Kurt von Mannerheim had never wanted to become ruler of the Empire that became. He had enough of leadership during the bloodbath that was the Eastern Front of the Second World War. But the Gods of Refuge had prophesized such, and humans had come to the world in their numbers in fulfillment of that prophecy. And so he had become first King, and then Emperor, welding the disparate peoples together into one Empire. He had not wanted to take on the Nazi Empire of Tarakesh, the evil transplanted from his world by the follower of Hitler, Heinrich Stuppleheim. He had seen enough war, and wished to spare his people the evils of even a winning campaign. And then his bride, the Empress Gwenara Elyssisus von Mannerheim, was kidnapped from his Capital like the merest commoner. Now Kurt must ride the trail of war again, if he wishes to save her from a fate worse than death. And her soul from a fate far worse than damnation.
Kurt must do this alone. But his Immortal friends, Ismael Levine and Paul Mason-Smythe, are determined to stand with him, no matter the cost, no matter his wishes. The fate of the free peoples of the world is at stake. To lose will give Heinrich and the Death Gods he serves the advantage they seek. And that advantage will lead the world down a dark path from which there will be no recovery.
The voice sounded through his own dream. Wake up, his mind screamed at him. Wake up. Now. His body protested. His eyelids fought against him. Tired. He was so tired. But there was danger.
His eyes opened as he came to full alertness. Something was bending down over him, something that smelled of death. He caught the face of the creature out of the corner of his eye. The long canines, thrust out of the open mouth, preparing to tear at the soft tissues of his throat.
Kurt swung his arm up as he rolled over in his bedroll. The creature was strong, but the Immortal’s strength was an order of magnitude greater. Bone cracked as the big fist struck the creature’s head. It fell away from him hard, hitting the ground and rolling away. The Immortal pulled himself up from his bedroll and to his feet in an instant. His gaze swept the camp, assessing the situation.
The old man lay dead under his blanket, a pair of vampires crouched over him, their eyes glowing red in the light of the fire. Another vampire hovered over one of the wolves, the loyal beast lying unmoving with blood matted on its fur. Three more were gliding into the camp from the woods. And the one he had struck was getting back to its feet, blood oozing from its broken head.
Seven against one. Not too bad of odds, he thought, though the vampires probably were pretty sure of their victory over a lone human. He looked over to where his sword was propped up against his armor, lying against a tree. Careless of him, in his fatigue and sense of relaxation, to leave his weapons out of reach. Two of the vampires moved between him and the weapons, daring him to go through them. Their clothing was torn and dirty, and they smelled of death. They looked and felt like new undead, short term in the grave.
Kurt moved like lightning, his limbs blurring as he sprinted at the two vampires. They moved swiftly to block him, mouths open in hissing screams as they brought their clawed hands up to strike. To Kurt they were moving in slow motion, like drunken men at the end of a hard night. He knocked one away with his right forearm while swinging a left hook into the body of the other. Both vampires fell away with grunts of pain. He was home free, he thought, just before a screaming, slashing vampire landed on his back. The others closed in on cue, a well-coordinated pack of jackals intent on bringing down the stronger lion.
His feet were knocked out from under him as the vampires piled up on his back; the Immortal went down heavily to the ground. Claws and teeth slashed at him. Not causing permanent damage, he thought with his accelerated mind. But blood loss would eventually get to him, and in a weakened condition they might just kill him.
A hard swung arm knocked one vampire away, and the Emperor tried to roll over and get into a defensive posture. The vampire was back on him in an instant. He could do no permanent damage to them as well, not unless he could get his hands on one for more than a few seconds. But no matter how he twisted and turned they stayed on him.
The wolf ran flat out into the circle of the fire, launching itself into the air as its gums pulled back to reveal its sharp teeth. Its heavy weight, its speed of motion, carried a vampire off of its master. The wolf savaged the throat of the creature as they struck the ground. The vampire flailed with its claws, ripping deep wounds into the hide of the wolf, while the animal whipped its head back and forth, tearing big chunks of flesh from the creature’s body. Suddenly the vampire went stiff as the wolf threw its final weapon into the attack. The psionic blast took the vampire by surprise, and the wolf continued to savage its breast and neck.
Kurt pushed with all of his strength, going into overdrive, but the vermin stuck to him like tics. He tried to warn the wolf as three more vampires appeared out of the night. Too late