The Nightingale’s Angel
Eldara Sisters Book 1
Series: Extreme Medical Services
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Ingrid banked and swooped lower over the field of battle, the wind sweeping past her wings lifting her up as she soared. The Valkyrie sought a particular individual on the British side at the Battle of Inkerman, a man who had served with honor and bravery. He made the ultimate sacrifice by leaping into a desperate struggle between a comrade and a pair of advancing Russian soldiers. His action had saved his friend’s life but had exposed him to the advancing bayonets of the enemy. He had perished but had also accomplished his goal: to save his friend’s life. The Valkyrie’s wings flared as she alighted on the ground next to a shimmering figure standing next to a fallen soldier. He looked to his left as she approached, but his expression of sorrow did not change as he looked back down at the body at his feet.
It was late evening over the battlefield at Inkerman. The field between Shell Hill on the Russian side of the lines and Home Ridge, where the British 2nd Division held their lines, was littered with dead and wounded as the evening fog began to settle after a day of hard fighting. Ingrid thought the view spectacular as she soared over the carnage. Many men had distinguished themselves that day, earning themselves a place of honor in the afterlife. Some called their next life Valhalla, others Heaven, still others final enlightenment. It was a place where those who distinguished themselves during life found themselves escorted to at the end of their days.
“Corporal Calvin Smith,” Ingrid began, her voice low but heard over the raucous calls of the carrion birds. Your service today was noticed.”
The young British corporal looked over at her. “I don’t see Cawley’s body here. The last I remember I saw him driven to his knees before two Russian soldiers. I tried to stop them from slaying him. Did I succeed?”
“You did, Calvin,” Ingrid replied. “David Cawley will grow old and die surrounded by a wife, children, and grandchildren after a long and fruitful life. He will name his eldest child after you. He will tell everyone who will listen about you, the man who saved his life here at Inkerman Field.”
“And I?” The soldier’s shade asked looking her way again.
“You will sit at a table of honor in my Father’s house reserved for all those who served their armies honorably in battle. There you will await the day of final battle when you will be called upon to serve with your new comrades to defend the light against the darkness.”
Ingrid watched as he thought on that for a moment and then gave a nod of affirmation. She invoked her one of her runic tattoos and opened a portal there before the shade. The doorway to Valhalla began as a pinpoint of light that expanded outward to form a perfect circle nearly seven feet across. Ingrid felt the light and warmth from the other side, and she knew that even the incorporeal shade could sense it too.
“You only have to walk through to take your place with the heroes of all time – past, present, and future,” Ingrid said. Her wings flared wide and she gestured towards the portal. “It will only open this once for you. You must decide, Calvin.”
Calvin looked at her and smiled. The light from the other side shined on his face. He turned and took a step through the circular opening into the next world. The moment he stepped through the portal, it winked shut, leaving the Valkyrie alone again in the valley. She cast her senses around and then with a mighty flap of her wings, launched herself aloft to return to her search of the lost on the battlefield below.
Ingrid spent most of the night searching among the souls below for the warriors to whom she was drawn. She found many early on, both British and Russian. She was one of the Eldara, the messengers of the Gods of man. They served many purposes, always in specialized roles. Hers was to help the most valiant of the warrior class transition after death to their place of honor in the afterworld. One culture called her and her kind Valkyries, others angels, still others devas. All the Eldara, which was what they called themselves, acted as guides or messengers among the humans who served their Gods above. Often the Eldara worked in secret, without the knowledge of man, as Ingrid did. There were many humans moving about the battlefield tending to those who were still alive, or in some cases robbing the dead and dying. They did not see her interactions with the dead souls any more than they saw the souls themselves. She could only be seen if she chose to be, at least, by human kind.
The search for the battle’s heroes continued, but as night fell and it moved on toward midnight, she noticed the numbers thinning. There should have been more to whom she was drawn but it was as if the number was dwindling through another means as if another was collecting those at or near death before her. Ingrid started moving faster and paying more attention to the movements of the humans or others on the grassy slopes of the valley floor. She had been ignoring them until now. The living were not her concern.
It took her nearly an hour, but then she saw what she was searching for. It was as she had feared and she felt the wrath of the Gods themselves build within her. She wheeled around in the sky above a figure crouched in the darkness over the dying body of a Russian soldier below. She also saw the soul of the dying soldier standing nearby watching. Then there was a flash and she saw it darken losing the light that signified its humanity. Though it fought against the pull, the darkened soul was dragged back within the body by an invisible force.
Ingrid knew what was happening as soon as she saw it. With a scream of outrage, she swooped down, drawing the blade she kept sheathed across her back between her wings. The vampire crouched below looked up at the sound of her battle call, leaping backward as the silver shimmering blade sliced through the air where he had been standing. The Valkyrie landed on the ground in a crouch, spinning to snap a rapid kick out to her opponent that launched him several feet backward to sprawl on the ground. The vampire leaped back to his feet in a fighting crouch. He wore the uniform of a British cavalryman and pulled a saber from the sheath at his waist, brandishing it towards her.
“You’ll regret that you harlot,” the vampire said. “I don’t know what or who you are, but this is our battlefield. It is ours alone to harvest.”
Ingrid laughed which seemed to unsettle the creature of darkness opposite her. “I and my Eldara comrades have been tasked by the Gods themselves to harvest from battlefields. You must be very new to your unlife not to know this. We alone claim the aftermath of battlefields for ourselves.” She pointed at the vampire’s chest with her heavenly blade. “Who turned you?” Ingrid demanded. “Tell me who your master or mistress is and I’ll spare you. That one should have done a better job of educating you and your brethren.”
The snarl betrayed his attack. She was ready as the vampire soldier charged towards her. She defended herself with a flurry of parrying strokes with her heavenly blade. He was a talented swordsman and his enhanced strength from his undead form made the contest almost challenging. Almost. She hadn’t had a good fight in ages and this one was turning out to be fun. She kept her wings furled so as not to take unfair advantage of her opponent. She turned the contest around and beat him backward again with several stomping slash and thrust attacks that drove the vampire back on his heels.
Ingrid was about to send his head bouncing from his shoulders with a broad sweeping cut when she was bowled over by another attacker from her right. She landed with enough force to knock the wind from her lungs, but she had enough presence of mind to force herself to roll to one side and avoid the attack that must follow the initial assault from the new assailant. It was well that she did, the descending bayonet blade would have pinned her to the ground. She was not afraid of dying in this corporeal form. While it would perish, her true being would return to the afterworld while her corporeal form regenerated. It was the waiting in the afterlife she didn’t like. It would take nearly one hundred years to recover and regenerate. She had been a fool to think this vampire acted alone. It had nearly cost her this current existence. It was time to finish this before any more of the creatures showed themselves.
The Valkyrie rolled to the side several more times before springing back to her feet. There was another vampire, as she had expected, coming to the aid of the first. This one was a former Russian private who wielded a smoothbore musket with a bayonet attached. He must have retrieved it from one of the dead on the ground. The two vampires now moved forward, spreading out to try and take her from either side, trying to force her to turn her back on one or the other. It was a good tactic, for a fight on the ground. She saw one nod to the other and then the two of them rushed forward to pin her between them.
With a single beat of her suddenly unfurled wings, Ingrid whirled aloft, spinning in the air until she was inverted, feet up and head down, as she passed over the former Russian private. He looked upward in amazement and tried to bring up his gun barrel and bayonet to block her. It was too late and she felt the bite of her blade as it passed through the vampire’s neck, parting flesh, muscle, and bone, sending the head bouncing away from the still erect body.
The second attacker didn’t even slow, to his credit. He continued his charge swinging his blade high while leaping upward to try and catch her while she was still low enough to reach. She caught his blade on hers with a parry, knocking it aside and plunging the heavenly silver blade forward until it struck home, piercing the vampire’s heart. It was not as instant a kill as beheading. He would not die until she removed her blade, a useful bit of knowledge because she had some questions for this one.
Her opponent dropped to his knees, his blade falling from his hand to clatter among some rocks on the ground. He looked up at her in amazement as she settled to the ground in front of him. She was careful to keep the blade in place. She needed to learn what was going on here.
“He told us we were gods,” The vampire gasped through the pain. “He said none could defeat us and that we would have an army of our own to rule over the lowly men we used to be.”
“Who said this?” Ingrid asked. “Who sent you to make more of your kind from the dying on this battlefield?”
“Lord Artur,” the former cavalryman said. “I don’t understand. He told us it would be easy to feed and turn others, that none would stand against us.”
“Where can I find this ‘Lord Artur?’ Perhaps I can straighten out his misconceptions.”
The vampire snarled at this question. She was impressed with his resilience. It was a shame he must die. If she had come upon him before he was turned, he might have been a candidate for her collection of souls. “I’ll not betray my Lord to you witch, or damned angel, or whatever you are. You may have bested me, but there are dozens of us now and we will soon number in the hundreds.” He reached up and gripped her hand where she held the hilt of her blade and pushed until he slid backward off the blade. There was a smoking flash from the wound as the blade left his heart and the vampire died, leaving her alone standing there on the field of battle again in the darkness of midnight.
She wiped her blade with a scrap of cloth sliced from her opponent’s coat, inspecting it for the proper mirror finish, then returned it to the sheath across her back. The Valkyrie looked around for the original object of her search, the soldier on whom the vampire had been feeding. She found him staring wide-eyed at her as she approached. She searched his mind to find his name as she walked up to him. He was near to death, but he could still talk.
“I have seen an angel, I must be dying,” he murmured looking up at her in wonder.
“You will likely die soon, Lloyd Williams, after a manner,” She told him, soothing him with her soft-spoken words. “You have fought valiantly today. I was to come and collect you, but those monsters have corrupted your soul. I have avenged you, however. I was not in time to save you from becoming like them. Would you like me to assure you do not shift into one of them?”
“Must I become a monster like them?” Lloyd asked her. “I am not an evil man.”
“It is not impossible to resist the urges to kill, but it is difficult,” Ingrid said, looking him over, examining his wounds. “If you were to get to a hospital, it would slow the change, but change you will. You will eventually feel the urge to feed on blood. Indeed you will have to feed to survive. If you want to live on and are committed to not doing evil acts, you must resist taking more than you need. This will ensure you will not kill your victims. It is not easy for your very nature now is to become a predator.”
“I will survive,” the young soldier said, “and I will not kill my fellow soldiers. My father is a pastor and I will not dishonor him so.”
Ingrid considered the young man before her for a moment. She knew other vampires who lived responsibly among the humans in their communities, albeit without their knowledge. It could be done. This young man would need time to acclimate to his new condition as a member of the undead, an Unusual one living in human society. Could he resist the urge to kill and integrate among the humans? She was still trying to come to a decision on whether to let him live, after a manner, or to end his life with her blade when she was interrupted by voices from nearby.
“I heard something over here. There may be more survivors,” a voice called from the darkness.
Ingrid could see at night nearly as well as in daylight and she looked over to see the cart being pushed across the uneven ground towards her location. There was a woman and two soldiers pushing the cart, and she saw it was a makeshift ambulance. The Eldara Valkyrie shifted her form back to invisibility and watched as they approached.
Young Lloyd heard their approach and raised his arm, calling out to them, “Here. Over here. I’m alive.”
The nurse and two attendants approached carefully and arrived at his side. Ingrid watched as they loaded him onto the cart, listening as he told them he had seen an angel. The woman shushed him, telling him that they would help him now. No angel would claim him. They carted him off down the slope towards the camp. There he would be loaded on the transport ships where the wounded were taken across the Black Sea to Constantinople and the hospital at Scutari. She hoped he would be able to control himself when the change came on him. If not, there were others who would hunt him down. The humans had their own protectors. If he became a problem, they would end him there.
She returned her attention to the battlefield. The vampires had said there were dozens more of them here under the leadership of another named Artur. That was her primary concern because the heroes of this bloody war were her primary concern. She must stop this coven of vampires from feeding on her charges: that she would stop. With a single downward beat of her wings, Ingrid launched herself back into the sky, assuming watch over the battlefield below.