Chapter One

Shrouded in the dark, and half hidden behind the thick trunk of an oak tree, Russell Ryan Hankelburg carefully aligned the trajectory of his arrow to the exposed neck of Master Han. Steady, Russell reminded himself in response to the adrenaline pounding through his veins. No point in acting like a human. He wasn’t one. Han had made sure of that, and now the bastard would die for it.

For over two years, through hot, humid jungle and over cold, windblown hills, Russell had tracked his prey. Finally, in the next few seconds it would all be over. His quest for revenge. The culmination of all his rage, the vindication for all he had lost, and the sole purpose for his sorry undead existence.

The clearing where Han stood was about fifty yards away, and a dozen guards stood around the perimeter, four of them holding torches. The flames licked at the overcast night sky and flickered off the polished gold of Master Han’s mask. How many times had Russell envisioned ripping the ridiculous piece of metal off the evil vampire’s head? In the best-case scenario, he imagined tearing it off before delivering the final blow so he could watch Han’s face as the Master Bastard realized death was only seconds away.

What good was revenge if it wasn’t acknowledged? Han needed to know that it was Russell who would end his life and turn him to dust.

Han stood at the far side of the clearing, outside the wooden palisade of a camp in northern Myanmar. He was wearing a black Kevlar vest over his red silk robe to protect his heart. If Russell’s arrow failed to pierce the vest enough to kill Han, the bastard would simply teleport away.

Fortunately there was more than one way to kill a vampire. So Russell aimed at the neck instead of the heart, hoping that a ripped carotid artery would incapacitate Han enough to keep him from escaping. Then Russell could teleport straight to him, rip off the mask, and sever Han’s head with one final swing of his sword.

The dozen armed guards were probably supersoldiers, mutated by Han’s demon buddy, Darafer, and they were going to be a problem. Even so, Russell couldn’t take them out first. Their deaths would alert Han, and the cowardly cretin would teleport away like the last few times Russell had come close to killing him.

Russell gritted his teeth with impatience. So close, but still unable to shoot. Han was standing next to the kidnapped dragon shifter, practically hugging him as he taught the young captive the proper stance for drawing back a bow. With a silent curse, Russell lifted his finger off the trigger of his crossbow.

He’d seen the boy once before, so he recognized him. Since dragon shifters aged twice as fast as mortals, Xiao Fang looked about twelve years old. In mortal years, he was only six. Russell wasn’t sure what the kid’s mental age was, but he was certainly young enough to have been traumatized by recent events. Darafer had captured the dragon boy over two months ago and delivered him to Han. Since then, Russell had been spying on all thirty of Han’s camps, hoping to catch a glimpse of Han and the boy.

It was extremely rare to see Han outside one of his encampments, but apparently he’d made an exception for the boy. He was giving Xiao Fang an archery lesson and playing the role of a father figure, no doubt to win the young dragon shifter to his side.

The sad reality was that the strategy might work. Away from his home for over two months, the boy could have fallen prey to the Stockholm syndrome, so that he was now identifying with one of his captors. Master Han probably seemed the safer choice. Safer than the demon Darafer, for sure. And here was Han patting the kid on the back and giving him words of encouragement.

It made Russell’s stomach churn with disgust. For a second, he considered teleporting straight to the boy, nabbing him, and taking him to Tiger Town, where he would be safe. The good Vamps were gathered there with their allies, the were-tigers, anxiously awaiting their chance to rescue the dragon boy and defeat Master Han. One phone call and Russell could have a dozen Vamps and shifters by his side.

But wait. Han was stepping back to let Xiao Fang take his shot. It might be another two years before Russell got a chance like this. His first priority had to be killing Han. In the ensuing chaos, the boy could easily be rescued. And this situation was ideal, since Han and his supersoldiers were all standing perfectly still so as not to disturb the boy’s concentration.

Russell eased his finger back onto the trigger. Die, you bastard.

One of the guards jerked suddenly. As he fell forward onto his face, the soldier next to him stiffened with a cry, then crumbled to his knees.

What the hell? Russell barely had time to spot the knives protruding from the fallen soldiers’ backs when Han jumped on the boy, pushing him down onto the ground. A third knife whizzed past where Han had been standing, embedding itself with a thunk in a tree.

The remaining soldiers shouted, immediately drawing their swords. Han vanished, taking the dragon boy with him.

Damn it to hell! Russell fumed silently. Who were these assholes who had ruined his plans? From the speed and accuracy of the attack, he assumed there were two knife throwers. Maybe three. Whoever they were, they might have trouble escaping the superfast soldiers who were giving chase.

Not my problem, he told himself. The attackers had destroyed the best chance he’d had in a long time. If they were all murdered in the next few minutes, they would never have a chance to interfere with him again.

With a groan, he rested his head against the tree trunk. When had he become such an uncaring prick? Even though he’d been stripped of his humanity, did that mean he had to act like a heartless monster? The attackers were clearly on the same side he was. That made them allies in the war against Master Han.

Damn, but he hated having allies. As long as he was alone, he had nothing to lose.

Maybe the attackers were guys he knew, like J.L. Wang and Rajiv, and in that case, vampire J.L. would have teleported his were-tiger buddy out of danger. But knife throwing was not J.L.’s style. He would have used a rifle or handgun. And he would have wounded the soldiers instead of killing them.

If the attackers were mortal, they wouldn’t stand a chance against ten supersoldiers. An old vestige of Marine honor pricked at Russell’s undead heart. You don’t leave men behind.

“Dammit,” he muttered, hitching the leather sling of the crossbow onto his shoulder.

He levitated to the top of the tree. The soldiers were easy to spot, since four of them were still carrying torches. The four flames of light were weaving through the forest at a speed faster than any mortal could achieve.

He focused on the tree line ahead of the lights, then teleported there. Perched high in a tree, he searched the ground below for movement. Even though the sky was dark and overcast, his superior night vision spotted a runner, lean and lithe, maintaining a fast pace, but not quick enough to outdistance the soldiers.

Only one? He scanned a wide area in case the attackers had fanned out. No, only one was running. Had the others hidden themselves, leaving this one to draw away the heat? A quick glance back verified that the soldiers were gaining on him. Ten against one. It would be a slaughter.

He teleported again to get a closer look at the runner and nearly fell off the tree branch. It was a woman. Her tunic-length top was cinched tightly around her narrow waist. A thick braid of long black hair swayed back and forth as she ran.

Was she one of the warrior women of Beyul-La? They all possessed long black hair and were lean and athletic, like this woman. The warriors of Beyul-La were the guardians of the dragon shifters and had kept them hidden for centuries in a secret valley in the Himalayas. After a battle with Master Han, their valley had been destroyed. Fortunately, the remaining dragon children and eggs had been safely whisked away before the battle. No doubt the women were eager to rescue the captured boy, Xiao Fang. Russell had fought alongside the women before, so he knew how fierce they could be. This one definitely had balls, for it looked like she’d attacked Han single-handedly.

He glanced back. The ten supersoldiers were closing in. Time to slow them down. He shot an arrow at one holding a torch, and the soldier let out a yelp and fell over, his torch tumbling to the ground.

The flames quickly spread, drawing the attention of the other guards. One of them kicked the fallen soldier into the flames to smother them.

What a shithead. Russell notched another arrow into his crossbow as the fallen soldier thrashed and screamed. A second later, his arrow put the burning soldier out of his misery, and three seconds later, another arrow took out the shithead.