ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
In the year of our Lord, 1541. Quito, Vice-Royalty of Peru, Spanish
With a raucous flap of their wings, a pair of vibrant macaws
fluttered to a spot high in the dense canopy and sat tenuously on a branch in
the still, early morning air. Their gentle squawking was the only sound
breaking the thick silence. Several meters below, the thwap
of an arrow silenced the last muffled groan of the single survivor of the brief
Over two dozen men lay motionless on the moss of the forest
floor. Their white, sunburned bodies pierced by scores of well-placed arrows.
The victors silently stepped among the corpses, yanking the solid gold tipped
arrows from the dead men. They stared at the white foreigners with intense
curiosity, as if they had never slaughtered men before.
The leader of the attacking group was tall, lanky, and much
whiter than many of her shorter and darker sisters-in-arms. Her thick, black
hair was tightly braided and coiled on the top of her head like a forest snake.
The woman's eyes were intense beyond her years; her shoulders thick and
muscled. She wore only a triangular patch of ornate leather over her private
parts. The hand-tooled ornate yellow sun glistened in the filtered sunlight.
From a tangled mass of death, a hand shot out and latched
onto her ankle. The warrior blinked in surprise but gave no start. Her young
lieutenant loosed another arrow which thumped through the shoulder of the man
who should be dead. His iron grip only strengthened in return.
The invader who refused to die stood slowly until he was
eye-to-eye with her, his red eyes glowing from inside the black helmet. One by
one, he snapped off the half-dozen arrows jutting out from his throat and
armored torso. A gasp escaped from the band of female warriors as they watched
each wound on his body close and disappear. The figure now towered above his
attackers, his head still hidden within the metal helmet. Slowly, piece by
piece, he removed his armor then pulled the thin, protective fabric from his
body. Finally he removed the mask and
the early morning light shadowed his handsome, rugged, extremely pale face. The
long, dark hair was pulled back and cascaded over his shoulders. His thickly
muscled body stood only inches from the female leader as his red eyes now
pierced her very soul.
She raised her hand to trace a path through the stubble on
his chin--slowly as if fascinated. The female warrior pushed one probing finger
through his cold, deep red lips to find the small incisor which curled back
into his mouth.
With a malicious smile, she dropped her weapons and snaked
one hand around his neck to his shoulder. Her left knee traced a delicious line
up his leg, then slipped around his thigh. The female
fighters closed their circle as their leader wrapped herself around the
stranger. With her free hand, she untied a small knot at the small of her back
and the golden loin patch fell to the ground. Her naked body now pressed
against his. With the precision of a serpent, she leaned forward to flick her
tongue on his ear lobe, then gently pulled on it with
"You are vrykolakas," she
whispered into his ear, nipping him once again--this time drawing a bead of
blood. She leaned her head back, her graceful neck curving upward toward the
"Yes, I am vrykolakas," he
whispered and leaned into her offering. He inhaled deeply the scent of her
blood as it pulsed in the jugular vein just below the soft skin and felt the
pressure of his canine teeth grow. She winced with pain,
her eyes wide open as his gleaming fangs sunk into her throat. As the virginal
essence of her life flowed into his greedy throat; her moans of pleasure filled
the scene of carnage. With the new blood flowing through his body, he became
aroused and plunged into her, taking her virginity in the throes of sexual ecstasy.
A twig snapped only a few yards from where they stood and he
pushed her away, leaving a stream of blood oozing from her throat. His eyes
shot toward the sound, piercing the morning twilight to find a robed cleric,
trembling in terror, huddled behind the dense brush, his white robes streaked
"You," roared the stranger at the priest and pushed the
weakened female warrior to the ground. "Why didn't you stay with the others in
He strode toward the Dominican who rose to his feet,
forgetting his fear. The priest grasped the wooden crucifix dangling from his
neck and thrust it toward the charging madman.
"You would spoil this paradise as well, spawn of the devil?"
snapped the priest.
Fury filled the invader and propelled him toward the priest,
whose white knuckles trembled around the blood-soaked cross. The Dominican
stood firm and the charging evil beast stopped short just inches from the proffered
symbol of good. His red eyes swelled in their sockets and he snorted in rage.
Behind him, his warrior mate slipped a massive arrow into
her bow and drew back the thick cord. Her eyes pulsed in a faint crimson glow
as she aimed at the center of the cleric's chest.
"Stop," roared the invader. Now it was he who trembled, his
body frozen in place.
They simply watched the priest back away behind his
trembling crucifix until he reached the path which led toward beach where they
had landed. The Dominican turned and dashed into the muddy river water where
the boat which brought them still waited.
As if on cue, the macaws shrieked overhead and the thick
tension evaporated into the morning mist. The invader strode into the dense
growth, away from the river. The female leader followed with her sisters,
silently disappearing into the verdant green embrace of the jungle. The
clearing, littered with the steamy, pungent scent of death, softly returned to
life, as if the encounter never happened at all.
* * * *
In the year of our Lord, today.
The afternoon was quiet, the water calm. Three children and
their mother splashed river water over their bodies for the fourth time that
day. The river refreshed them, soothed the insect stings and restored a peace
into their lives in the forest.
The oldest, a bit further out in the stream, spun around as
if a fish had nibbled at her bare bottom. She made a face, then
splashed a hasty retreat to her mother. Together, they called the father who
reluctantly fished the body out of the river.
The skin was as black as charcoal and hugged the skeleton
inside as if it were painted in place. Two eyes stared wildly into space. The
mouth gaped wide in a silent scream of death.
* * * *
Federal Police Lieutenant Edson Macedo
cruised past the family an hour after the corpse was found. They called him
over to where the fisherman had tied the corpse to a low-hanging branch. No one
wanted to touch it. A school of piranhas calmly flicked about but not one swam
within a foot of the desiccated flesh. The fish scattered when Edson hooked the
body and hauled it into his launch.
"How long has it been here?" he asked the father, the only
Indian willing to talk.
"We have no idea." He shrugged his shoulders. "It
just floated here."
The mother stood behind, guarding her children like chicks.
"Mulher morcego," she
"What did you say?" Edson asked, glancing back at the woman.
She pointed at the blackened body. "Mulher morcego did this." She crossed herself.
The children repeated the action.
Edson shook his head at the jungle superstitions of the
family. He'd heard the term before. It was used to scare children-- mulher morcego: 'the
women who are bats'. He knew the phrase would never appear in his official
The next day Edson hitched a ride on a Military Police
chopper to check out the grazing area where the dead man had worked for the
landowner, Eduardo Moraes. He found half of the
cattle dead from starvation, covered with flies while rats ran wild in
orgiastic feasts. The other half of the herd wandered about, listless and
gaunt. Bags of feed lay unopened. By the time the Ministry of Agriculture
arrived to rescue the livestock, the living cattle had disappeared into the region's
local butcher shops. Not a living human soul was to be found.
Chapter One: Singapore Preparations
the year of our Lord, Today, Sumatra
Doctor Ana Carvalho squatted in
the brush, waiting as the sun crept above the horizon. Three young native women
stood an arm's length away, stealing glances toward the pot boiling on her
campfire. On her hip, one native carried a chubby girl who casually nursed her
breakfast yet kept one eye fixed on the odd, pale stranger. The other two stood
on either side, their long black hair pulled behind tiny faces decorated with
slashes of colorful paint. They chatted between themselves like teens at the
Ana had lived at the base of their mountainous island
territory for a month, biding her time and waiting for a chance to talk. She'd
traded gifts through gestures and grunting, smiled at babies and endured the
glares from tiny native men. Today, the three women finally wandered to her morning's
breakfast campfire to discover the source of the wonderful smells.
A small black dot in the sky Ana noticed earlier had grown
into a monstrous whirlwind of mechanical pandemonium. The native women
scampered back into the bush, the small fire scattered to the winds, and her
camp a near disaster.
She grabbed her long, black hair, now whipped about the top
of her head by the prop wash, and tied it behind her shoulders. "Get the hell
off my mountain, you son-of-a-bitch. You just destroyed a month's work," she
snapped when the pilot emerged to wave at her. "And don't come back." Her green
eyes flared in anger.
"I've got orders to get you back to Singapore," he shouted
over the roar of the rotor.
Her replacement had already thrown his bags on the ground.
She recognized him from conferences when she was a student. Ana shook her head
in disgust and rolled her eyes. This jerk is totally useless, she
"Bite me," she yelled and stomped back toward what was left
of her camp. She jabbed a thumb over her shoulder at the replacement grabbing
his bags from the chopper. "Take that with you."
The pilot ran after her. "Doctor Carvalho,
something has come up in South America. Something big that might interest you,"
he yelled over the roar of the still rotating rotors. He handed her a set of
hi-res satellite shots and her eyebrows shot up.
"Gotcha!" he said with a smile. "Rossi said these pics would
change your mind. Now you grab your stuff and let's get in the air."
Doctor Ana Carvalho took one last
glance around the campsite devastated by the chopper and sighed disgustedly at
her replacement struggling to set up his tent. The natives had scampered away
into the jungle. Loose sheets of language notes were scattered down a
precipitous mountainside of black volcanic rock. I broke the ground but I'm
willing to bet it'll probably still take him another two months to regain their
trust, she thought, then turned and crawled up into the helicopter.
She was livid. It was exactly this crap that drove her to
hate Rossi and the United World Federation. She would spend months doing the
dirty work. Gifts, food, smiles. Then some dime-store
PhD would fly in and grab the glory. For once, she wanted to be forgotten in
the field and work her way into some tribe who was lost in time; to go feral,
to be a part of them.
The high-res satellite photos did help to sedate her anger
somewhat during the flight to Singapore. Big-time cattle herders had chopped
down a chunk of the Amazon forest. Now, more than cow patties appeared in its
place. Huge geoglyphs were carved in the earth and
lay hidden from the world under that canopy of the forest for centuries. The
tropical rain forest wasn't as virgin as she appeared. What was positioned in
the center of one of those geoglyphs finally put a
smile on Ana's face.
They put down on the heliport atop the gleaming skyscraper.
The United World Federation (UWF) spread out over an entire floor for their
global operations center. The foundation funded her PhD in exchange for five
years of her life to their service. She only had one more year left to serve.
The conference room commanded a corner of the building forty
floors in the air. The two glass walls boasted the best view of Singapore's
harbor and, at the present time, the mid-morning sun shone down on the scene.
The other two walls were covered with electronic maps and monitors. A satellite
video system allowed 24/7 contact with their operations around the world.
Ana recognized most of the cast of characters around the
table: her linguistic and anthropological coordinators, the Singaporean
director of operations, her supervisor and the Swiss finance officer who never
left home without a gold Krugerrand hanging from his
neck. At the head of the table was a face she'd only seen in the annual
reports: Gianni Rossi. He'd taken the reins of UWF
from his father less than twenty years earlier. He split his time between Rome
and visits to different field operations. He never showed up in a surprise
visit, as was his custom, to one of Ana's sites and that was no
skin off her nose. She preferred to work alone and be left to her own resources.
"Sit down, Doctor Carvalho," her
supervisor said and glanced toward an empty chair. "We already heard you're
upset about being pulled away from your site."
"It took me a whole damned month to win the trust of those
natives," Ana snapped. She held up her hand with a hair's breadth between the
index finger and thumb. "I was this close and your chopper blew away all my
work in a mere three seconds. Wouldn't you be pissed?" She glared at her
supervisor, then plunked herself down. Rossi's face
remained stoic at her impertinence.
"Trust me, Ana," her supervisor went on. "You'll like what
we have to show you."
She nodded toward a matrix of six monitors which displayed
an aerial photo with incredible resolution. It was the one Ana had already
reviewed in-flight but with a few subtle differences she immediately noticed.
The coordinates put the location in a remote spot at the headwaters of the
"Where did you get this photo?" Ana asked.
"It's unbelievable." She slid out of the leather chair and glided to the bank
of monitors, totally mesmerized.
Rossi leaned forward, his eyes gleaming. "Our friends in the
U.S. military were good enough to help out, Doctor Carvalho,"
he finally said. "I see you've noticed why you're here." The right edge of his
lips curled in a sly smile.
Ana's nose was inches from one of the screens, her fingers
softly caressing the glass as if that would push away the images of the trees
to allow a better view. Cut into the green of the forest was an orderly
settlement unlike any she'd ever seen. The streets revealed a few natives. A
few hundred yards further into the forest, thick, black smoke belched from a
chimney. At one end of the geoglyph rose a tower
whose roof gleamed yellow in the tropical sun.
"Is that gold?" she asked, her voice a mere whisper.
"It would appear to be," Rossi answered. Suddenly she
understood why it was blurred and practically removed from the printed version
she'd examined in-flight.
"Your father's from Lisbon," Rossi stated. "How's your
"This is Brazil, isn't it?" she asked. "I
speak Portuguese from Portugal. It'll take a little getting used to."
Rossi smiled at her tacit acceptance of the assignment. "And
your mother is Serbian." It wasn't a question but a statement. He spoke without
notes or a file.
"Goofy combination, I know. But it works for me."
"How is your Serbo-Croatian?"
"We call it Serbian now. A little better than my English,"
she answered. Her American accent was flawless.
"What passport do you carry?"
"Three. Normally, I use the EU one."
"What about the other two?"
"Serbian and American.
I was born in Boston." Ana spoke
matter-of-fact with no evidence of pride in her international agility. "I carry
Rossi nodded to the supervisor who stood and walked to the
end of the room. "We anticipated your enthusiasm." The matronly Oriental opened
a door and, one by one, seven more people sauntered in. "I'll let them
introduce themselves. This will be your team."
Ana thought with a quick furrowing of
her brows, then graciously smiled at the entering group. Patience with
colleagues was not her strongest skill.
The first to enter was of medium height with the olive
complexion of a Mediterranean. He walked straight to Ana, his hand extended in
a warm greeting. "I'm Doctor Aaron Theodouros,
anthropologist from the University of Athens." He stood only an inch taller
than she, slight of build but hard from years in the field. A broad smile
accompanied his enthusiastic handshake. It was the ice-blue eyes that caught
The next to enter was a wiry academic whom Ana recognized
from her days at Harvard. He literally wrote the book on Native American
linguistics. "Doctor Neville Hastings," he said with a mischievous glint in his
eye and an exuberant smile. "City College of London."
He was more or less her father's age with a posh British accent and practically
skipped to his place at the table.
Next a lanky young man stuck out his hand. "My name is
Marshall Randolph, Doctor Carvalho," he stuttered,
nervously clearing his throat and shifting his gaze between her and Rossi. "I'm
a fourth-year grad student at King's College. In addition to my archeology
major, I am also the English singles rowing champion for last year. I'll be
your EMT." The Brit was tall and fit but extremely shy in his demeanor. His
hair and skin were baked by hours on the Thames.
"Nancy Smith, third year geologist from the University of
Adelaide," the young woman said. She grasped Ana's hand with a grip as strong
as any of the men. "If it means anything, I was the Australian surfing champion
two years back." She was medium height but thin, with sun-bleached hair. The
Aussie radiated confidence.
"My name is Megan Anderson," said the group's only redhead.
Her voice was barely above a whisper. "I'm a third year photojournalist and
sketch artist. My minor is in surveying." Her minor drew puzzled looks from
more than Ana but she quickly shrugged them off. "Not what you'd normally
expect but my dad is a surveyor so it's a no-brainer class. I've helped him
since I was ten." She hesitated and added, "Ever since my mother died." Megan
finally offered her hand and Ana discovered it lacked the forceful confidence
of the other students.
"Wayne Pierce is the name, Doctor Carvalho,"
the remaining male said. He grinned broadly and his blue eyes flashed a 'devil
may care' look. "Anthropology's the game. Second year grad at
University of California, San Diego. I'll be your go-to radio guy." He
stepped back into line with an air of arrogance exuding from his athletic
The last member of Ana's team stood with her hands clasped
behind her back. Her physique was startling, even among the athletic group. "My
name is Barbara Philips, also a second year grad student in anthropology at the
UCSD," she said quietly. Her deep black skin was tightly stretched over a body
sculpted by hours in the weight room. She wore her hair short to her scalp, on
the edge of masculine. Her brown eyes darted from person to person in an
uncertain way--at odds with her dominating physique. "I'm very glad to meet
you." She jutted out her hand to shake Ana's, as if on a last-minute impulse.
"Do you two know each other?" Ana asked while pointing at
Wayne and Barbara.
Wayne's chest swelled. "We ran track together last spring."
There was a snide smirk on his face which Ana read like a garish neon
billboard. Barbara squirmed while Wayne smirked in male conceit. There was no
doubt in Ana's mind: Wayne had hung a towel on Barbara's doorknob at some point
in the past.
Her supervisor's words jolted Ana from her thoughts. "You
can see we've assembled a team both academically and physically qualified. All
of them speak at least a little Portuguese. This will be one of UWF's most
challenging expeditions. A week by boat into the headwaters
of the Amazon. Then an uncertain distance inland
through uncut rain forest dependent on the river's availability. We have
no idea exactly what you will find once you arrive." She mumbled the little
speech like a repetitious ritual. Ana had heard the last line many times in the
past, recited like a litany from Sunday morning mass.
"You have a good idea, don't you, Mister Rossi?" Ana stared
straight at the boss who sat with his arms crossed at the head of the table.
"What might that be, Doctor Carvalho?"
Rossi asked with a smile which feigned innocence.
"What we'll find there," she replied,
straight faced and serious. Ana waited, then cocked an
eye at the commanding image on the screen. "El Dorado."
* * * *
When he finally had the conference room to himself, Rossi ambled along the bank of windows, staring out
at nothing in particular. Shadows already stretched out over the city he'd
chosen for his headquarters as the afternoon hours slipped away. Singapore was
neither completely Oriental nor Occidental. It sat at a special spot in the
world, at a cusp of beliefs and cultures. There was no tolerance for evil. A
stolen purse could cost a thief his hand. He reached over and lifted the
phone's handset to personally place the call to Rome.
"Is everything in place, Gianni," a voice answered, frail
with age but alive with energy.
"She's on board, Your Eminence," he replied. "Her team will
be in place in a month."
"In eternity, a month is nothing." There was a raspy intake
of breath. "In this case, it may be too long."
"If we draw too much attention, it'll be over before we can
blink," Rossi replied. "I ask for your patience. We have been handling these
situations for a long time."
"May I remind you that we are only in this predicament
because our predecessors acted too slowly. Time waits
for no man. Nor does evil."
Rossi was silent. He knew the voice at the other end was
right. "We'll stay on top of this, Your Eminence. Trust me."
"You know I do, Gianni. Peace be
with you and Godspeed."
Rossi hung up and called his operations director to the
conference room. The day was escaping.
"Have them take my jet," he instructed. "Get them to Brazil
by tomorrow morning."
"But local arrangements are still not complete," she whined
and slammed the stack of personnel folders on the table. "Trust me, Mister
Rossi, the geoglyphs aren't going anywhere." She
gazed at her boss. "You do realize it's at least a twenty hour flight, there
are protocols to be honored and—"
"I'll call the priest and work things out." Rossi barely cocked
an eyebrow. "Just get them to Manaus by the day after tomorrow, by dawn." He
paused. "No later."
The operations director frowned, snatched the files and
walked away, shaking her head. She knew she was dismissed and the group would
be in Brazil sooner than she would like.
* * * *
The UWF corporate hangar sat apart from the other terminals
at the Singapore airport. Definitely away from nosy tourists
and the prying eyes of the press. Rossi's Gulfstream seemed a child's
toy in the cavernous space.
"Now, this is truly cool," Wayne said. He broke into a
sprint alongside the gleaming aircraft.
"We've got about thirty minutes to get in the air," the
pilot reminded Ana. "Otherwise, we lose our spot until after the rush."
"Everybody on-board. Now," Ana shouted. Even she was a bit
goo-goo-ga-ga over the luxury of a private flight.
She heard the purr of an electric motor behind her. It was
Rossi in a white golf cart. "Let's take a little spin," he said.
"Just the two of us." Ana glanced at the pilot and he nodded back an 'okay.'
"Just a few minutes," Rossi added and gently patted the seat
next to him. She hopped in, preoccupied about her team and equipment. They
headed out toward the runway along the ocean. A few hundred yards from the
hangar, he stopped in an arbitrary spot and turned toward the young
anthropologist. "Ana, there are a few details about this assignment you need to
know," he said in a quiet air of discretion.
She was young and this was the first time a superior had
taken her into confidence. "Fire away, boss," she joked, then regretted the
levity and familiarity.
Rossi left the golf cart to walk to the wire fence that
closed off the airport. The runway stretched out along the harbor, choked with
end-of-day traffic. He leaned forward on his forearms and looked out toward the
harbor, a slight breeze ruffling his jet-black hair.
"Are you a religious person?" Rossi asked, then hesitated
and stared at her a few moments.
Ana's eyes wrinkled in confusion. "Are you asking if I go to
"Never mind," Rossi said and shook his head, seemingly
distracted by whatever was on his mind. "I want you to know you will find
extremely unusual conditions at this site. There will be people who do not fit
into your conventional view of the world. Things you cannot explain or even
describe. In other words, there will be situations which could be dangerous,
physically and in many other ways. I need to know you are willing to lead this
expedition under such conditions."
She was young and rash enough to reply immediately.
"Of course, Mister Rossi. You can count on me."
He knew she could not possibly understand the depth of what
he asked. He rolled up the left cuff of his starched white shirt to just above
his old, worn Rolex. His forearms were muscled and tanned from a lifetime of
field work. Just at the spot on the inside of his wrist where his life force
pulsed most strongly, Ana saw the tiniest of tattoos. A red cross or a "t"
pulsed with the flow of his own blood. He held his wrist forward for her to see
while he spoke.
"We serve a greater cause here at UWF, Ana. We are part of a
struggle as old as time itself. There is not much more
I can say except to invite you to join the battle against darkness and evil. I
cannot explain why I have this tattoo. I can only say it represents everything
we do at UWF. Can you accept this challenge, knowing so little?"
As if on cue, the single rain cloud in the afternoon sky
passed in front of the sun. A chill passed through Ana, though not from the
sudden darkness. Rossi's voice was smooth and sonorous. It had the texture of a
fine dessert wine and was just as intoxicating.
Again, she was neither old nor wise enough to refuse. "As I
said, you can count on me, Mister Rossi." She offered her hand in confirmation.
He took her hand to shake with one hand and then, quietly, grasped her hand
with the other.
"It's imperative you keep us informed of everything you
find," he continued while letting her hand free. "You may not recognize what
your eyes see. We can. Do you understand that? With us in the loop, there are a
broad range of resources available to you, depending on what happens."
He paused, took her hand again and looked directly into her
eyes. "Above all, Ana, you can trust no one. Not even the trustworthy. Your
life, and even more, may depend on it." He searched her eyes. He wanted to tell
her all the truths.
The winds picked up while they stood silently on the grass,
followed by the first drops of rain. Neither moved as a storm built its fury.
"Let's go," Rossi finally said. "You need to get into the
air before the weather gets worse."
The plane was loaded and waited for her when they returned. Ana hustled up the small ladder and disappeared inside without
looking back. Minutes later they taxied toward take-off.
* * * *
Rossi stared at the brilliant white jet as it punched its
way into the bank of clouds rolling in from the Pacific. He'd kept his word to
Ana's mother, Jovana, for nearly thirty years, until
this day. He'd been in the rear of the auditorium when she graduated from the
Academy of the Sacred Heart in Lisbon. The same on the day she received her
diploma from the Sorbonne, his own alma mater. She'd left her mark in Cambridge
while she studied under the Harvard fellowship. Ana still had no clue about the
trust fund in Luxembourg.
His oath prevented him from marrying but not from being a
father. He was content to watch her from a distance as requested. He watched
the pride in the eyes of Joao Pedro, the fisherman
her mother married and whom Ana called 'papai'. Now
Rossi's heart swelled in pride, knowing that Ana Pavlović
Carvalho had accepted, without question, to join the
lineage he gave his life to serve.
* * * *
Ana stared out the plane's window at the lone man standing
on the tarmac beside his golf cart. A slight smile crossed her lips as she
considered her situation: the big boss had taken her into his confidence, to
share a foundation secret with her. She shook her head when she realized he
never explained the reason for showing her the odd tattoo.
What evil could there be with an uncivilized tribe? she thought.
they could be cannibals. She chuckled to herself and lay back against the
headrest. Her parents would be very proud. Her heart glowed in happiness.