One Thousand and One Dark Nights
Once upon a time, in the future…
I was a student fascinated with stories and learning.
I studied philosophy, poetry, history, the occult, and the art and science of love and magic. I had a vast library at my father’s home and collected thousands of volumes of fantastic tales.
I learned all about ancient races and bygone times. About myths and legends and dreams of all people through the millennium. And the more I read the stronger my imagination grew until I discovered that I was able to travel into the stories... to actually become part of them.
I wish I could say that I listened to my teacher and respected my gift, as I ought to have. If I had, I would not be telling you this tale now.
But I was foolhardy and confused, showing off with bravery.
One afternoon, curious about the myth of the Arabian Nights, I traveled back to ancient Persia to see for myself if it was true that every day Shahryar (Persian: شهريار, “king”) married a new virgin, and then sent yesterday's wife to be beheaded. It was written and I had read, that by the time he met Scheherazade, the vizier's daughter, he’d killed one thousand women.
Something went wrong with my efforts. I arrived in the midst of the story and somehow exchanged places with Scheherazade – a phenomena that had never occurred before and that still to this day, I cannot explain.
Now I am trapped in that ancient past. I have taken on Scheherazade’s life and the only way I can protect myself and stay alive is to do what she did to protect herself and stay alive.
Every night the King calls for me and listens as I spin tales.
And when the evening ends and dawn breaks, I stop at a point that leaves him breathless and yearning for more.
And so the King spares my life for one more day, so that he might hear the rest of my dark tale.
As soon as I finish a story... I begin a new one... like the one that you, dear reader, have before you now.
He had lived for more than a thousand years, long enough that few things still held the power to amaze him. The sea at night was one of those rare pleasures for Lazaro Archer.
Standing on the third-level bow deck of a gleaming, 279-foot private megayacht off the western coast of Italy, Lazaro braced his hands on the polished mahogany rail and indulged his senses in a brief appreciation of his moonlit surroundings.
Crisp, salty Mediterranean air filled his nostrils and tousled his jet-black hair. The late summer breeze was cool tonight, gusting rhythmically toward the Italian mainland. Dark, rippling water spread out in all directions under the milky glow of the cloud-strewn moon and blanket of stars. Far below, waves lapped fluidly, sensually, against the sides of the yacht where it floated, engines silenced as it waited at its destined location on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Lazaro supposed the luxurious vessel he stood aboard would take the breath away from just about anyone—human or Breed. Being born the latter, and first generation Breed besides, one of the vampire nation’s eldest, most pure-blooded individuals, Lazaro had known his fair share of wealth and luxury.
He’d once had all of those things himself. Still did, if he could be bothered to care.
He left everything he once had back in Boston twenty years ago, after the most precious things in his long life had been taken from him. His blood-bonded Breedmate, his sons and their mates, a houseful of innocent children...all gone. His only surviving kin was his grandson, Kellan, who’d been with Lazaro the night the Archers’ Darkhaven home was razed to the ground in a heinous, unprovoked attack by a madman named Dragos.
Lazaro exhaled deeply, no longer feeling the raw scrape of grief whenever he thought of his slain family. The anguish had dulled over time, yet his guilt was always with him, scarred over like a physical wound. A hideous, permanent reminder of his loss.
Of his life’s greatest failure.
If his existence had any meaning now, it belonged to his work with Lucan Thorne and his fellow Breed warriors of the Order. As the commander of the Order’s operation in Rome these past two decades, Lazaro had little time for self-pity or personal indulgences. He had even less opportunity for pleasure, rare or otherwise.
Which was the way he preferred it.
He dealt in justice now.
At times, he dealt in death.
Tonight, he was representing the Order on a less official basis, on the hopes that he could facilitate a secret meeting between two of his trusted friends. One of them was Breed, a high-ranking American member of the Global Nations Council. The other, the megayacht’s owner, was human, an influential Italian businessman who also happened to be the brother of that country’s newly elected president, a politician who had won his office with tough talk against the Breed. If the meeting with Paolo Turati took place as planned tonight and was deemed a success, it would be the first step toward forging an alliance with one of the vampire nation’s most vocal detractors.
As for Byron Walsh, the Breed male had been one of Lazaro’s colleagues in the States, even before the GNC had tapped Walsh for his current diplomatic post. As leader of his own Darkhaven in Maryland, Walsh’s social circle had occasionally intersected with Lazaro’s in Boston. There had even been a time, one bitter winter, that Walsh’s family came to visit Lazaro’s at their Back Bay mansion.
A long time ago, back when Lazaro had a Darkhaven. Back when he still had a family kept safe under his protection.
It had been even longer since Lazaro Archer had played emissary for any cause. He hoped like hell this clandestine introduction wasn’t a mistake.