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Veil of Midnight (Chapter Three)

Nikolai swung his head around and watched Sergei Yakut approach in the narrow alleyway. The Gen One vampire strode ahead of two anxious-looking bodyguards, his stark, unblinking gaze moving casually from Niko to the Breed male still being held at gunpoint. With a nod of acknowledgment, Niko clicked the pistol's safety back into place and slowly lowered the weapon. As soon as he loosened his grasp, Yakut's son threw him off with a growled curse and moved himself well out of reach.

"Insolent bastard," he snarled, all venom and fury now that he was standing some safe distance away. "I told Renata this cur was a threat, but she wouldn't listen. Let me kill him for you, Father. Let me give him pain."

Yakut ignored both his son's plea and his presence, instead striding in silence up to where Nikolai stood waiting.

"Sergei Yakut," Niko said, turning the disarmed gun around and offering it to him in a gesture of peace. "Hell of a welcome wagon you've got here. My apologies for taking one of your men. He left me no choice."

Yakut merely grunted as he took the pistol and handed it off to the guard standing nearest to him. Dressed in a cotton gauze tunic and worn leather pants that looked more like weathered hide, his light brown hair and beard wild and overgrown, Sergei Yakut had the look of a shrewd feudal warlord, centuries out of his time.

Then again, despite his unlined face and tall, muscular build, which aged him in the vicinity of his early forties at most, only the Breed male's thick pattern of swirling, inter-locking dermaglyphs tracking down his bared forearms gave any indication that Yakut was an elder member of the Breed. As a Gen One, he could be a thousand years old or more.

"Warrior," Yakut said darkly, his stare unwavering, twin lasers locked on target. "I told you not to come. You and the rest of the Order are wasting your time."

In his peripheral vision, Niko caught the exchanged looks of surprise that traveled between Yakut's son and the rest of his guards. The female especially – Renata, she was called – seemed completely taken aback to hear that he was a warrior, one of the Order. Yet as quickly as the surprise registered in her gaze, it vanished, gone as though she had forced all emotion from her features. She was placid calm now, cold even, as she stood a few feet behind Sergei Yakut and watched, her weapon still in hand, her stance tentative and ready for his any command.

"We need your help," Nikolai said to Yakut. "And based on what's been going down near us in Boston and elsewhere within the Breed population, you're going to need our help too. The danger is very real. It's lethal. Your life is at risk, even now." "What would you know about that?" Yakut's son scowled at Niko in accusation. "How the fuck can you know anything about that? We've told no one about the attack last week – "

"Alexei." The sound of his name on his sire's lips shut the younger Yakut up as if a hand had been clamped over his mouth. "You do not speak for me, boy. Make yourself useful," he said, gesturing toward the vampire Nikolai had shot dead. "Take Urien up to the warehouse roof and leave him there for the sun. Then sweep this alleyway clean of evidence."

Alexei glared for a second, as if the task were beneath him but he didn't quite have the guts to say so. "You heard my father," he snapped to the other guards standing around idle with him. "What are you all waiting for? Let's get rid of this worthless pile of rubbish."

When they started to move off at Alexei's bidding, Yakut glanced toward the female. "Not you, Renata. You can drive me back to the house. I am finished here."

The message to Niko was clear: He was uninvited, unwelcome to stay in Yakut's domain. And, as of now, summarily dismissed.

Probably the smartest thing to do would be to check in with Lucan and the rest of the Order, tell them that he had given it his best shot with Sergei Yakut but came up empty, then leave Montreal before Yakut decided to hand him his balls on his way out. The short-tempered Gen One had done worse to others for far lesser sins.

Yeah, packing it in and heading out was definitely the wisest course of action at this point. Except Nikolai wasn't accustomed to taking no for an answer, and the situation facing both the Order and the whole of the Breed – hell, humankind as well – was not going away anytime soon. It was growing more volatile, more distastrous with every passing second.

And then there was Alexei's careless blurt about a recent attack…

"What happened here last week?" Nikolai asked, once it was just Yakut, Renata, and himself in the dark alley. He knew the answer but posed the question anyway. "Someone tried to assassinate you…just as I warned would happen, isn't that right?" The aged Breed male swung a glower on Niko, his shrewd eyes flinty. Niko held that challenging stare, seeing a long-lived, arrogant fool who believed himself beyond the reach of death, even though it had likely been knocking on his door only a few days ago.

"There was an attempt, yes." Yakut's lip curled in a mild sneer, one thick shoulder lifting in a shrug. "But I survived – just as I assured you I would. Go home, warrior. Fight the Order's battles back in Boston. Leave me to look after my own."

He jerked his chin at Renata, and the wordless command put her in motion. As her long legs carried her out of earshot up the alleyway, Yakut drawled, "My thanks for the warning. If this assassin is idiot enough to strike again, I will be ready for him." "He will strike again," Niko replied with total certainty. "This thing is worse than we first suspected. Two more Gen Ones have been killed since you and I last spoke. That brings the count to five now – out of less than twenty of your generation still in existence. Five of the oldest, most powerful members of the Breed nation, all dead in the space of a month. Each one apparently targeted and taken out by expert means. Someone wants all of you dead, and he has a plan already in play to make it happen." Yakut seemed to consider that, but only for a moment. Without another word, he pivoted and began stalking away.

"There is more," Niko added grimly. "Something I wasn't able to tell you when we spoke on the phone a couple of weeks ago. Something the Order discovered hidden in a mountain cave in the Czech Republic."

As the elder vampire continued to ignore him, Niko exhaled a low curse.

"It was a hibernation chamber, a very old one. A crypt where one of the most powerful of our kind had been tucked away in secret for centuries. The chamber had been made to protect an Ancient."

Finally Niko had his attention.

Yakut's steps slowed, then stopped altogether. "The Ancients were all killed in the great war within the Breed," he said, reciting the history that had until very recently been accepted by all the Breed as irrefutable fact. Nikolai knew the story of the uprising as well as anyone else of his kind. Of the eight savage otherworlders who had fathered the first generation of the vampire race on Earth, none survived the battle with the small group of Gen One warriors who'd declared war against their own fathers for the protection of both Breed and humankind alike. Those courageous few warriors had been led by Lucan, who to this day retained his role as leader of what was to become the Order.

Yakut slowly turned to face Nikolai. "All of the Ancients have been dead for some seven hundred years. My own sire was put to the sword back then – and rightly so. If he and his alien brethren had been left unchecked, they would have destroyed all life on this planet in their insatiable Bloodlust."

Niko nodded grimly. "But there was someone who disagreed with the edict that the Ancients should be destroyed: Dragos. The Order has uncovered proof that instead of taking out the creature who fathered him, Dragos instead helped to hide him. He made a sanctuary for the creature in a remote area of the Bohemian Mountains."

"And the Order knows this to be true?"

"We found the chamber and saw the crypt for ourselves. Unfortunately, it was empty by the time we got there." Yakut grunted, considering. "And what about Dragos?"

"He is dead – killed in the old war – but his line lives on. So does his treachery. We believe it was Dragos's son who located the chamber before we did and freed the Ancient from his sleep. We also suspect Dragos's son is the one behind the recent assassinations among the nation's Gen Ones."

"To what gain?" Yakut asked, arms crossed over his chest.

"That's what we intend to find out. We've got some good intel on him, but it's not enough. He's gone to ground, and it's going to be harder than hell to flush him out. But we'll get him. In the meantime, we can't afford to let him make any progress with whatever plans he's got in motion. That's why the Order is reaching out to you and the rest of the Gen Ones. Anything you might hear, anything you may have seen – "

"There was a witness," Yakut said, interrupting Niko with the abrupt admission. "A young girl, a member of my household. She was there. She saw the individual who attacked me last week. In fact, she startled the bastard enough that I was able to break away and escape."

Nikolai's head was spinning with this unexpected news. He doubted very much that a child could scare off a seasoned, skilled assassin, but he was interested enough to hear more. "I need to talk to this girl."

Yakut nodded vaguely, lips pressed flat as he glanced up at the dark sky overhead. "It will be dawn in a few hours. You can wait out the daylight at my home. Ask your questions, do your business for the Order. Then, tomorrow night, you leave." As far as cooperation went, it wasn't much. But it was more than he'd had even a few minutes ago from the cocky Gen One vampire.

"Fair enough," Niko replied, as he fell in beside Sergei Yakut and walked with him to the waiting black sedan that idled at the curb.

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