King's Crusade (Seventeen)

BOOK: King's Crusade (Seventeen)
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Table of Contents

The Immortals

Part One: Tombs

  
Prologue

  
Chapter One

  
Chapter Two

  
Chapter Three

  
Chapter Four

  
Chapter Five

  
Chapter Six

  
Chapter Seven

  
Chapter Eight

Part Two: Hunt

  
Chapter Nine

  
Chapter Ten

  
Chapter Eleven

  
Chapter Twelve

  
Chapter Thirteen

  
Chapter Fourteen

  
Chapter Fifteen

  
Chapter Sixteen

  
Chapter Seventeen

  
Chapter Eighteen

  
Chapter Nineteen

  
Chapter Twenty

Part Three: Kill

  
Chapter Twenty-One

  
Chapter Twenty-Two

  
Chapter Twenty-Three

  
Chapter Twenty-Four

  
Chapter Twenty-Five

  
Chapter Twenty-Six

  
Chapter Twenty-Seven

  
Chapter Twenty-Eight

  
Chapter Twenty-Nine

  
Chapter Thirty

  
Chapter Thirty-One

  
Chapter Thirty-Two

  
Chapter Thirty-Three

  
Epilogue

Thank You

Author’s Note

Acknowledgments

Other Titles by AD Starrling

About AD Starrling

 

King’s Crusade: Seventeen Book Two

Copyright © 2013 by AD Starrling. All rights reserved. Registered with the UK Copyright Service.

 

Revised Kindle Edition: February 2014

First Kindle Edition: April 2013

 

Editor: Invisible Ink Editing (
www.invisibleinkediting.com
)

Cover and Formatting: Streetlight Graphics (
www.streetlightgraphics.com
)

 

The right of AD Starrling to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All rights reserved. No parts of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the author, excepting for brief quotes used in reviews. Your respect of the author’s rights and hard work is appreciated.

 

For address information, please contact the author at
[email protected]

 

This book is a work of fiction. References to real people (living or dead), events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used factitiously. All other characters, and all other incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

 

 

As always, to my family and friends.

 

The Immortals

The Crovirs and the Bastians: two races of immortals that have lived side by side with humans since the beginning of civilization and once ruled an empire that stretched across Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
Each possessing the capacity to survive up to sixteen deaths, they have been engaged in a bloody and savage war from the very dawn of their existence. This unholy battle has, for the most part, remained a well-guarded secret from the eyes of ordinary humans, despite the fact that they have been used as pawns in some of the most epic chapters of the immortal conflict. It was not until the late fourteenth century that the two races were forced to forge an uneasy truce following a deadly plague that wiped out more than half of their numbers and made the majority of survivors infertile.

Each immortal society is ruled by a hierarchy of councils made up of nobles. The First Council consists of the heads of seven Immortal Sections: the Order of the Hunters, the Counter-Terrorism group, Human Relations, Commerce, Immortal Legislations and Conventions, Research and Development, and Immortal Culture and History. The Head of the Order of the Hunters is the most powerful member of the First Council. The Second Council, or the Assembly, comprises the regional division directors under each Head of Section, while the Congress of the Council is made up of local authority chiefs.

Though they have been instrumental to the most significant events in world history, religion, and culture, the Immortals’ existence is known to only a select few humans, among them the political leaders of the most powerful states on Earth and the Secretary General of the United Nations.

 

Part One: Tombs

 

Prologue

November 1700.
Battle of Narva. Swedish territory.

T
he little girl stared into
the dead man’s eyes, her expression steady and unflinching. All around her rose the cries of soldiers and the clash of swords, while cannons boomed on a distant hill, and the sharp reports of musket shots echoed across the banks of the nearby river.

The morning’s blizzard had turned the battlefield into a gray and bloody mire. The snow and rain that had been falling steadily during the night had grown heavy at dawn, and visibility was worsened by vicious gusts blowing in from the west. When the wind shifted to the south at midday, it provided an unprecedented advantage for the eight-thousand-strong army of Sweden’s King Karl the Twelfth. They had been able to advance virtually unseen on the significantly larger Russian contingent, which laid siege to the city of Narva in early November of that year.

Although tired and hungry after traveling across miles of treacherous back roads and countryside laid to waste by the invaders, the better-equipped and more experienced Swedes managed to get within fifty yards of the enemy’s front lines without being detected and led a swift attack on two fronts.

After overcoming Russian General Veyde’s and Prince Trubetskoy’s men, they now marched for the troops on the adversary’s left flank, which were under the charge of Duke de Cröy, the field marshal whom Tsar Peter I of Russia had left in charge of his army.

As he carefully made his way across the treacherous ground, Dimitri Reznak glanced at the bruised skies overhead. Though the worst of the storm had passed, heavy flakes still fell from the low clouds that covered the land in eerie twilight. Interspersed with rain and sleet, the snow melted rapidly in crimson puddles that dotted the plain, forming brief teardrops on the cooling skin of the hundreds of Russian and Swedish soldiers who had fallen since the start of the battle. Reznak frowned at the gruesome sight.

Given that he was an immortal who had witnessed countless wars and conflicts over the five centuries of his existence thus far, he knew he should have been immune to the spectacle of blood and gore that surrounded him. Yet, despite the fact that he and the two hundred Crovir immortals under his command were assisting the young Swedish King in his endeavor to keep the new territories his predecessors had acquired during Europe’s bloody Thirty Years’ War, Reznak could not help but feel overwhelmed by sadness at the needless loss of human life. Which was why he headed straight for the little girl when he saw her standing on the knoll in the middle of the battleground.

Although he hadn’t expected to see a child in the midst of the war zone, Reznak was not surprised. Some civilians had still been trying to reach the safety of the fortified city when they were caught between the advancing armies, and those who had not succumbed to the fierce blizzard perished in the subsequent crossfire. He could only presume that the child had become separated from her parents during the ensuing chaos. The chances of finding them alive, he knew, would be slim at best.

When he got within twenty feet of her, the little girl finally looked up. It was not the panicked, wild movement he had been anticipating. Instead, it was a slow and measured gesture. Reznak froze.

Her eyes were a clear gray, the irises wide and almost silvery in their sheen. Her skin, where it was visible beneath the dirty yet elegant ivory dress she wore, was an alabaster white. Thick, dark curls crowned her head and fell in waves to her shoulders, framing a surprisingly slim face and neck. She looked to be about eight years old and was without a doubt the most shockingly beautiful being he had ever seen.

Yet it was not her startling appearance that stopped him in his tracks; it was the look on her face that sent a sharp chill through his bones and a shiver down his spine, immobilizing his legs.

There was only one word to describe the expression in her eyes: fearlessness.

Pure and unadulterated, the feeling seemed to seep through her pores and emanate from the very core of her being, an almost palpable energy focused in a lance-like beam projected from her dark pupils.

That was when Reznak knew she was not human.

The little girl blinked. Reznak suddenly found that he could move again. His gaze drifted down to her right hand, where the handle of an ugly knife was clasped firmly between her slender fingers. Red droplets still gleamed wetly on the edge of the blade and dropped into an expanding pool by her bare feet. His eyes followed the crimson trail to the dead man lying inches from where she stood. There was a deep, linear wound on the left side of the soldier’s chest; by the looks of it, she had stabbed him in the heart.

It would have taken the man less than a minute to die.

Reznak’s gaze shifted to the girl. ‘Hello,’ he said gently in German, conscious of the weight of the sword at his waist. ‘My name is Dimitri. What’s your name?’

The little girl remained silent. He hesitated. Certain he would not get a reply, he repeated the question in the local Estonian dialect. He was shocked when, in a clear and low voice that was oddly devoid of emotion, she said, ‘Alexandria.’

Reznak took a cautious step forward, his eyes never leaving hers. Her chin tilted as she stared up at him. ‘Where’s your mother, Alexandria?’ he continued quietly in the same vernacular.

A faint frown dawned on her face at his words. ‘I don’t know,’ she said.

Less than two hundred feet from where they stood, scores of soldiers fought to the death, their swords and daggers carving through the flesh and bones of their enemies. The harsh breaths of their nervous horses misted the cold air, while musket rounds peppered the ground around them.

Reznak took another step forward. ‘Can you tell me where you came from?’

The little girl’s frown deepened while she considered the question. ‘I don’t know,’ she repeated.

It was then that he noticed the fresh blood matted in her hair. She had suffered a blow to the side of her head. His gaze dropped to the red finger marks on her arm. His eyes narrowed.

‘Did that man hurt you?’ Reznak asked stiffly, indicating the dead soldier at her feet.

Her chin dipped in a brief nod.

He stared at her for a moment before slowly squatting down. With his face level with hers, he carefully extended a hand. ‘Would you like to come with me, Alexandria? It’s not safe here.’

The little girl gazed at him silently. Undaunted, Reznak stood up and waited. She turned on her heels and stared through the thin veil of snow at the river and the city beyond it. The wind picked up and ruffled her hair.

He peered at the back of her neck curiously. Imprinted a scant inch beneath her hairline, in the very middle of her delicate spine, was a triangular mark—a trishula. Although generically shaped like a trident, the more intricate details of the design reminded him strongly of the weapons he had seen wielded by fearsome Asian warriors in battles past. It was not a tattoo. It looked more like a birthmark.

The knife thudded softly in the deepening snowdrift when the little girl opened her fingers. Still gazing at the battlefield before them, she raised her bloodied hand toward him. Reznak clasped it in his own and was surprised at how warm her skin felt.

‘Are you my father now?’ she asked calmly.

‘No,’ he said with a weak smile. He glanced at the top of her head. The dark curls shivered slightly in the wind. Beneath them, the child’s body was as still as stone. ‘Can I call you Alexa? Alexandria is a bit of a mouthful.’

She gave this some thought. ‘Yes,’ she said finally with a curt nod.

 

Chapter One

November 2010.
Eastern Desert. Egypt.

D
imitri Reznak mopped his forehead
with a handkerchief and muttered a few expletives in Czech. The midday sun beat down relentlessly from an azure sky devoid of clouds. According to the temperature sensor in the Jeep that had brought him to the desert from the city of Aswan, it was thirty-seven degrees Celsius in the shade. It was technically winter in North Africa.

He sighed, took a sip from the glass of tepid water in his hand, and concentrated on what his chief research scientist, Professor Simon Goodwin, was saying as he led him inside a tent.

‘—and then the GPR units went mad! I mean, we started to get readings like nobody’s business. Here, take a look!’ The normally mild-mannered and immaculate archaeologist ran a hand through his disheveled red hair, grabbed several feet of data sheets from a pile next to a laptop, and reverently laid them out on a camping table.

Reznak stared at the reams of gray, monochromatic images for several long seconds. As an avid and obsessive collector, and more importantly as the Head of the Immortal Culture and History Section of the Crovir First Council, he had a good idea of the technology behind ground-penetrating radars, or GPRs. Using the reflected signals from high-frequency, polarized radio waves transmitted into the ground, GPR receivers produced radar grams showing profiles of subsurface sections. By analyzing these, Reznak’s team could identify the presence of discrete objects, changes in rock strata, voids, and even cracks a considerable distance beneath the earth. ‘What am I looking at, exactly?’ he said finally.

Fingers trembling slightly, Goodwin pointed at a stretch of darker gray below a series of hyperbolic reflections on the radar gram. ‘We found two caves. The first one is fifty feet below the surface of our current elevation and measures approximately sixty by forty feet. The second cave is deeper.’ He tapped the paper. ‘We have yet to determine its size, although we suspect it’s smaller than the first. Were it not for a subtle line that seemed to indicate some sort of narrow channel leading from the first cave, we would have missed it entirely. Of course, the fact that these mountains are mostly made of granite and limestone rendered ground penetration by the radio waves more effective, which explains—’

Reznak stopped listening. The scientist’s words washed over him in a buzz while he stared at the shadow on the picture. He felt his heartbeat rise. Could this be it? Could they finally have found the very thing he had been searching for throughout the last six hundred years? A small flicker of hope, that treacherous and yet more often than not disappointing feeling, blossomed in his chest. He took a deep breath and chastised himself silently; he had experienced too much disillusionment in the past to allow himself to get easily carried away, unlike the scientist across the table from him. The only way he would believe it was if he saw it for himself.

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