The mountain range was high. High enough that Andre could reach the lonely, craggy places others avoided. The higher up he went, the more fog swirled, enclosing him in a soft, wet, gray veil. He was the “Ghost,” and he could easily disappear into the cool gray world he knew so well. He never used a last name if he could help it because the only name that mattered to him was not his own, and unless he found a lifemate, he would not chance ever dishonoring it.
Situated a couple more miles up, almost at the very top of the mountain, was the monastery, the one that had been there for centuries. Built on the precipices, the monastery was shrouded in mystery and the ever-swirling clouds. It was a sacred, protected place and few knew of its existence, although word had gotten out over the years that such a place existed. Only the bravest ever attempted to go there. Had he been inclined, he could have sought sanctuary there to recover from his latest battle.
The monastery, known as the Retreat in the Veil of Mists, held a virtual army of ancient Carpathian hunters—men who had not yet sought the dawn, but who, like Andre, could no longer trust themselves around others. They stayed strictly to themselves, avoiding all humans, all battles, and lived their lives simply until they were able to let go and seek the dawn.
For men who had lived centuries with honor, it wasn’t easy to let go of life. Even without emotion and color, some felt it was cowardly, and without sustaining a mortal wound in combat, they couldn’t just lie outdoors and allow the sun to take them. It felt . . . wrong . . . to too many warriors. Andre would have been welcomed among them, yet he had been too long away from others. He had thought to go there, but in the end realized he couldn’t even accept the sanctuary and the camaraderie he might find there.
Andre didn’t bother to stanch the flow of blood coming from various wounds. He knew he should. It was a trail leading straight to him. Still, it was also an invitation, pure and simple. Anyone who came near him was going to die. He would awaken—that was if he awakened at all—starved for blood, his body writhing with the craving, with the need, and that was the most he’d feel or ever could feel.
One didn’t take blood from the ancients, not unless the need was dire, and certainly not without permission. Andre wasn’t the type of Carpathian who ever asked for asylum or permission, not even from his own kind. He would find what he needed as he always had done on his own. His way.
Some things were a matter of honor. Andre had lived more centuries than he cared to count. He’d held out against the darkness with honor and served his people, hunting the vampire over several continents. He’d battled the undead so many times he honestly couldn’t keep count of the numbers any longer, nor did he care to. There seemed so many more of them and so few hunters. They were losing the war.
He had searched centuries for his lifemate—the one woman who could restore his ability to feel real emotion. The one woman who could give him back color and life. He hadn’t found her. He had long ago given up the idea that she could possibly be in this time realm. Had she been somewhere on this earth, he would have found her by this time.
The relentless whispers of temptation to kill and feel something, if only for a moment, no longer tempted him. For centuries he had carried that burden, but now it too was gone, and that was bad, because at least he’d felt something. Now there was only a dark gray void and endless weariness.
He wouldn’t go to the monastery to rest because, among other reasons, he no longer trusted himself to be around anyone, humans or Carpathians. Once he realized how far gone he was, he knew, in order to preserve his honor, he would have to allow the sun to take him. That had been his intention until Costin Popescu had attacked him. Popescu, the name Costin had assumed was a joke. Son of a priest. Costin was anything but that.
Andre turned to survey the waning night. Light streaked through the gray, and already he could feel the first prickles of warning on his skin. That didn’t matter to him, either. It only served to alert him to the rising sun. He didn’t need the caution, he’d been alive too many centuries not to know the exact moment of sunrise and sunset anywhere he happened to be.
Had the master vampire Popescu attacked him man-to-man, vampire to Carpathian, as he would have in the old days, Andre would have been more than happy to go to his death with honor as long as he took the vampire with him. Battling a master vampire was very dangerous. They had immense power. Coupled with experience in battle, it made for a very fair fight.
The world had changed too much for Andre’s liking. He no longer belonged and he was well aware of that fact. He’d never been a man to be around others. He preferred the high places or the wild places, anywhere he didn’t run into masses of people. Or even a few. He wasn’t civilized. He wasn’t tame. He had his own code, and he lived by it.
Even vampires had changed. There was no longer honor in that battle. In the old days, vampires hunted and killed alone. Now, master vampires had begun recruiting lesser vampires, and they ran in packs. Costin Popescu had four following him, doing his bidding. Two were probably eager enough to follow Andre’s blood trail. The rich ancient Carpathian blood would draw them straight to him. The other two had been around a while and Popescu had taught them a thing or two about battling an ancient hunter. Fortunately, he had managed to kill one of the more experienced followers, leaving Popescu with just three pawns in his little army.
Now, Andre couldn’t go quietly to the dawn and rest as he should have been able to because he was honor bound to rid the world of Costin Popescu and his band of bloodthirsty underlings.