animals seemed to be listening to Thabit’s answer.

“Of course not, but …”

“There is no but. This woman chose combat over surrender. She has defeated her would be conquerors. Ababuo is a woman free to say who does or does not enter her tent, and we will honor her choices.” Ra’id watched as the blood lust finally leeched from the faces of his men. They were not bad men, but some took the perception of others to build their own egos. “Tomorrow when the sun reaches its peak, my elite will take Ababuo into their ranks, and thereafter she will be afforded all rights and honors that accompany that position. As I will it, so it will be.”

Seeing the excitement was over, the members of the tribe began to disburse. Ababuo waited until she was certain there would be no attacks from behind, she started back to the tent she’d been given. She was not surprised when Nofret fell in step at her side.

“You are the first that has ever fought back. The rest of us merely accepted that this was our new life.”

Ababuo gave a sharp laugh. “I was a trial to my parents as I never merely accepted anything. I always made my opinion known to any and all, even if they did not want to listen.”

“Turns out that is not such a bad thing. You are to become one of the sheik’s warriors.”

“I wondered about leadership. I was beginning think there was no one in charge.”

“Ra’id is very much in charge. Everyone knows what is expected of them, and they have not liked the consequences whenever those expectations were not met.” Nofret chuckled.

Looking down at her clothes, Ababuo shook her head.

“I believe I need another bath.”

~~}~~

Allowed only water, bathed, dressed in white, her hair twisted into intricate braids, Ababuo was prepared for her initiation into the elite. Nofret was her only companion, but she had no answers since no woman had ever been allowed into these ceremonies. A line of black clad riders with their faces covered separated the part of the camp occupied by Ra’id and his warriors. Two sidestepped enough to allow her to pass then once again closed the gap. No words were spoken as Ababuo recognized Sami, the man who originally captured her, step forward to act as her guide.

Leading her over to the fire, Sami indicated she should sit on a rich looking carpet with several pillows. Thankful for the pants they had given her, Ababuo sat cross-legged before the fire. A tall warrior that reminded her of her husband settled on his knees between Ababuo and the fire. First, he sat down a bowl of crushed madder root. He then pulled a claw shaped blade out of the fire to cool.

“You must hold very still, Little Sister.” He crooned. “I am called Ubaid. It means faithful.” He reached out to tie a shesh over her eyes. “Binding your eyes shows me you are willing to take the first step in trusting your shield brothers.”

“I am Ababuo. It means, child that returns.” She replied in the same tone.

So sharp she never felt the cut, Ababuo was surprised to feel blood on her face. Ubaid caught it on his finger and brought it to his lips.

“Strong but sweet.” He commented before taking up the bowl, he rubbed the red dye into the open wounds.

The blood began to soak the collar of her white shirt until she finally felt it begin to pull as the peak of the day sun beat down. The warriors watched as the blood flow slowed then stopped as the cuts slowly healed themselves. A white cloth and cool water from their sacred spring gently cleaned the blood from the beautiful face. Admiring his handiwork, Ubaid had mixed his ingredients perfectly. The cuts had healed quickly, allowed the scarring to remain.

“Stay.” With a nod of agreement, Ubaid stood and approached Ra’id. “The marks are perfect.” Ubaid looked at his old friend. “She will have no Sire … We will all be responsible for her Turning.”

“Sami, Wafil, Merkh should be enough to calm the hunger.”

“It shall be as you say.” Ubaid moved back to where he left Ababuo. “When we have completed your initiation, you will be my student. I will train you to fight with and without weapons. You will do me proud.”

“I promise.” She answered him softly. “I still will not lie with you.”

“I would not ask it for you will be as though a child of my loins.”

Ababuo felt so safe with Ubaid. She almost felt as though she were a young girl still at home with her parents. Safe, relaxed, loved … When she felt something penetrate the skin of her throat, Ababuo continued to float along that safe feeling. She was lost in sensation until someone was holding their wrist in front of her face encouraging her to drink. Why would she need to drink? As soon as the thought floated through her mind, her body demanded she needed the blood flowing from the wrist.

She felt the oddest sensation as she felt two of her teeth lengthen and slide into the cut that pumped rich wonderful blood. Finally, she was urged to stop, which she did, though it was hard. Licking the skin, she allowed herself to be eased down on the rug, and waited for whatever came next.

With a moan Ababuo rolled on her side and drew up her knees. “Hurts.” She complained.

“It will pass. It is the effects of the transformation.” Ubaid soothed.

“What transformation. I birthed three children that did not hurt this bad.”

“Your body is dying.”

She tried to sit up but was forced back down by the cramping in her muscles. “What do you mean dying?”

“You will not be going to join your Gods. You are becoming a Vampire. You will be stronger, faster, your senses sharper, which will aid you in your journey. You will need blood to live, but if you keep your head you will live a very long and adventurous life.”

“What if I do not wish to live as a creature that drinks blood?” She asked softly.

“If the thought of being a Vampire is so repugnant to you … When your transformation is complete, I will take your head, and your ashes will travel forever over the sands.” He answered bluntly.

“Is that how we die?”

“Yes.”

“Will I see my family again?”

“Many times, through many lifetimes.”

“I will stay.” 

~  Ababuo’s home village near N’Djamena, Chad, Early Winter 195 BC ~

Sitting on the rise above her former home, Ababuo stretched her enhanced senses trying to catch sight of her children. This was one time being a Vampire was a blessing. After watching the village for four days, she has seen her husband with a new woman, and her children looking healthy and happy. Turning her horse back toward her camp, Ababuo was still arguing with herself about announcing her presence. Seeing her traveling companions, she pushed away her thoughts as she moved to care for her horse.

Though she had wished to make this journey alone, Ubaid had sent Sami and Merkha along so there would not be a starving Vampire preying on the desert tribes. She had taken to her Vampire and warrior training as though born to it. Ra’id had one other warrior who was a Vampire besides her and Ubaid. She had started her fight training with the Human warriors, and as her skill progressed, Ababuo began harder training with Ubaid and Masika. The two vampires drilled her hard, knowing she would receive no quarter from her opponents. Ra’id’s elite truly became her brothers as they worked, sweated, and bled together.

Thoughts of Ra’id caused her chest to tighten. After the raid on Ababuo’s village, the raids had lessened. There was enough new blood in the tribe to alleviate the fear of sickly children from the families becoming too close in blood. They were people of the desert, not their God touched rulers. The river provided all they needed, and the tribe thrived.

They lost their leader when the tribe was attacked by a recently formed group of raiders comprised of men cast out for misdeeds and crimes against their tribes. The raiders were driven off with their numbers greatly reduced. Ra’id had been gravely wounded, but refused to allow his Vampire guards to Turn him. He reminded them that he would one day see them again as he named Ubaid his successor. His death had prompted Ababuo to tell Ubaid she was going to seek out her village … Hoping for a chance to reconnect with her family.

Now that she was here, she was filled with uncertainty. She knew her people’s taboos, and the marks that told the world she was a respected warrior, would be frowned upon by those that considered them flaws. Firming her resolve, she decided tomorrow would be the day she would garner her answers from her tribe.

Swords hidden under their burnooses, the three warriors rode into the village. They replenished their supplies in preparation of a fast exit from the area. Ababuo kept her shesh pulled up so only her eyes and cheeks could be seen. She saw condemnation in the eyes of women she had dealt with her entire life because of the scarring on her cheek. She saw the leer in eyes of the men who perceived her as being a woman of low morals simply because of her marks.

Packing their supplies, the three warriors rode out to where the herds of goats and sheep were watched over by the young while the men formed a perimeter watching for predators. Approaching he who had been her husband, Ababuo revealed her face. His eyes lit with joy until he saw the red colored scars on her face. The joy changed to derision and malice.

“You are dead to us. Why have you returned to this place?”

“I have been true to my name, child that returns. I have held my honor during the time I was gone. I have survived and gained skills that garnered respect of those who stole me from my home. I had hoped that my family would take that into consideration, and be happy to see that I lived to return.” Ababuo challenged.

“You came back carrying the mark of other men.”

The father of her children snarled as he raised his spear. Ababuo caught sight of her sons rushing to their father’s aid. Calling to her Human brothers, swords were drawn as the backed toward their horses. As they began to turn, Ababuo saw the spear leave her husband’s hand. Watching the spear while keeping aware of her sons and the other warriors, she snatched the spear from the air. With a flick of her wrist, Ababuo planted the spear at the feet of the man she had loved until the moment he’d thrown the spear. Mounting their horses, the trio turn their horses to the north.

~~}~~

They stayed close to the river until they reached the village of Ababuo’s parents. The two men tried to talk her out of torturing herself with one more rejection, but Ababuo was determined to prove the heart was stronger than tribal bias. Though they could see that her mother wanted to protest, she was drowned out by the mob forming. When they left the village’s territory, Ababuo turned to the north and east willing her broken heart to heal as fast as her physical wounds.

Sami and Merkha were beginning to worry. Their shield sister was neglecting her health by stretching out Feeding until she was bordering on the edge most Vampires were careful to avoid. After carefully scouting the oasis, and finding only the local wildlife, they decided to take several days to rest themselves and the horses. Taking down a small antelope, they all enjoyed the fresh meat, putting the rest to dry. Ababuo Fed from Merkha, quieting the men’s complaints as they stretched out around the fire to enjoy the evening.

The days spent at the oasis went a long way to healing the wounds on Ababuo’s spirit. Being able to bathe and put on clean clothes, didn’t hurt, either. Enjoying their evening tea, Merkha was surprised when Ababuo asked about his home tribe. Then she asked Sami. After two years, she had seen the scars and tattoos on both men, but had never asked their meanings. Thanking the men for their stories, she retired for the night wanting to get an early start on the new day.

Her dreams were full of mountains that came to a point, men with tattooed faces dressed like her, but with faces of all colors. Women that carried themselves like queens sat on the ruling council equal with the men. There was one face that stood out among the rest. Face, pale like the moon, hair dark as night, smiling eyes the color of the sky. If there were tears on Ababuo’s cheeks when she woke the next morning, she knew they would be the last shed for her lost life. Pulling on her warrior accoutrements, the conviction grew that she needed to continue their current path to the north and a bit east. Several months remained before the beginning of the rainy season, but there should be enough grass and water to get them across the grasslands.

Their pace was moderate, but they seldom lingered. To sit still was to invite attack. They were occasionally invited to travel with camel trains of supplies who were always glad to spend coin for the extra eyes and swords. It also gave her sword brothers a respite when there were others around from which to Feed. Reaching an area with several small lakes and ponds, the trio took the time to wash clothes, horses, and themselves. Since leaving her parents’ village, the moon had hidden her face three times. Ababuo now sat like a lizard in the sun letting the sun dry her long dark hair. Years of practice saw it braided and back in a clasp before she finished sorting her thoughts.

“Tomorrow we travel toward the morning sun.” She announced as she climbed off the rock to collect her dried clothes.

Sami and Merkh stared as she began folding her clothes away into her saddle packs.

“Do you know where we are?” Merkh asked.

“I have heard stories told by members of the Council about traveling west to water so vast you could not see the other side. The stories tell of a citadel in the mountains that belongs to the Clan, but the journey that brought us Ababuo is the furthest I have travelled.”

“Are you ready to return to your Clan, my Brother?”

“My family has been Chosen Ones of the Medjai since the beginning of memory. As you are Vampire, you will also be welcomed into the Medjai. You wear the cloth and carry the marks.” Sami assured him.

“Ra’id was Medjai?”

“Ubaid, me, a few others followed Ra’id when youthful arrogance drove us to strike out on our own, and prove we knew better than the Clan Leaders. Not realizing the true extent of the Clan, we felt the dictates of our Elders were too restrictive. Ardeth and Netjerikhet made it clear that we would be welcomed back into the Clan anytime we wished to return.” He turned to look Merkh in the eye. “Looks like it is time for me to return.” He chuckled.

For fourteen turns of the day they rode east. There were two skirmishes when bandits thought Ababuo would make a good addition to some Sultan’s harem across the gulf into Arabia. They were soon disabused of that idea. It also started the story about a beautiful woman with the scarred face who fought like a warrior, and would rather gut you than woo you with her woman’s wiles.

Stopping at the Nile to rest their horses, the three warriors were discussing which direction to travel when they broke camp the next day. When the horses lifted their heads from the water, Ababuo stretched her hearing trying to find what put the animals on alert.

“Horses coming this way.” She informed her Chosen Ones.

Their horses secure, they were ready when the riders dressed in the same manner came to a stop far enough away to not seem aggressive.

“Greetings, the camp. May we approach? We have recognized your manner of dress and markings. We wish to offer you the hospitality of our Clan compound.” The speaker reached up to remove his shesh from across his lower face.

“Netjerikhet?” Sami stepped around Ababuo.

“Sami?”

“Yes. This is my sword sister, Ababuo, and my sword brother, Merkh. We were on our way to the Clan.” He looked at his companions. “This is one of the leaders of the Medjai Clan, Netjerikhet. He is as you, Little Sister.” He looked back at Netjerikhet. “We are the Chosen Ones who left the tribe with Ababuo at the death of Ra’id.”

“I am sorry to hear of his loss. He was a fine warrior, if a little hot-headed. I take it Ubaid has stepped into his place?”

“It was Ra’id’s wish. They are doing well on the banks of the White Nile.” Sami’s eyes shifted to Ababuo at the rude noise she made.

“Once they stopped stealing what was not theirs, the Gods stopped punishing them.” She snapped.

Merkh and Sami both flushed darkly. Netjerikhet looked back and forth between the three.

“Since Sami says you are friends, step down and join your camp to ours. It has been a long dusty ride, and we are camped for the night.” Ababuo motioned to the pots on the fire.

“Thank you, Ababuo. We will be happy to join you and hear your stories.”

When Ardeth Bey stepped into the courtyard outside his office door, he was not surprised to see his Mate riding with strangers. What did surprise him was to see one of the Medjai that had left the Clan ten years prior. He got an even bigger surprise when he saw Rick throw his head back and laugh at something a warrior not yet grown had said. At least he thought it was an adolescent until the warrior turned to remove the saddle packs. He saw the smooth face, high cheekbones, and the scars tinted with red. The dark sloe eyes and generous curves were definitely female.

Rick must have felt his Mate’s confusion through their Bond. Looking at Ardeth’s expression, his eyes started to twinkle with mischief. Stretching his arm toward Ardeth, he indicated Ababuo should make the Clan Leader’s acquaintance.

Ardeth studied the woman walking toward him, blades slung across her back. As she moved closer, he realized there was no heartbeat. She was a Vampire. He could see Rick knew the moment he figured it out as he fought to hide his snickers.

“Ababuo, this is my Mate and Medjai Clan Leader, Ardeth Bey”. Ardeth offered her a slight bow.

“Welcome to the home of the Medjai Clan. Once you are settled into your rooms, and have refreshed yourself, have someone direct you to my office so we may become acquainted. For now, Sallah will show you to your rooms.”

He was stopped from turning back to his office when she spoke. “What of my sword brothers … My Chosen Ones that have been my right and left hands since we left Ubaid’s tribe?”

“Sami has family here that are quite happy to have him home. I believe they have already adopted Merkh.” Rick assured her.

“Since they are in good hands, I will follow your Sallah.”

Rick laughed as they watched her trailing behind their Caretaker.

“I think things are going to liven up around here.” He spun Ardeth around and latched onto his beautiful mouth. “I can’t wait.”

Ardeth watched his Mate practically dance a jig back to get the horses settled.

~ Stable yard Medjai compound, January 1675 AD ~ 

Loch-Nah looked around the stable yard trying to spot his Mate. The well-ordered chaos of people and animals reminded him of hundreds of marketplaces he’d visited since his Turning. The only difference was these were his people, his assess, horses, and supplies. HIS NEW CLAN! The enormity of those words nearly had him grabbing in Mate, and heading off into the desert. Having led his tribe, and leading a Clan of Vampires were two very different animals. A Punic Carthaginian military commander, Patrician Roman, Africans, Egyptians, people with skin pale as the moon. His people showed the color spectrum of Africa. He had trouble believing these historically famous, independent minded people were willing to follow him thousands of miles to the southern end of the continent to build a Clan. He was pulled out of his thoughts by a wave of warmth and concern traveling across the Bond with his Mate. Turning his head, he saw the humor twinkling in dark eyes.

“We await your pleasure, My Heart.” Juba’s smile was wide and teasing.

With one last look around the place he had called home for a thousand years, he kneed his horse forward out the gates to find their new home.

~  Hottentot Mountain Valley near Kleinmond, South Africa, March 1765 ~

Their journey had been arduous and fraught with danger. It would have been simpler to move so many people and equipment by boat, but they would not have the information they collected as they travelled. Hostile tribes and hostile animals had taken a toll, albeit a small one. Loch-Nah felt blessed many times over that Tao and Dar decided to join the new Clan. Between Tao’s abilities as a healer and Dar’s gift of communication with animals, the perils of the trip lightly touched his new Clan. Thanks to Hannibal’s expertise at moving armies through difficult terrain, and the after dinner planning sessions each night they had only lost three of their fifty asses and horses to injury. Of the one hundred Chosen Ones, they lost only five through disease, injury, or poisonous creatures.

Knowing the Dutch East India Company held governmental control over the area, Loch-Nah lead the caravan toward their chosen homesite while Quartermain, Hannibal, Scipio, and Caretaker set out the prior week to survey the plot of land he’d noted on an earlier trip. It was an excellent spot more than capable of providing the Clan’s needs including access to a natural harbor deep enough for a good-sized boat. By the time the rest of the Clan arrived, the advance crew would have the maps and papers prepared for the Clan’s representatives to make the trip to Cape Town to purchase the property for their new home.

As much as it aggrieved the Clan Leader, Loch-Nah was a realist. He’d seen how the British attempted to discount the ability of native Egyptians to rule their own country, so he knew the Dutch would be worse. As major players in the Transatlantic slave trade for 150 years, it would be hard for him to negotiate with the Dutch East India Company. They were more likely to put him in chains, throw him in the hold of the next ship to the West Indies, and take his gold, as sell him a piece of land. It was one of the reasons he’d chosen Allan Quartermain as his Second-in-Command. Though Allan had grumbled about ignorant asses of all colors, he agreed with Loch-Nah that their diverse Clan would better prosper walking both sides of the Native and Colonial tides rolling across the African continent.

~~}~~

Ababuo stood guard over her assigned section of the forest as a crew worked to widen the small clearing they’d found. Some of the pack saddles had been converted to harnesses so horsepower could be added to the manpower. Trees fell and were set up to be cut to length and slabbed to make raised platforms for the tents. They had a short window until the winter rains started, and Egyptians were not accustomed to dealing with mud. It had been left to her, Niobe, and Morpheus to teach the desert dwellers about surviving rain and the many uses for mud.

Allan, Hannibal, Scipio and The Caretaker had left a week ago for Cape Town. They had also taken several pack animals to bring back food staples, chickens, goats, and a few cattle. Before taking her turn at guard duty, Ababuo and Niobe had taken a group of women out to show them edible tubers and plants common to most areas of the Sub-Saharan areas of Africa. Though she had spent centuries learning and adapting to many climates, Ababuo felt something in her ease at being in an area similar to the territory of her birth.

Knowing they were being watched by scouts from area tribes, Loch-Nah and Juba let it be known by word and deed that they were leading the mixed group. The camp was taking shape with housing being built, and ground being prepared for crops following the rains. Until then they would survive on what they could forage or barter with the local tribes. Since cattle and sheep were considered wealth among the tribes, they might be eating a lot of antelope and buffalo in the months to come.

The men who travelled into Cape Town had been gone long enough that Ababuo wondered if Loch-Nah was starting to worry. The day it was decided that Ababuo, Dar, and Juba would set off for the city, the four men rode into camp with heavily laden asses, and wide smiles … Except for The Caretaker. That man didn’t smile, but he did have several versions of a smirk to give indication of his mood. Today his smirk was self-satisfied because Allan was Macumazahn, wearing an expression that said they’d taken the Dutch East India Company for everything they could get. Ghost and Darkness Clan was the proud owners 1000 acres, a harbor, and an estate in Cape Town proper.

~ Ghost & Darkness compound, Hottentot Mountain Valley, January 1701 ~

Loch-Nah looked over the pack train, his Hunters, his Mate, Caretaker, Second-in-Command, and a small group of the original Medjai that travelled with them from Egypt. It didn’t seem all that long ago he’d been doing the same thing in the Medjai stable yard. This trip wouldn’t be as long, but it was still dangerous. The next forty days would carry them to the wilds of northeastern corner of South Africa. With deeds in hand for nearly 15,000 acres, he and his stalwart Clan members would once again carve a home out of the land.

“How much longer we going to lollygag here while you get all weepy eyed?” The Caretaker snarked.

Everyone laughed as Loch-Nah glared at his snarky Caretaker. With a shake of his head, he led his people out the gates, and headed toward their new home.

Ababuo kneed her horse to follow her Clan Leader. It seemed like every new chapter of her life since her Turning began in January. So far, she’d been blessed in the results of those changes, but every turn of the year put her on edge until the calendar turned over to February. The practical side of her personality scoffed at her fanciful brooding while the side that had been a Sao wife and mother said nothing good would come from going against the tide … Whispered that she should know her place, and not step over the lines that defined that place. Turning her attention back to her surroundings, Ababuo noticed they’d made it to the pass that would take them away from the safety of the Ghost and Darkness mountain valley. Squashing any thoughts that would distract her from the protection of her family, she moved away from the main body of the pack train to scout any dangers coming at them from the west. She watched Dar head to the east while Juba rode out ahead, and Caretaker kept their back trail clear.

~~}~~

Being the middle of the dry season, the group was concerned about finding water, but so far, the water holes were still plentiful. The raiding parties from the various Bantu tribes along the migration path they followed were cautious about attacking a group of their size. Twenty days into their journey, the Clan was surprised when a tall young man with skin dark as night, in Zulu dress, jogged into camp looking for Macumazahn (Watcher by night).

“I am Macumazahn.” Quartermain stated in Zulu as he stepped forward, hand resting on the handle of his flintlock pistol.

“I am Mandla. The Sangoma of the line that made you a son of Africa, sent me to take you to the place you should build your home.”

“Of the line?” Loch-Nah asked.

“Who knows. Could be a story passed on to each new Sangoma.” Allan turned his attention back to Mandla. “How do you know this Sangoma?”

“He is my great-grandfather, and I am his apprentice.”

“Are all the Sangomas your family?”

“Yes. The Ancestors of my father. They give strength to the new Sangoma as they are all of our line.” Mandla explained.

“In some tribes, it is not who is most qualified to be the spiritual leader, but a hereditary position that stays in the family. It does not matter whether they have the talent, only that they are family.” Ababuo added.

“Yes, it stays in our family, but my grandfather joined the Ancestors before he became Sangoma. My father does not have the talent. That is why I have become the apprentice.”

Each of the Vampires gave Loch-Nah a nod of agreement. “Well, it looks like from here we will follow Macumazahn and Mandla to our new home.”

Leaving the Leaders with Mandla, Ababuo and Dar went to explain what was happening to the rest of the party. After it had been talked around several times, they got everyone settled for the night.

Many in the group looked at the young Zulu warrior with a jaundiced eye, but as their journey continued they gradually accepted him into the group. Good humored even after a day jogging along with the pack train, Mandla readily shared his knowledge of the area where the Sangoma picked as their perfect home. The only thing that disquieted the young man was Ababuo. Traveling with a female who was obviously a warrior, and did the same work as the men badly tilted Mandla’s world view. He wished his mentor were at his side, so he could untangle the confusion in his mind. After communing with his spirit guides, he saw the situation as a test of his ability to deal with all people regardless of their lives being different from his. He accepted men whose beliefs were different, so why not women. Satisfied, he squashed down the rules of his tribe, and began to see Macumazah’s people through new eyes.

These people he travelled with called themselves a Clan, but their faces wore many colors, and many types of clothing. The men and women worked together, and everyone carried weapons. It was obvious Loch-Nah was the leader, but he listened to the counsel of his confidents. The Sangoma had seen in a dream waves of people of different ways and colors from the Zulu. He felt it was preparing them for the changes that were coming to their land. Mandla knew that he would have to learn to bend like the willow for if he were rigid the changes coming to this land would break him, and he would fail in guiding his tribe into the future.

Determined to not fail this test, Mandla set his mind that learn more about the beautiful warrior woman they called Ababuo. From what he had observed, Mandla was sure there were many things she could teach him.

Ababuo was surprised when Mandla took his breakfast sitting next to her. She knew the Zulu were very defined in the roles of males and females. When he explained that he felt it was his duty to his people to learn as much as possible about the foreigners invading their land. Though they were both African by birth, Ababuo understood the insular nature of the different tribes, and as they travelled she told him what she knew about her birth tribe, and all the other tribes she had studied during her time with the Medjai. The days she was on scouting duty, Ababuo would point the curious young man toward the other members of her Clan. Those days often earned her the glares of others. She returned their glares with a beatific smile as she rode away from the pack train.

~ Olifantsrivier, 60 Miles Southeast Tzaneen, South Africa, April 1701 ~

Looking around the area where Mandla told them to stop, all the Vampires agreed it was the perfect spot. Good water, access to building materials, good grazing for any animals the Clan obtained. There was game for meat, and plenty of fruits and plants to sustain them until their garden plots began producing.

As the Clan members began unloading camp supplies, getting the tents erected to shelter their supplies, everyone came running when they heard Quartermain and Mandla shouting. Everyone stopped when they saw a wizened man wearing an odd combination of Zulu clothing along with odd and ends from … Everywhere. The shouting had begun when the Zulu Elder had appeared so quietly behind Allan, the Second-in-Command had pulled his sword when he sensed the old man. Mandla had shouted for Allan to stop while the Sangoma smiled at the Vampire.

Apparently, the Chief and the Elders from the tribe wanted a sit down with the Clan leadership even before camp was assembled. Dar went on the hunt leaving Ababuo and Caretaker to take charge of getting the Clan settled while Loch-Nah, Juba, Allan, and Tao went to meet with the tribe.

By the time the men returned from the Zulu camp, the youngsters were out on the veldt cutting grasses to bring into the corrals that had been put in place after the tents were set. Trees were being cut and sawn while rocks and reeds were being assembled near the area where Caretaker was supervising the leveling of ground in preparation for the first building. Thankfully they had arrived at the beginning of the winter season, so the more moderate temperatures would be easier on the people and animals.

Accompanying the Clan Council were several young men, including Mandla, herding sheep, goats, and cattle before them. The leaders of the two tribes had hammered out an agreement of mutual aid. The tribe would be allowed to stay on the Ghost and Darkness Reserve, and act as eyes and ears in the eastern portion of the Reserve. The Chief presented Loch-Nah and Juba the small herd of animals from his personal herds to show his approval of the agreement. When the pubic ceremonies were over cementing the friendship between the two, the Chief and Sangome took the men aside as they prepared their horses for the journey back to camp.

“With this understanding between our peoples, I would ask another favor of our new friends.” The Chief kept his voice low, so it did not carry to others. “Unlike many of our people, I know that Africa is changing rapidly with the arrival of the Whites and the loss of so many of our peoples to the slavers. The Sangome has divined that to survive we must educate ourselves in their ways so that we may better protect our own.” The Vampires nodded their agreement. “I would ask when you establish a place to educate the children of your Clan, you include our children, so they might know of other cultures, languages, and learn the white man’s ways.”

“You understand that your girls and women deserve the same opportunities as the boys and men.” Quartermain watched the Chief’s reaction.

He thought carefully for several minutes before he exchanged a look with the Sangome. “If any of the females desire to learn, we will approve and send them also. As you have many women among your numbers, I am sure they will be afforded the respect you give your own.”

All the men chuckled at the Chief’s statement. “We have a very worthy female warrior, who will put any man down who would disrespect a woman.”

“Then it shall be as you ask.” The Chief clasped Loch-Nah’s arm to seal the agreement.

“We will send word when classes begin.” Loch-Nah promised as he swung up on his horse.

Now, looking at the progress his Clan made in the few days they had been gone, Loch-Nah thought school would be in session before any of the youngsters would be ready.

~~}~~

Once camp was established, messengers were dispatched to Cape Town and the Medjai compound with maps of the newest Clan location. Leaving Caretaker in charge of the building crews, Loch-Nah sent Dar and Tao to the south, Ababuo and Allan to the north, leaving the west for himself and Juba. Since the east was covered by the Zulu, that area could wait to be explored sometime in the future. Assigning two of the younger warriors to each team meant there were Chosen Ones available for the Vampires to Feed, and to provide the warriors with real life experience.

Weapons on display, the three teams set out once it was light enough to prevent damage to the horses’ legs. Everyone stayed alert as they rode, the Chief and the Sangome had passed along stories of white men who stole whole tribes away to their ships. Allan had explained how the men would buy or steal the people of Africa, put them on large ships, where they were taken to lands across the waters, and sold into slavery. Slavery was not a new concept to the tribe, but they only made slaves of their conquered enemies. The idea of sending their enemies to a place where they were no longer a threat made them smile, but when it was pointed out that they, too, could become victims of the slavers caused them to sing a different song.

Ababuo enjoyed these trips into the bush. Though she loved her Clans, and the members were more open minded about women’s place in the society, there were always a few that kept to their hidebound ways. Having been under the tutelage of Shepsit Hemet Amun-Ra, Neferteri, and the other strong, intelligent women of the Medjai, Ababuo took second place to no one for she was as vicious a fighter as any, and learned tactics from some of the greatest military minds to ever grace a battlefield.

Seeing the militant light in his partner’s mahogany eyes, Quartermain chuckled to himself. The beautiful warrior beside him had been underestimated by many a man. Ababuo was one of the most even-tempered women he had the pleasure of knowing, but once she was riled it was better to vacate the area until the storm passed. If her Mate ever appeared, he was sure they would be one of the Clan’s more fascinating pairs. Smiling to himself, he watched as Ababuo rode out to scout ahead.

~ Limpopo River at the Mozambique Border, June 1701 ~

Two months out from their base camp, Ababuo and Quartermain’s crew had reached South Africa’s border with Mozambique after following the Limpopo River from where it joined the Sand River. Since their property line was the border between the two countries, the mapping party turned off the Limpopo River to follow Luvuvhu River until they were ready to turn south for home. While the trip was by no means boring, there had been no battles with bandits, tribal warriors, slavers, or animals attempting to make them their next meal. The vast herds they’d seen roaming the veldt, and the variety of animals that vied for position at the waterholes had been awe inspiring. Their journals were full of notations and drawings of the wonders they’d seen, and the various types of environments they ridden through. The different types of veldts all in one region meant their new home had everything from the smallest bird, reptiles, antelope, apex predators, and elephants.

They had spent many evenings around the fire going over samples of rock and mineral specimens they’d collected noting the location of each find. Having the opportunity to live centuries, most Vampires became long-term planners, guarding well the resources that came into their possession. Though things moved slower on the Dark Continent, the population of the world was evolving at an amazing rate, and it would serve the Clan well to keep abreast of those changes. Being the first in the area to have ‘the coming thing’ was a double-edged sword. It kept you a step ahead, but it also attracted those who would smile and shake your hand while picking your pocket. Making sure they had samples, Ababuo had found different types of corundum … Ruby, sapphire, and emerald, along with various types of quartz. Pili, one of their Chosen Ones had literally tripped over chunks of coal outside their campsite close to the border with the Kingdom of Zimbabwe when he stepped away from the fire to answer nature’s call.

The few tribes of Ndebele, San and Pedi they had come across, ignored the well-armed group other than staring at Ababuo with her weapons and facial scars. They were nearly half-way to their new compound when they decided to stop on the banks of the Nsama River for a few days. Anxious to be reunited with the rest of the Clan, the group had been pushing their pace, but now they were going to take a few days to rest the horses, Feed, and catch up on their journals.

Ababuo grabbed her bow and quiver, leaving camp to find a small antelope or deer. It would give the men time to bathe without the presence of a woman, and she’d have time for her bath while they took care of whatever she bought back to camp for supper.

Returning from her own bath, Ababuo found dinner almost ready, and the remaining meat on a makeshift drying rack. As darkness fell, the journals and quills were packed away, cups of tea refilled as the four friends talked about their impressions of their journey thus far. Ababuo had concentrated on the flora of the area they had traversed. Quartermain studied the animals, Pili and Osaze noted the soil, rivers, and minerals. Managed properly, this land would keep the Clan’s coffers well-padded for many years to come.

A week later, they were within sight of the Groot-Letaba River when they noticed a column of dust that would cross their path late in the afternoon at their current rate of travel. With little cover to hide their approach, Ababuo and Osaze cut to the west to get behind the end of the column while Allan and Pili waited in the shade of one of the few trees tall enough to throw shade over the men and pack animals. The two Medjai trained warriors moved with such stealth, and the slavers’ column of captives were concentrating so much on setting one foot in front of the other, they never noticed the pair of shadows they acquired. Dropping away from the group, they returned to those they’d left behind.

“What is it?” Allan barely waited until the two dismounted their horses.

“Slavers. They have a group of San. Probably headed for Maputo.” Ababuo took a deep drink from her water skin.

“Nasty business.” Quartermain growled.

“I believe we could lend them a hand once they have stopped for the night.” The Hunter gave her Second-in-Command a shark’s smile.

“That sounds like an excellent idea, My Dear. Since the San probably would not appreciate seeing a white face, even if they come to help. I believe I will stay with the horses while you and the boys have a bit of fun.” Allan chuckled.

Trailing behind, just out of sight, of the group, they settled to keep watch until the slavers settled into their camp.

As the evening progressed, the Dutch slavers relaxed their vigilance. Thinking their captives too stupid and beaten down to cause problems, the guards never saw the three warriors moving like shadows through the darkness.

Giving thanks to the Gods the captives were roped instead of chained together, the three Clan members began cutting the San warriors free and watching them melt away into the night. Mission accomplished, the trio returned to camp, leaving the slavers to the mercy of their former captives. After a quiet celebratory dinner, Allan took first watch as the Ghost and Darkness members settled for the night.

Anxious to finish the last leg of their journey, the group wasted little time breaking camp. The survey party made sure to give wide berth to the slavers’ camp to avoid the scavengers that had answered the summons of Death.

~ Florence, Italy 1895 ~

Sebastian de Rosa had a great curiosity. He was often the bane of his family’s patience with his unending questions about the what’s and why’s of their world. The year he entered secondary school, his Nonna had moved into the small guesthouse on his parents’ farm after the death of her husband. Sebastian noticed soon after she was settled, many people, especially the women from the neighborhood would visit.

Glad his Nonna had so many friends in her time of mourning, Sebastian had wanted to thank the ladies for their kindness. As he approached the cottage he heard his grandmother tell Signora Carelli that if she followed the instructions she would soon be able to ride Signore Carelli for a ‘faire thee well’, not understanding what he had heard, Sebastian had remained out of sight.

“People who listen around corners rarely hear anything good.” His Nonna admonished after Signora Carelli left.

“I just wanted to thank the Signore for her kindness to you since Nonni died, but now I am confused.”

Laughing heartily, Gracella Bianchi pulled her grandson into a hug. “Ah Nipote, you do an old woman’s heart good. So much like your Nonni with your quick mind and kind heart. Come. We will have lunch, and I will tell you the history of your Mama’s family.”

The times he spent with his Nonna until her death the year he entered University set Sebastian on the path that led him to where he stood today. His family were all present as he received his doctoral degree in archeology. Diploma in hand, he paused on the stairs leading off the stage to look to the heavens and thank his Nonna for giving him the blessings of her knowledge.

~ University of Florence Fall 1902 ~

Sebastian sat enthralled, notes forgotten as he listened to Dr. Robert Langdon’s lecture on Myths and Symbols in the Modern World. The way he talked about Rome’s emperors, and the symbols of their power made it seem as though the Professor had personally witnessed the humiliation of Commodus by General Maximus Meridius. Langdon had talked likewise about the artists whose work enhanced the glory that was Vatican City. It was like the days of his Nonna telling him about the roots of his family, but Dr. Langdon spoke of people from Nefertiri to Alexander the Great to Leonard da Vinci. The history of the Illuminati to Presidents Lincoln and Grant.

With a mental jerk, Sebastian realized the lecture was over, Sebastian gathered his papers and rushed to catch the professor before he left the lecture hall. Surprised there weren’t more people in the que, Sebastian soon faced he man himself. A friendly hand stretched out causing Sebastian to juggle his satchel and papers.

“Sebastian de Rosa. It is an honor, Dr. Langdon.”

“I’m glad you came.” Robert tried not to stare at the young man. The curly haired man was a younger version of his Clan brother, Michelangelo Buonarroti. He knew the artist had spent much of his Human life in Florence making it a high probability that this youngster was a descendant. “Did you have a question about the lecture?”

“Oh. You speak Italian like a native, and have given me many questions. How is it you write and speak as though you have met these historical figures. Your conclusions are so different than the scholars who are at the top of their fields.”

“I spend a lot of time in Rome. As for scholars, historians … Academics. One thing we must keep in mind, Signore de Rosa, is that history is written by the victors. To learn what truly happened in history, you must suss out the accounts of the defeated. There has never been a scribe who wrote an unbiased account of anything. In order retain both life and position, they wrote what pleased the people in power. Never the unvarnished truth.”

“Yes, of course you are right, but …”

“What is your field of study, Signore de Rosa?”

“Please, Professor, call me Sebastian. I have one doctorate in archaeology, and am in the process of writing my dissertation for anthropology.”

“Then you of all people should understand digging to get to the truth.”

“Thank you, Dr. Langdon. You have given me much to consider.” Sebastian once again shook Langdon’s hand before taking his leave of the lecture hall.

“You know, if you and I would have produced an offspring it would have looked exactly like your newest convert.”

Ignoring the sarcasm from his Mate, Robert continued to ponder on Sebastian de Rosa. “He does bear a striking resemblance to Michelangelo. Oh well, home, or are we spending the night?” Robert Langdon turned his full attention to his shorter, curly haired Mate.

“The University booked you a lovely hotel room.” Leonardo da Vinci teased. “We should take full advantage.”

“Then we should retire to said hotel and ponder the mystery of Dr. de Rosa another time.” Placing a hand in the small of Leonardo’s back, he propelled him toward the door.

“You are utterly hopeless when it comes to the descendants of your own Clan. If he’s not one of Michelangelo’s, I’ll eat my paintbrush.”

“He did live in Florence before the Vatican.” Robert mumbled.

“You know how women are about wanting to be the inspiration for artists.” Leonard teased. “Though some of us also found the male form to tickle our Muse.”

“Is that right?” Robert smirked. “I’ll make a note to ask him next time we’re home.” He grinned as he continued past his sputtering Mate. 

~ University of Florence February 1903 ~

“I must say, Sebastian when you first proposed the topic for your Anthropology dissertation, I was skeptical, but you have pulled together a fine piece of work. The Syncretism of Indigenous Traditions with Symbols of Judeo-Christian Religion should set a few old goats back on their heels.” Sebastian’s doctoral advisor grinned at his protégé.

“Hopefully not far enough back that it will cause them to deny my degree.” Sebastian grinned at his advisor.

“No need to worry about that. You’ve done us all proud, Sebastian. It will be a shame to lose your talents.”

“Why would I leave. I love Florence, and the University.”

“Ah my boy, I believe you are destined for bigger things.” His mentor pulled an envelope from his desk and handed it to the young man. “This was delivered to me with instructions to give it to you when you finished your dissertation.”

Sebastian’s hands trembled with excitement as he took the envelope. The older man watched his student’s face went from excited to sad then back to excited.

“Well, don’t keep an old man in suspense.”

“I am to travel to Rome in two weeks and present myself at 11:30 am for a luncheon meeting to discuss going on an expedition to Egypt headed by Evelyn and Jonathan Carnahan.” He looked up from the letter. “Are they not the brother and sister that always have their projects end up like something from an Allan Quartermain novel?”

“Quite right. You should get some wonderful papers to publish from such an expedition. So, are you glad you branched out your interests to encompass more than Europe.”

“Seems you were right.” Sebastian’s face grew thoughtful. “It will get me out of Florence and my mother’s matchmaking efforts. She thinks that with my schooling done I need a wife that will provide grandchildren.”

“There will be plenty of time for that once you’ve established your reputation.”

“I will leave the convincing of my lady mother to you on that topic.” Sebastian grinned.

“Hmpf. I will schedule the committee for the day after tomorrow. That way the the ink will be dry on your doctorate before your meeting in Rome.”

“In case things get hectic, thank you for all you have done for me in my time at University.” Sebastian pulled the older man in for a hug and a kiss on both cheeks.

“You will visit when you return from Rome and share the details of your meeting. I will have to live vicariously through your letters.”

“Always. You have been a good friend and mentor.” 

~ Two weeks later, Rome, Italy ~

“Now, we realize this is not the type of expedition that you would read about in the papers or periodicals …” Evelyn Carnahan swung her fork through the air like a conductor’s baton. “But the client is very influential, and his good opinion could open many doors for you. The dig is on his family held property in Alexandria, Egypt, with any objects found transported to the owner’s home in Athens.”

“Won’t the government have a say since we’re dealing with antiquities?” Sebastian asked.

Evelyn and Jonathan both smirked at the thought of some government paper pusher telling Alexander III, King of Macedon, that he could not have his own belongings.

“As Evy said, VERY influential.” Jonathan affirmed.

“Then I guess my only question is, when do we leave?” Sebastian smiled widely at his new employers.

As she was showing her guest out the door, Evelyn felt a presence at her shoulder.

“He is very pretty.” Her Mate’s dulcet tones made Evelyn shiver.

“If you go for the Michelangelo look.” She teased. She knew Heather had a weakness for dark hair and blue eyes.

“Descendant?”

“Robert and Leonardo are checking.”

“Interesting.”

“No absconding with my new assistant. Do you know how hard it is to find an archaeologist-anthropologist combination that are not chauvinistic asses?”

“Daniel.” Heather smile cheekily.

“At the moment, he and Howard are having a grand friendship. He does not have time to do favors for Alexander.”

“I promise not to do anything to scare Dr. de Rosa away, but what do I get in return?” Heather pulled the smaller woman tight to her chest.

“Step into my office, and we will begin negotiations.” The Egyptian princess pulled the Priestess of Ra’s deep auburn head down for a kiss that nearly scorched the wallpaper.

“I approve of your opening offer.” Heather stepped away from her Mate to sashay into the book lined office.

~~}~~

After spending the afternoon at shops recommended by both the Carnahan’s, Sebastian had outfitted himself for the trip to Egypt and Greece. Having made arrangements for his purchases to be delivered to his hotel, Sebastian began the search for a good place for dinner when he heard his name being called. Turning around, he saw Professor Langdon walking with a shorter curly haired man.

“Professor Langdon, what brings you to Rome?”

“We have a home here when I’m not teaching in the States.” He exchanged a look with his Mate. “Sebastian, meet the insanity and light of my life, Leonardo … Leo, this is Dr. Sebastian de Rosa. He attended the last lecture I gave in Florence. How goes the dissertation?”

Sebastian stretched a hand out to Leonardo. “Pleasure, Sir. Finished, accepted, should receive the official papers any day. I have been accepted as a part of a Carnahan expedition to Alexandria and then on to Greece.”

Leonardo began to open his mouth with a snarky comment about Sebastian giving his life story to people who were practically strangers, but an elbow to the ribs curtailed that thought.

“That is wonderful news, Sebastian.” Robert pulled a card out of his pocket. “Call by the house tomorrow at noon. We’ll have lunch and catch up.”

“I would love to, Professor. My train back to Florence leaves at three.”

“Good, we look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”

“Until tomorrow.”

“Oh, Piscepo’s has excellent food.” Robert pointed at the sign behind them.

“Thank you, Professor. It was a pleasure, Leonardo.”

“Likewise.” The artist gave him a knowing smile.

With a shrug Sebastian decided to worry about it later. Now, it was time for supper.

~~}~~

At lunch the next day, conversation was lively as the topics ranged from Sebastian’s dissertation to Robert’s book and Italian art. There was an odd moment when Leonardo mentioned Michelangelo just as a man with graying close-cropped curls stuck his head in the room.

“Leo, what …” He faded off when he saw Sebastian. “I beg your pardon for the interruption. I thought I heard my name.”

“Michel … Sebastian de Rosa … Sebastian … Michel.” Leonardo winked at his Clan brother.

“A pleasure. Have you seen Tommasso?”

“Not lately. Leticia probably kidnapped him.”

“Grazie. Addio.”

Looking at his watch, Sebastian announced he needed to leave if he wanted to catch his train. “This has been a wonderful time. Thank you, Professor … Leonardo.”

“Call me Robert. The pleasure was ours. Keep in touch while you’re away. You may discover something I can use for a new book.”

“I promise, Pro … Robert.” Sebastian gave them a shy smile. As he reached to bottom of the stairs, Leonardo called to him. “Did I forget something?” The young scholar asked.

“No, but Robert forgot to tell you something.”

“Oh?”

“My name. It’s da Vinci … Leonardo da Vinci. See you when you get back.”

Staring dumbfounded at the closed door, Sebastian wanted to bang on the door and demand answers, but he had a train to catch. He was halfway to the train station when another thought intruded. Michel had come in the room when they were discussing Michelangelo … Surely not possible. Seems he had some other research to add to his growing reading list. 

~ Rome, Italy 1904 ~

Stepping off the train nearly a year after leaving with the Carnahans, Sebastian de Rosa was glad to be back in Italy. He spent his first month back with his family in Florence. It had only taken three weeks before an undefined restlessness had him on the train to Rome. He knew it was ill-mannered to show up on someone’s doorstep unannounced, but by the time he decided to go to Rome, and bought his ticket, he did not have sufficient time to contact his friends, Robert and Leonardo. He had many questions for the two men. Add his curiosity to his mother’s constant nagging … It finally caused him to grab the bags he’d barely unpacked, and head for the train station.

There were also things he’d observed while travelling with the Carnahans that lead Sebastian to believe that:  A) They were not siblings. B) How deferential some of the Egyptians were toward Evy, and C) The dark-haired man with facial tattoos that Sebastian learned was connected with the Medjai tribes.

His first trip outside Europe made Sebastian realize for all his education he was incredibly naïve about the world and life. It also brought home why the field archaeologists were dismissive of many hidebound scholars. He was now of the opinion that people in archaeology and anthropology should all have field experience.

Meeting Alexander, the expedition’s patron, had given Sebastian a whole new viewpoint on Alexander the Great, Marc Antony, and Cleopatra. The history that ran through their patron’s family was mind boggling to the young Italian. The artifacts, and even some of the well-preserved scrolls that had been unearthed and taken to Athens were exciting from the standpoint of the historical information about the life and times of the warrior king.

Sebastian sent a message to Robert and Leonardo’s address with his hotel information, and his desire to visit. The messenger returned with an invitation to present himself at 5 pm for cocktails and dinner.

Taking advantage of his room’s balcony, Sebastian sat with his coffee and journals. He began the process of organizing his facts and sketches from his personal observations. He became so engrossed in his work, it seemed no time passed until he had to dress for dinner.

Sebastian was greeted with such affection he felt like he was visiting family as opposed to friendly acquaintances. They had the house to themselves as the other members of the household had previous plans. Sebastian had hoped Michel would be home, so he could ask questions about his family. After realizing the strong resemblance between them, he was sure there must be a familial connection somewhere, and he wanted to explore why he felt drawn to the older man. He turned his attention back to what Leonardo was saying as the man painted a verbal picture of the diverse people sharing the palazzo.

“Next you will tell me Michel is Michelangelo, and you live in a house full of Immortals.”

Sitting in the living room with coffee and brandy, Sebastian finally asked the questions that had been on the tip of his tongue for nearly a year.

“When you told me your surname, did you mean you are a descendant of the artist da Vinci, or you are the artist Leonardo da Vinci?”

Robert and Leonardo exchanged a look.

“Vampires, not Immortals.” Leonard smirked.

“As in Nosferatu, Dracula, and the like?” Sebastian’s eyebrows and voice both went up.

“A mythos perpetrated so we could hide in plain sight.” Robert added.

“You would understand the use of mythos, Professor.” The young man snapped.

“Ouch.” Leonardo grinned. “I chose my little slip because Robert was taken with you after meeting you at his lecture. The way you think and look at the world and cultures. Your ability to draw a hypothesis that is closer to truth than a history written from the bias of conquerors. If anyone knows that, it is Vampires.”

“You just spent the better part of a year with two very old Vampires.” Robert informed their guest.

“Evy … Alexander is actually Alexander the Great!?”

“His Mate is actually Marc Antony, and Evelyn is a real Egyptian princess.”

Sebastian snatched up his brandy and abused the fine liquor by throwing it back like cheap whiskey.

“So why pique my curiosity? You could have left me in ignorance and simply been a mentor.”

“The world is becoming smaller as technology and industrialization spread. There are also more expeditions looking for antiquities, lost treasures, and civilizations. Vampires have existed for at least 10,000 years. Sometimes we were good at hiding sometimes not. We’re regular folk, good and bad. Sometimes the bad ones aren’t too careful about staying hidden.”

“What my loving Mate is trying so delicately to say is we need people in your field to help muddy the waters if signs of Vampires are found.” Leonardo went straight to the heart of the matter while he refilled their brandy snifters. “Plus, Robert likes you, and you should get to know Michelangelo.”

“So now that I know ‘the secret’ do I swear a blood oath, or something equally medieval?” Sebastian went back to his coffee. He really needed to keep a clear head. “Think of the information … The actual people that could set history straight. My next stop for answers was going to be the Vatican library if we weren’t having this conversation.” Sebastian huffed “It’s probably run by a Vampire, too.”

“As a matter of fact …” Leonardo squawked at the elbow Robert planted in his ribs.

“Father Kiernan is a story for another day.” Robert glared at his Mate. “You have two choices. You can be Turned, or you can become a Chosen One. As a Chosen One you help keep our existence hidden, and you would be called upon to supply sustenance. You’d have the protections of our Clan just as you protect us.”

“Sustenance? You mean blood.” Sebastian turned a bit pale at the thought.

“Unlike the stories we don’t kill or enthrall our Chosen Ones. It’s more a symbiotic relationship. At the most we drink a pint or so. Not to say if one of us is in Starvation Mode we may take too much, or those of us who are Rogues have been known to kill. We wouldn’t stay hidden long if bodies piled up in the street.” Robert reassured his young friend.

“You said, not immortal.”

“We die if we’re beheaded or blood loss that is too great.”

“You’re an artist and a scholar. There should be no danger of losing your head.” Sebastian noted.

“We all learn to wield a sword. History is full of betrayals of those thought to be the weak link in a chain because they weren’t ‘fighters’.”

“There’s the added bonus of finding your Mate.” Leonardo batted his eyelashes at Robert. “That one person who is truly meant for you.”

“How long does that take?” Sebastian wanted to reach for the brandy, but stayed with his coffee.

“It may happen tomorrow … It may not happen for a thousand years. Some waited several thousand years before they found their Mate. It’s almost like a lottery. Be in the right place at the right time.”

“So not something to worry over.”

“No. Picking a Sire and a Clan … Way more important.” Leonardo headed for the kitchen. “Snack time.”

Confused, Sebastian turned to Robert for an explanation.

“He knows you’re going to ask to be Turned, and he doesn’t want to make you choose between us.”

“You’ll both be there?”

“Leo wouldn’t miss it. He just thinks I’d make a better Sire.” Langdon chuckled at the thought.

“But he’s such a mother hen.”

“Exactly, but don’t tell him. He thinks no one notices.”

Both men shared a laugh before Sebastian turned thoughtful. “What about my family in Florence? I know we’re out of sorts since I’m travelling, not getting married, or settling down to teach …”

“Your choice to tell them … Or not. Before they notice you don’t age, we can arrange an accident on one of your expeditions. The Clan and you can keep an eye on your descendants, or you can marry and have children then be Turned later in life.

“No! I mean, I’d rather have the one meant for me than settle for my parents’ expectations.”

“Sebastian?” Leonardo called as he came from the kitchen with a tray piled with meat, cheese, fruit and crackers. “Why are you so calm with all this? You just found out the Boogeyman walks in daylight and looks just like Mama and Papa DelSignore.”

“I had a chance to do a lot of research while I was in Alexandria and Athens. I found many kind souls that were willing to talk to such a poor, ignorant Italian boy just trying to learn the ways of the world. They warned me of certain places not to go. Not because they were houses of ill repute, but because of the decadent and ungodly things that happened such as bloodletting, drugs, and drinking.” Sebastian smiled innocently at the two men.

“Such a rascal.” Robert proclaimed.

“Showing your Yankee roots, Love.” Leonardo laughed.

“The only question left is when.”

“My doctorates are finished, my first dig is complete except for the paperwork, which I’m sure Evy will understand a bit of a delay when I explain it at our meeting tomorrow. So, how long do you need to make preparations?”

“You’ll move in here, and the Turning will be on Saturday. Romulus and Remus along with most of the Clan will be around so you can decide if you want to swear loyalty to us or some other Clan.”

“I like Rome. At the moment, it is more welcoming than Florence. Too many people know my family there. Here I am known only by you.”

“Sometimes anonymity is a good thing.” Robert nodded.

Sebastian’s brain finally caught up with what he heard. “THE Romulus and Remus!? This Vampire thing is like a historian’s dream come true.”

“Yeah, but sometimes we can’t always tell what really happened like with Alexander, Marc Antony, and Cleopatra. Events played out and they moved onto other things.” Robert grinned.

“How long before I stop saying, ‘Oh my God, you are …’” Sebastian asked.

“The European and Russian Clans are the worst. Even the Rogues are in the history books, but there are kings, queens, presidents, Popes, generals, inventors, lawyers, doctors, etc. We’re like everyone else, just older.” Leonardo shrugged. “Robert be a dear and check Sebastian out of his hotel. I will pick out a nice room for our soon to be baby Vampire.”

Shaking his head, Sebastian followed Robert to the stable yard. “I never read where Leonardo da Vinci was such a sass.”

“You had to be careful who you sassed back in his day. You not only could lose your home and fortune, you could lose your life. Leo loves having the freedom to speak his mind. He does it often, and sometimes at high volume.” Robert rolled his eyes.

“How long have you been Mates?”

“Since the American Civil War. We have some pairs that have been together thousands of years.”

“I bet that’s hard.” Sebastian shook his head in disbelief.

“It depends on the pairing, and their place in the Clans.” Robert side stepped.

Questions were forgotten in the flurry of activity to get Sebastian packed, and with Robert’s help, got his gear in the carriage. He wrote a message to Evelyn, but had to rely on Robert for an address. He held his tongue until they were in the carriage. Sebastian was still reluctant to speak in front of the driver. Robert finally put him out of his misery.

“Gino’s family have taken care of the Lealta stables for generations. There is not much he doesn’t know about the goings on in Rome.”

“Evy’s address is a brothel?”

“Actually, the brothel is next door. Evelyn’s birth name is Nefertiri, and she is Second In Command of the Medjai Clan. Her Mate, Heather, was a Priestess of Ra. Shepsit Hemet Amon-Ra is the Clan Advisor. They have brothels all over the world. They have made extensive studies and published many papers on sexuality. There are few people on this planet that understand as much about the Human psyche as those two ladies.” Robert chuckled at Sebastian’s red face. “You’ll find Vampires, especially the older ones have a very broad view of sex and sexuality. After so many years of living, labels mean very little, especially when it comes to Mates. The way you’re blushing I’m amazed you know the location of the brothel.”

“But society and the church …”

“Of course, we must be careful in public. Our Mates could be any color or sex. In some cases siblings are Mates, or perhaps they can’t overcome the prejudices of their upbringing.”

“And we will recognize each other when we meet?”

“There will be no doubt.” A soft smile brightened the Professor’s face.

“I will keep your words in mind.”

“That’s all one can ask. We have all seen many changes over our lifetimes. If we cannot adapt, than to continue living is a waste.”

The rest of the ride was silent, and Sebastian disappeared into the room Leonardo declare his.

“What happened?” Leo demanded.

“We talked about sex, Mates, and long lives.”

“You gave him the adapt or die speech?”

“Not quite that drastic. Just gave him some food for thought.”

“You are a terrible parent.” Leonardo huffed.

“He’ll be your kid, too.” Robert teased as he headed off to find Lisa.

When Robert asked about preparations for Sebastian’s Turning, the Lealta Caretaker had taken full control, and told the pair where and when to show up with their new Childe. Knowing better than to piss off Leonardo’s favorite model, Robert had graciously surrendered control.

The days following his moving into the palazzo, when he wasn’t working on his post expedition report, Sebastian spent time wandering from room to room in awe. The art and statuary left little doubt in the young man’s mind that the stories Robert and Leonardo told we all true. Then there was Michelangelo. The artist talked with Sebastian about half a lifetime spent living in Florence before his Turning, so there was a good possibility one of his ancestors had a child of which the man had no knowledge.

Evy had been thrilled when Sebastian informed her at their meeting that he had asked Robert to Turn him. She had tartly informed him that he’d best have his sword skills up to snuff as he would be accompanying one of the members of her Clan to a dig on the T’Chad River near the capitol of N’Djamena. He’d been so shocked, he’d forgotten to tell her he’d need a few extra days to complete his final report on their expedition.

As he became acquainted with more of the people that were his Clan, he sometimes felt like one of those heroines from Victorian novels that fainted at the least provocation. The historical figures that were Vampires still boggled his mind. To speak with so many historical figures was close to his idea of paradise. Speaking to the men and women that made the existence of Vampires possible caused Sebastian to long for a pen and paper. To see ancient life through the eyes of scribes, body servants, warriors, farmers … Those were the stories that moved his soul. Now he would have time to listen to all their stories.

~~}~~

By Saturday, Robert and Sebastian were both strung tight with anticipation. Leonardo literally drug his Mate off to their suite to help the man relax. Sebastian, not having the same outlet buried himself in the Clan’s vast library, and allowed Lucretia to railroad him into taking her to lunch. It was a relief when Lisa finally allowed Sebastian into his rooms where he found Robert and Leonardo waiting.

Sebastian’s anxiety caused him to blurt out the first thought that passed through his academia mindset. “You both can’t do this at the same time … Can you?”

“Here I am offering my services as a midwife, and our new kid is trying to talk science.” Leonardo huffed.

The Mates watched Sebastian relax at Leonardo’s irreverent humor. “It’s how scientists think, Love. If something doesn’t seem kosher, we start looking for the reason.” Robert kissed his Mate on the temple. “I’m sure Sebastian was just surprised that you’re exposing your newfound talent for midwifery.”

“I am a genius.” The artist huffed.

Their antics were interrupted when Lisa sailed into the room. “Are we going to stand around patting each other on the back all night, or are we birthing a new Vampire.”

“That is why she was always my favorite model. No nonsense, sail through every obstacle.” Leonardo reached out to grab the Caretaker in a hug.

“Get on with you. If things were left up to you, you’d never stick your nose out of the studio. Poor Robert would suffer terribly from neglect at the feet of your genius.” Lisa swatted at her Sire as she finished her last-minute preparations. “Call me when it is time.” She patted the young Human on the cheek before she left the room.

Bemused, Sebastian began removing his vest and shirt. When he looked up from hanging his shirt over the arm of the desk chair, Robert was standingthisclose. He reached out to cup the young man’s warm cheek, blue eyes locked.

“This is your final opportunity to change your mind.” Robert watched Sebastian’s expression closely.

“Not a chance.” He smiled. “Evy has already planned the next decade of my life.”

“That’s the problem with princesses. Always ordering others about.” Leonardo voice held fond exasperation for the Medjai Second In Command.

“It’s settled then.” Robert ran his hand through Sebastian’s dark curls, tilting the dark head to the side, blue eyes shining like aquamarines, he sank his fangs into the tanned neck.

Before he could think of a reply, Sebastian felt the sting of fangs slicing through the thin skin of his throat. Before he could give in to his most primal thoughts of self-preservation, his mind was filled with feelings of calm, affection, and safety. The young Italian relaxed, and became pliant in the arms of his Sire. Leonardo stepped behind Sebastian to support his weight as blood loss began to take its toll. As the strong heartbeat stuttered almost to a stop, Leonardo lay Sebastian on his bed while Robert retrieved a knife from the bedside table. Slicing his wrist, he offered his blood to his new Childe. The older Vampires were surprised at the speed with which Sebastian latched onto the bleeding wrist. Just as Leonardo began to think of the new Vampire as a leech, Sebastian obeyed Robert’s soft-spoken command to release his wrist then collapsed.

Taking his Mate’s still bleeding wrist, Leonard licked over the wound until it closed. He grinned at the full body shudder the act elicited from Robert before he was scolded for thinking of sex at such a time.

“Any time is a good time to think about sex.” Leonardo purred. “Don’t be such a Puritan.”

Their bickering was interrupted by a groan from the bed. Their full attention was immediately on their new Childe, and doing what little they could to ease his transition. Leonardo started a bath to warm the new Vampire before going in search of Lisa and the Chosen Ones brought to the palazzo to ease Sebastian’s Hunger.

Settled into the comfort of his bed, Sebastian was given the primer on the parts of being a Vampire that had to wait until he had been Turned in order for him to have proper context. A piece of paper appeared on his bedside table as his eyes drifted closed.

“Your training schedule starting tomorrow afternoon.” Leonardo sounded way too happy about his training.

~~}~~

Other than the addition of weapons training, very little changed in Sebastian’s life. He finished his final report for Evy, began work on a paper for publication, and began to consider what he was going to do for employment until he heard from the organizers of the expedition for which Evy had put his name forward. He’d gone home to Florence to tell his family the news that he was moving to Rome, and giving them his new address. His mother’s displeasure was loud and long, and he swore to go to confession over his relief at returning to Rome the day after telling his family his plans. The uproar in his childhood home was torture to his sensitive Vampire ears. Subjecting himself to training with Éomer and Faramir was preferable to his mother’s near wailing over his desertion of his familial duties. Pointing out his brothers and sisters were doing a fine job of taking care of the both the farm and their elders only kicked the drama up several notches.

His siblings had silently commiserated with Sebastian. His father had escaped into his small vineyard to commune with his grapes until Sebastian’s temper, so like his mama’s, snapped.

“What was the point of my completing two doctorates if I was only going to sit among moldering tomes listening to hidebound professors who never dirtied their hands in the field!”

“You were supposed to teach, and give me grandchildren.” His mother demanded.

“What kind of teacher would I be if I stayed tied to my mother’s skirts, never gaining knowledge of the real world?” The slap echoed in the sudden silence of the kitchen. “It is perhaps a good thing I am returning to Rome in the morning.” Sebastian headed for the barn where he threw a bridle on one of the green broke horses and headed out across the freshly turned fields allowing the wind to wash away his temper.

Lights appeared in windows to cut through the approaching darkness as Sebastian led his mount into the barn. With a little more training, the mare would make a fine mount. Giving her a good rubdown and her evening measure of grain, he checked the other animals before securing the barn for the night. As he crossed the yard toward the house, he caught the scent of his father’s pipe tobacco.

“You mother means well.”

“Be that as it may, I have near three decades, and know my own mind. You should remind her I was raised as much by Nonna as by her.” Sebastian took a deep breath to cool his temper. He did not want to leave Florence with harsh words laying between him and his parents.

With his enhanced senses, Sebastian had no problem seeing the sad smile on his father’s face. “I can see you’ve grown beyond this farm … This city. I’ll talk to your mother. Don’t be surprised if your mail becomes a bit unmanageable.”

“I have good people around me in Rome. You do not have to worry.”

“You are our son. We will always worry. Letters and visits will alleviate much of that worry. You will understand when you become a parent.”

Gripping his father’s shoulder, Sebastian was determined to have settle things with his family. “I will do my best. If everything goes to plan, I will be going to Africa next year, and would have peace between us.”

“You were always more your Nonna’s child than ours.” His father chuckled. “That woman had a mind like a steel trap, and a tongue that could flay you like a cat-o-nine tails.”

“Love you, Papa.” Sebastian bent over to hug his father.

“Love you, boy. Your mother kept your supper warm, so get on with you.” His tone was rough with his emotions.

He entered the kitchen where a similar scene played out with his mother as she plied him with food and wine. By the time he loaded his luggage in the carriage the next morning, peace reigned in the de Rosa family. As the train left the Florence station, Sebastian felt ready to move forward with his new life in Rome.

~ Ghost and Darkness Compound near The Willows, South Africa, August 1910 ~

Loch-Nah sighed and rubbed a hand over his short tight curls. Feeling the warmth of his Mate move behind him, he leaned his head back against the muscular abdomen.

“Troubles, My Heart?”

The Clan Leader handed the letter back to his Mate. “Correspondence from Ardeth. Tell me why I agreed to be a Clan Leader instead of continuing our wandering around the world.”

Juba leaned down to kiss his Mate’s lush mouth. “Ardeth, Nefertiri and Shepsit caught you in a weak moment?” He teased as he read the letter from the Medjai Clan Leader. “You are worried for Ababuo to tell her story about what they will find at the site?” He asked as he laid the letter on the blotter.

“No. She long ago healed from her kidnapping, and the rejection of her people. Though she is my fiercest Hunter, I, on occasion, must fight the biases of my tribe in regard to women. What we are taught as children is hard to overcome no matter how long we live. The fact that she would beat my backside across the compound should I forbid her to travel alone has decided me to delegate this to Muldoon. Ababuo will be sent to check out the excavations, and Daniel will ask questions until his curiosity is satisfied. I have dispatched a message to James for one of his boats to take her to Douala, Cameroon. My worry is simply that our Hunters are spread very thin. Traveling in these times of unrest among the Whites causes fear for their safety. Since establishing a presence in Johannesburg, defense of the Clan is always on my mind. We will have to stay close until she returns.”

“That will not be a hardship, as my feet wish to stay home for a time. She will be able to gather much needed intelligence. If not for the correspondence with other Clans, we would only learn of world affairs after the fact.” Stealing another kiss, Juba left his Mate to his duties as he went in search of his Head of Security to inform him he needed to talk to Ababuo, and would be losing the services of one of his fiercest Hunters for several years.

~~}~~

Senses attuned to her surroundings, Ababuo allowed part of her attention to linger over the thoughts tumbling around her brain as she travelled with two of the Clan’s Chosen Ones back to the land of her birth. Using the Clan’s established network of Chosen Ones between the Reserve and Cape Town, the trio were able to travel swiftly to the boat waiting to take them on the short trip along the coast. Taking several days in Cape Town to rest themselves and their animals, Ababuo enjoyed visiting with the Clan members she seldom got to see. Her two young Chosen Ones were captivated with city, and their enthusiasm kept her from getting lost in memories of her home.

~~}~~

Before leaving the ship to collect their horses and supplies, Ababuo donned the robes and scarves of the Medjai. Her robes, scars, the swords strapped to her back, and guns under her robes would make the boldest of bandits pause before challenging her for her younglings. It would also help to disguise her gender, allowing her freedom of movement through the towns and markets.

It was still the cool of the morning as they made a quick turn through the marketplace to supplement their supplies, and fill their water skins at the public well. Traveling over plains and through the rainforest, foraging for food should keep them well stocked to the end of their journey. As they reached the edge of Douala, and entered the narrow forest road, Ababuo wondered if they would ever find a way to use the horseless carriages that so fascinated Loch-Nah to travel across the harsh terrain of Africa.

~ Excavation site near N’Djamena, Chad, September 1910 ~

Feeling the North African sun beat down on his shoulders, Sebastian was glad for the breeze blowing off the river. They had been at the excavation site for a month, but it had been just this week that they had finally removed enough overburden from the annual floods to begin finding artifacts from the people who’d once lived along this section of the Chari River. What had been most confusing to the two archaeologists was what they were finding did not match with any of the area’s known tribes. He smiled as Daniel’s grumbles gave voice to the exact thoughts he had about the site.

“These pieces are not buried deep enough to be more than two maybe three millennia old, but I have never seen pottery in this style.” He nearly threw his brushes in frustration.

“I would suggest a trade station or some such, but they would have been competing with the nearby city.” Sebastian carefully cleaned a piece of jar. “This jar is West African, but the markings are not from any of the tribes with which I am familiar.”

“Good eye.” Daniel commented as they packed the pieces for travel back to their camp.

The crew had gone from famine to feast by the end of the week. There was a lot of pottery, pieces of metal tools, spears and utensils, along with a few very fragile textiles that had been found stored in sealed jars, presumably to be used for trade. Sebastian and Daniel spent many a night cleaning, sketching and cataloguing their finds. So engrossed in the fascination of an unknown civilization, they never noticed the figure swathed in black and shadows watching. The Chosen Ones that travelled with the Hunter had insinuated themselves into the expedition workers … Even finding a few relatives that were part of Daniel’s permanent crew. Ababuo held her place in the shadows until she heard Daniel bidding Sebastian goodnight. There was something about the stranger that drew her attention, but she needed to speak with Daniel before she could take time to dwell on the tug of her emotions.

If Daniel’s heart still beat it would surely have stopped when after lighting the lantern in his tent he came face to face with mahogany eyes in a face hidden behind Medjai scarves. As elegant hands began to unwind the scarf, the archaeologist caught sight of the scarred cheek.

“Ababuo!” He reached to engulfed the Hunter in a hug.

“Daniel. It is good to see you, old friend.”

“Why are you here? Is there a problem?”

“No. I believe your Clan Leader sent word to mine warning him the biggest trouble magnet in the Clans was roaming about my old home.” She answered as she continued to loosen her robes. “Who is your handsome young friend?”

“Sebastian de Rosa. Archaeologist/anthropologist from Lealta Clan. I think he will be a great asset.” He paused for a moment. “I am not a trouble magnet.”

She gave a rude snort of disbelief. “Ah, another scholar to provide smoke and mirrors as you overwhelm Dilios with new stories and legends.” Ababuo teased. “I believe I may be of assistance on your excavations. You are exposing what once upon a time was my home village. This is where I was kidnapped by the Ghazi, and taken to a Bedouin style camp where I fought for my honor. When I was victorious, the Chieftain decreed I would be initiated into his warrior caste, and I was Turned.” She settled gracefully among the cushions on the rug covered ground.

Daniel stood frozen for several minutes. “Wait. You told me you were from the Sao civilization in Chad. This site was your home?” Ababuo nodded in agreement. “They took you 2,400 miles before they decided to Turn you? Will you tell me the rest of the story?”

“It was a such a long time ago, but, yes, I will tell you if you tell me about your new partner. He is very pretty.” She teased the older Vampire.

“Deal.”

Daniel set a kettle of water on the brazier for tea as the two old friends got comfortable. Ababuo began her story about a man, whose true name she never learned, that broke from the Medjai Clan, and attempted to start a Clan. His followers, became known as Ghazi, and begin raiding tribes and villages in an ever increasing territory that reached thousands of miles away from their home camp. Touching the scars on her cheek, she told of refusing the advances of her abductors, and fighting for her honor. Then being taken into the elite warrior group that protected the camp. How their Chieftain had been killed, after which she was released from her duties. With two Chosen Ones, she travelled back to her village where she was rejected by her family because of her facial scars.

“The head of the warriors, a Vampire called Ubaid, spoke of a rift between our Chieftain and their Clan Leaders. Many disliked being separated from their families, but their pride would not allow them to abandon Rai’id and ask forgiveness from the Medjai Council. I never got the story of what caused the separation, but knowing the ways of men and their pride, I would speculate that Ra’id would not compromise with Ardeth so left the Clan. I knew the true names of my warrior brothers, but I was blindfolded during my Turning, and do not know which of the three Vampires was my Sire. Sami and Merkha were Chosen Ones who always travelled with me. Following the images from my dreams, we eventually returned to their families among the Medjai, and they introduced me to Ardeth.”

Daniel set the tea tray on his desk. “You will be staying with us for a while?”

“Absolutely. Apparently, you have gotten no better at setting security for your camps, and I think I would like to get to know your partner a bit better.”

This surprised Daniel. Unlike many of their kind, Ababuo had always been very discerning, and her lovers were few and far between. There had been no partners since she had gone to South Africa with Loch-Nah and Juba, concentrating on protecting her Clan. Getting the Clan established had taken every spare body when they began the wildlife reserve, and established a presence in Johannesburg to keep their hand in the politics of the British colony.

“You don’t go for easy.”

“Not a choice.” Ababuo huffed.

Daniel frowned until the reason made it past the information the Hunter had given him about their excavation site.
“Mate?”

“Yes.”

“Good luck, Little Sister. “I will introduce you as our local expert. You know the village and will be able to tell us the layout, and identify in more detail what we can only guess.”

“I thank you, and we will need a little luck away from the Clan. Though he is White, I am thankful my Mate is a man in these times.”

“Small favors. Patriarchal cultures combined with being an interracial couple anywhere is hard, but here in Africa …” Daniel shook his head.

“A journey progresses one step at a time.” Ababuo dropped a kiss on the blond head before settling amongst the cushions and blankets. “Sleep well, Daniel.”

“And you. Just don’t distract my only other archaeologist for too long.” He chuckled.

“I do not think the Claiming will be the problem. I think making our lives fit together will be what takes time. Out here …” Her wave encompassed the camp. “We will be fine. It is the rest of the world that will be the problem.”

“I would say the world should watch out if you are going to war.” Daniel teased hoping to erase the frown from the beautiful face.

~~}~~

Shock froze Sebastian in his tracks the next morning as he walked toward Daniel’s tent. The elder Vampire stepped to the side and began rolling back his tent flap. Helping him complete the task was a beautiful woman with tawny skin and mahogany eyes. Once he tore his eyes away from the dark-haired vision, he noticed Daniel grinning like a fool.

“Sebastian de Rosa … This lovely lady is a historian, and an expert on the early tribes of this area.” Daniel’s introduction was interrupted by the Cook’s call to breakfast.

After that there was little time as their new historian spent time on the dig site with Daniel marking off sections of ground they weren’t even close to being ready to excavate. Sebastian continued in the area he’d worked previously while his thoughts turned to their new colleague. There was no doubt she was beautiful, but there was something about her that kept pulling his attention away from his work.

He’d never had any problem losing himself in his work. Evy and Jonathan had often chastised him about losing his situational awareness when working a dig site, but now he couldn’t get thoughts of the dark-haired beauty out of his mind. Corralling his wayward thoughts, Sebastian stopped work long enough to take a drink from his canteen. Taking a minute between drinks, he observed the camp. The newest member of their team had finished marking off the ground with Daniel, and was now, in a combination of French and Arabic, directing the men Daniel had set as lookouts for anyone approaching the site. Several tents and their horses and mules and been moved making the camp less sprawling, and more defensible.

“I should have remembered how good she is at organizing these things.” Daniel chuckled to himself as he began gathering Sebastian’s morning finds. “I’ll bring you back some lunch.” The older Vampire was gone before Sebastian could form a thought.

~~}~~

Ababuo finally settled with her notebook at the table with crates of pieces brought to camp from the dig site. For one as intelligent as Daniel, he was incredibly meticulous with his work, but incredibly haphazard with his camp security. Once her Hunter’s sensibility was settled, she moved onto the crates containing the bits and pieces of her former life. Having kept an eye on the rise and fall of her people since her Turning, Ababuo watched as N’Djemena expanded to absorb her village, and the Sao people disappeared into larger tribes. Pulling her thoughts back to the present, she set to sketching, cataloguing, and packing for transport the remnants of the Sao civilization.

Over their evening meal, Ababuo gave Sebastian and Daniel a quick overview of the Sao people, and about the pottery and tools they had found. Daniel talked about the new excavations they started after lunch where Ababuo had pointed out the rest of the village. The area where Sebastian was working was close to where the village’s funerary jars should be located. He had spent most of the meal asking the occasional question. He still did not know her name. Daniel called her Little Sister. While she talked about the history of the village, Sebastian reorganized his thoughts about his findings to include this new information. He was drawn out of his ruminations when he heard his name. Daniel had stood and was making his goodnights before retiring to his tent. Once he was gone, the full force of brandy colored eyes turned on Sebastian.

“You feel it … Do you not?” She asked.

Blushing furiously, Sebastian ducked his head. “There has been something since you came into camp.”

Coming around the table, Ababuo ran a finger along his hairline then trailed fingertips down his arm to grab his hand. “I think we should retire to your tent and see where this feeling leads.”

Shocked at her boldness, Sebastian’s brain short circuited as he meekly followed her to his tent. They stopped inside long enough for her to secure the tent flap. Sebastian didn’t even think to move away from the beauty until she pulled him toward his palette of rugs, cushions, and blankets.

Now that they were away from the main activity of the camp, somewhere in Sebastian’s mind it registered that the woman didn’t have a heartbeat. Before he could put his thoughts into words, those full berry lips stopped any words he might have spoken. As the kiss deepened, and his body left its lethargy in the dust, Sebastian felt knowledgeable fingers divesting him of his clothing.

“Wait … What are we doing? I don’t even know who you are.”

“That is not important right now. What is important is how we feel.” Hooking a foot behind his ankle, Ababuo tumbled them down onto his sleeping palette. “Can you not feel how perfect we are together?” She crooned.

Sebastian was glad he didn’t need to breathe because she was kneeling over him removing the rest of her clothes. His mouth went dry at the toned body that soon had him pinned down. It did not take long until her clever hands and luscious lips took away all coherent thought. Then he felt the sting of fangs sliding down his chest … Setting his nerves alight. VAMPIRE! This woman was a Vampire. Why hadn’t Daniel said anything. Before Sebastian could put together enough words to question the raven-haired virago setting his body and soul on fire, he felt the warm moist heat of her mouth closing over his prick.

His body arched as nails scraped over his nipples, down his sides … Invading places where no one had ever touched.

“Please … I … What … Why … My God … What you are doing to me …” Sebastian moaned and whimpered in Italian.

“You are MINE, and will always be MINE.” Ababuo crooned as she took his cock into her body. “There will be no other women or men to know your body like this.” Her pupils were blown and her expression fierce as she moved against him.

Her tight heat pushing, pulling … Sebastian moaned as his body took control. Hands calloused from working in the dirt, and learning to wield a sword rubbed, tweaked, and twisted nipples. Grabbed onto rounded hips to help push and pull then wandered down between them to add to the slide of his prick against her clitoris. As the sweat poured off their bodies, and Sebastian thought he would surely die from pleasure not even found in Lady Heather’s brothel, his virago pulled him upright. The change of position drove him deeper into her body, and just as he thought he could stand no more, he felt her fangs sink into his throat. His world exploded. MATE! This dusky skinned beauty was his as he was hers, and there she was inside his mind as he was inside her body. With that realization came the rush of emotions … His feelings … Her feelings … Her pleasure as his prick swelled … her body contracted around his … Her orgasm triggering his … His hands pulling her head around as she finished licking his wounds closed … He sank his fangs into her neck, and the world disappeared.

~~}~~

When Sebastian came back into the world, he was warm, clean, and being pinned down by his beautiful Mate. Brandy colored eyes smiled warmly at his confusion.

“Still a few cobwebs, Sthandwa sami (My love)?”

“No … Yes … What did you call me?”

“My love. That is what you are. My Mate … My Love.”

“Yes. Your Mate, but I don’t even know your name, or anything about you.” The woman let him sit up then settled cross-legged beside him. “I never expected … I mean so many others have waited thousands of years … I was only Turned six years ago. I never gave any thought to finding my Mate so soon.”

“But I have waited two thousand years for you Sebastian. Though I am trained as a historian, among other things, I am the expert on this area because this was my home village.”

“My word.” Sebastian took her hand as he felt the twinge of sadness come over their bond. “I do not mean to be rude, but what is your name. I cannot keep calling you my virago.” He blushed deeply at blurting out his thoughts to this woman who despite what they shared was still a stranger.

“I am Ababuo. It means she who returns. I am a Hunter for the Ghost and Darkness Clan. Before that I was a Hunter for the Medjai. I have travelled many times with Daniel on his expeditions. We have the bond of siblings for though he is older, he gets lost in the work, and forgets to protect himself.” She smiled indulgently.

“How did you get from here to the Medjai? That’s thousands of miles from here.”

“I was kidnapped by the Ghazi and taken to the Sudan where I lived as a warrior until I returned here hoping to be reunited with my family.” Her hand went to the ritual scarring on her face. “They rejected me because I carried the marks of a warrior.”

Pulling his Mate to his side, Sebastian slid back down into their bed, pulling her along with him.

“My Clan is Lealta in Rome, Italy. I have a feeling ours will not be an easy partnership.” They both chuckled at the understatement.

“I fear you are right. In Italy maybe not so much, but in Africa it will be hard, especially in the South where White and Black rarely mix, for they cannot bear the stigma. Even with the wealth of the Clan, Loch-Nah and Allan walk a very fine line with the government and the tribes. Bigotry is not something that money changes, it is merely hidden behind false smiles and platitudes.”

“That fact is the same wherever you travel, but for now we are among those that understand our nature, and we are free to be ourselves.” Sebastian pressed a kiss to her forehead.

“I hope you continue to feel that way as we get to know each other. I am a Hunter, and you are a scholar. We have very different … Our perspectives are very different. I am not one of your Victorian maidens lounging in her salon.”

“Yes. I am beginning to realize that. I will try to curb my European sensibilities.”

“I will be very happy to help you with those sensibilities.” Ababuo chuckled as she snuggled against his side. “We should get to sleep. There is still much work on this site, and Daniel will not be slowed by us wanting to revel in finding each other.”

“I think we can revel just a little longer.” Sebastian smiled as he rolled Ababuo under him while capturing her lips in a breath stealing kiss.

~ El Hoceima, Morocco, June 1920 ~

Dressed in her ‘polite society’ expedition clothing, Ababuo leaned against the bar in the stern of the ship. As the wife of a published archaeologist/anthropologist there were certain expectations from the monied people that funded Sebastian’s research and expeditions. Taking a sip of her top shelf Irish whiskey, she watched the passengers crowding the railing as the ship left the dock.

Ababuo had argued over taking this particular cruise across the Mediterranean to the port at Civitavecchia. Spending time with people that saw her as some type of exotic pet, while both vilifying and singing the praises of Sebastian for civilizing a savage then marrying her. They would all vie for her attention while they were on the cruise, but should they meet her on the street in Rome without Sebastian, they would cut her to the quick. On good days Ababuo found humor in their hypocrisy. If they knew the truth of her life they would fall over themselves to be her friend. Other days, she’d as soon cut a swath with her swords and rid the world of their dead weight.

She smiled into her drink as her thoughts turned back to travelling with the young American, Tristan Ludlow. She had enjoyed working at a dig as well established as Volubilis, and getting to spend time at the Medjai Kasbah had been good for her and Sebastian. They had time to relax the mental and physical walls they constantly lived behind as an interracial couple living in Africa.

It had been fun watching Anasazi trying to court his Mate. Ababuo had taken Tristan under her tutelage because he never turned a hair when James introduced her and Sebastian to him. Her facial scars had been no more important to Tristan than the color of her skin. His non-reaction to an interracial couple made sense after she learned his background with the American tribes.

Pulled out of her thoughts by her husband joining her at the bar, he ordered a drink after tasting the whiskey on her lips.

“Are you ready to give the crowds their bread and circuses, my virago?”

“You mean where I stand at your shoulder and smile vapidly for three days?”

“No. I mean where you work the crowd and knock them dead with your beauty and intelligence.” He tapped his glass against hers in a toast.

“I can do that. I reserve the right to stab the first old man that puts his hands on my ass.” She growled.

“Could you settle for embarrassing them instead. You know how hard it is to get blood off wooden decks.”

“They need better maintenance. They’re obviously not applying enough varnish.” Ababuo gave a haughty sniff.

“I hope Robert and Leonardo are back from the States?” Sebastian led Ababuo to the railing around the promenade as the ship reached cruising speed. “His teaching term should be finished.”

“We can spend a little extra time in Rome after we finish your meetings with Lamont. We can be back at the Reserve before the holidays … Unless you want to spend the holidays in Florence.”

“No. I think we should stay away from Florence for a time. Give the city time to remember Sebastian de Rosa as the younger son who moved to Rome, married a woman that caused his parents to disown him, and was never heard from again.”

“It shall be as you wish.” Ababuo gave her husband a soft kiss. “I miss the Reserve, and watching the animals come in to the watering tanks. I am like Juba. Sometimes it is good to allow your feet to rest for a time.”

“You can rest yourself in me.”

“Always.”

~ Fini ~

 

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