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Shroud of Nosferatu

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Rubi is a happy go lucky human with a heart of gold. As a bounty hunter she has seen it all and faced countless dangerous situations. Nothing has scared her more than when she accidentally wakes the last Dragon King, Scathefire, who claims her as tribute and subsequently holds her hostage until she submits to him. King Byron has been sleeping under mysterious circumstances for several hundred years. In this new age, he finds everything changed. Old fealties are dead and humans that once honored him, are on the brink of extinction. He requires a bond to solidify his power and Rubi is the perfect, delectable woman for the job. But he only knows how to demand love. She is not like any woman he's met before; she is witty and adventurous. Rubi is on a mission to help humans overcome their biggest threat, vampires, and Lord Byron is making her change her mind about everything. Old enemies resurface as the landscape drastically changes for all beings, not just humans. Can Byron learn to love as more than a tribute? Will Rubi trust the right people and succeed in her quest? And the biggest question of all; what does it take to wake a Dragon King?

Chapter 1 - Just Why?

RUBI

The dim light flickered, casting long, eerie shadows on the damp stone walls of the dungeon. My eyes flutter open, my head throbbing with a dull, persistent pain. As awareness seeps in, I try to move, only to find my wrists bound by heavy iron chains. Panic surges through my veins, and I tug at the restraints, the metal scraping the top layer of my skin. I wince.

I realize my armor is still intact which means I still have hidden tactical gear. Very good.

My restraints keep me from moving more than a few inches. Not good.

“Where am I?” I whisper, my voice echoing off the cold, unyielding walls.

I strain my ears, trying to catch any sound beyond the dripping water and distant scurrying of rats. There is nothing. Just the oppressive silence of the dungeon.

“Stay calm,” I tell myself, though my heart is pounding wildly. “You’ve faced worse.”

My eyes adjust to the gloom, revealing more of my grim surroundings. The walls were lined with moss, and the floor slick with moisture. The smell of mold and decay hang heavy in the air, making my stomach churn. Across the room is pitch black, the echo of my voice is the only indication that the room holds more space.

Summoning my strength, I test the chains again, wincing as the metal bites into my wrists. The shackles are old but sturdy, designed to hold even the strongest prisoner. I can’t break them by sheer force, even though I’m wearing my Endymion armor. It's made of the strongest material on earth.

Clouds of dust bite at my throat, angry that my sudden movements disturbed their layers.

“Think, Rubi, think,” I mutter, my mind racing. My fingers explore the chains, searching for any weak points or hidden locks. But they are solid, unyielding.

As despair threatens to take hold, I force herself to slow down and focus. My would be captors in past excursions have underestimated me before; they will again. I twist myself slowly into a position where I could just barely reach a pin in my boot – a small, sharp piece I keep for emergencies.

Hope sparks within me. Carefully, I maneuver it between my fingers, towards the padlock. It’s a long shot, but it is all I have.

I work with painstaking precision, ignoring the blood that trickles down my hand every time my wrist turns even the slightest, trying to get the pin inside at just the right angle. Sweat drips down my forehead, and my hands tremble with effort. Minutes felt like hours, but I can’t afford to give up.

Suddenly, the loud click of the lock wakes the entire room. Light floods the center. Just as the heavy metal chain falls from my wrists, I jump up when I see what’s in front of me.

I gasp loudly before I cover my mouth with both shaky hands, stifling the scream.

A large dragon, well over 10 feet, is towering before me. It is made of stone and sleeping on its belly, its head stretched forward and only a few feet from the round granite pedestal I’m lying on. His wing span covers the entire room, a few thousand feet. His body is blacker than black, almost hidden in shadows except for the thin red lines running along the scales.

With one trembling hand, I reach out to touch its head, mesmerized. I'm wondering over each delicate detail of the carving and I realize the blood from my hands has smeared.

Before my very, unbelieving eyes, the dragon begins to reanimate. Having had the appearance of a stone structure, tiny flakes of grey fall off as it breathes in deeply. The inward gasp causes the air around me to move, breaking the silence.

“Fuck, Rubi! What the FUCK?” I whisper to myself, my chest rising quickly and falling as panic tears at my throat. "A real fucking dragon?”

I back away, almost falling off the side, shaking my head in dismay. “You’re not real. You are not real. You are not supposed to be here.”

The dragon, having opened both eyes in hostility towards whatever disturbed its peace, shakes its scales and emits a thunderous roar.

I make the biggest mistake in all of my career as a bounty hunter. I turn and run.

How did I get myself into this situation, you may ask? Let me take you back ...

ME (Earlier)

The winds howl against my back as I cling to the sharp cliff face, pushing me closer to its deathly vice.

Each breath is a ragged grasp, each movement a calculated risk. I can feel the cold bite of the rock through my gloves, the sharp edges digging into my fingers. Every muscle in my hands burn with exertion.

Fear of failing my mission is stronger than my fear of falling.

But I also realize, if I actually fall off this cliff than no one can identify my body. So, if you’re reading this, my real name is Carol. No one knows this because I’ve spent my entire life hiding it which means none of my ID’s match any database.

I’ve always used my nickname, Rubi. The nickname my childhood friend, Beth, gave me before she died.

You’re the most resilient, like a rock. You’ll be a Rubi someday′ she used to say.

Feels ironic now. I don’t feel much like a ruby. Currently I’m scaling a mountain and I’ve gotten to this point with limited gear and sheer determination. I don’t feel much like a ruby right now.

How did I get to here? Mostly ill planning. Poor career choices. And Hotsuma in my ear. No, that’s his name; Hotsuma. I mean, yes, he’s hot, but I have an ear bud linked to my partner, Hotsuma.

It was his research that led us to the far northern mountains to find what we believe is the original vampire of this region. And it was my poor decision-making skills that led me to saying yes at different planning stages of this trip.

It was only when we were rumbling through the curvy roads in a Humvee that I started freaking out and grabbing whatever handles were near me. Hotsuma laughed quite loudly when my foot instinctively depressed an imaginary brake pedal. It is embarrassing to admit but I was near hyperventilation.

Why do I agree to these things?

But a lot of my life was like that. I suppose I could blame this predicament on my family that abandoned me when I was young. Which is why nothing and no one mattered until I found Hotsuma and Beth.

Now I’m in this odd, symbiotic, depressingly platonic, relationship. I mean we do travel anywhere we want, no obligations, chasing down objects or people for bounty. The freedom is amazing, and the money is great if we can stop anywhere long enough to enjoy it. Mostly we find artifacts for very willing buyers.

That brings me to the now. I’ve stalled in my dramatic climb, fear pining me to the spot while I consider my mortality.

I make the mistake of taking a peek. Between my arms is a clear view of the ground, only obstructed by a mist from accumulation of dew at a high altitude.

That’s so much fucking worse, I gasp to myself. I’m actually high enough where there is a cloud forming below me somewhere in the dizzying expanse of emptiness that is making my head spin.

My foot slips as my mind reels, sending a shower of pebbles cascading into the fawn colored abyss.

My heart leaps in my throat, for a terrifying moment I’m dangling by both hands, the entire weight of my body threatening to pull me down into a place where its forever dark.

I’m thinking about what people would find if I fell. Thinking about my partner if I don’t fall. Instead of worrying about the real threat at the top of the mountain. If my partner is in fact, correct, then I will eventually find the lair of the original vampire. As young as I am, this should be, by far, scarier than anything else. Our work sometimes involves the additional risk when we hunt a person or living thing.

No! I need to remember my why. Why I am doing this. Focus.

I place one tippy toe on a smaller rock to give a little lift so I can bring the other foot to a larger looking smooth rock. When I feel both feet anchored again, I press my forehead to the cool stone, pushing my body flat the rock in order to collect my thoughts.

I have to go on. I can do this. For the good of humans. Also..... for the money. I mean who doesn’t need money right? We trade in Endymion, the rarest and strongest material.

I remind myself that I’ve done more frightening things in the past. Although I’d rather fight a warlock or a vampire instead. At least they’re predictable. Nature is a scary beast.

To be serious for a second, our world has been invaded by every evil shadow we always thought was out there. One day it was like a curtain fell and the things that go bump in the night were in fact all real.

We no longer fight each other, we fight entities; vampires, warlocks, sprites, dragons, ghosts, were-wolves, were-rats, were-anything.

We faced extinction as humans until someone found out Endymion not only protects but is a powerful weapon against them. It’s the only way we can match their strength. Spirits cannot past through walls of that stuff and armor cannot be broken.

This mission would reward us with enough Endymion to finish the stronghold we’re constructing. A place we could finally call home. Still climbing on the rock face, the more I thought about it the more I smiled.

“You’re not focusing,” His voice brings me back to reality. It’s a smooth, calm voice; always in control.

“You scared me!” I nearly jump off the rock. “I almost fell before and you say nothing until now?”

I’ve stilled my arms to just hang on the rock, staring within a few inches of its mossy dirty face. I can feel the grittiness through my gloves. My feet are anchored into little crevices between the rocks. I’m holding a lot of gear, but it’s packed so snug to my body that it doesn’t off set my weight too much as I climb.

My long auburn hair is pulled up into a tight ponytail with all my bangs sprayed onto my head, so I don’t get loose hair distracting me. No harness, of course, we are trying to be stealthy after all.

“How can you tell without even seeing me?”

“I can count the seconds until you start daydreaming again, like clockwork,” came his voice again.

I could imagine his face; probably adjusting his glasses as he said it with a little knowing curve of a smile. He has thin blond hair pulled back into his signature ponytail and the most beautiful Asian shaped eyes. A mixture of Chinese and Caucasian features and a strong masculine chin with full pink lips. His large thick glasses somehow did not subtract from his looks.

“Hmmmm” I breathed in frustration as I continued climbing up the rocks. “Don’t distract me. I’m concentrating.”

“What were you day dreaming about?”

My laugh came out like a little huff as I leveraged myself over another boulder. “Remember when we tried to capture that were-swan?”

“Hmm. You tried. I succeeded.”

“Yeah, whatever. He caught me by surprise!! He was so pretty.” I paused while adjusting my grip on a particularly small piece protruding from a widely smooth surface.

“I used to like them--.” My voice faded with the memory.

“Used to.” He thought for a moment. “He still looks pretty on Runihara’s wall.”

“Don’t make me think of her,” I shuddered. “I’m trying to concentrate. I don’t want to remember what she does to her conquests.”

“Tell me what you see?”

Chapter 2 - Grootslang

RUBI

“I’m almost to the top,” I said, looking up. Using a crevasse in between two boulders, smashed together over time, I lurch myself the final aching few inches to the top. Finally, arriving at the top, I placed my palms on the ground above me and was able to wiggle the rest of myself up.

As my field of vision rose, I pull myself onto stable, wonderful, earth. “I’m so happy to be on something solid,” I breath heavily into the mic.

Laying for a moment in exhaustion staring at the sky, the realization slowly sunk in.

That wasn’t the actual hard part. Now I try not to get eaten.

I was, thankfully, on my feet now. The air is dangerously thin here, but after what felt like enough time, I adjusted my breathing and continued. This place honestly is barren; there were few plants and far as the eye could see there was mist covering my view of the sky except for other mountain peaks like this one.

“It looks inhospitable. Like, it wo

Heroes

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