[Dept. 19 Files 02] Undead in the Eternal City: 1918

[Dept. 19 Files 02] Undead in the Eternal City: 1918 by Will Hill Read Free Book Online

Book: [Dept. 19 Files 02] Undead in the Eternal City: 1918 by Will Hill Read Free Book Online
Authors: Will Hill
Tags: YA)
ROME, ITALY
14 th DECEMBER 1918
    Valeri Rusmanov strolled through the sick, bleeding city with a wide smile on his ancient face.
    He was arm in arm with his wife Ana, who wore an expression of beatific pleasure on her beautiful features. They had eaten dinner in a restaurant in the narrow backstreets behind the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, huge bowls of slippery white pasta smothered with a thick veal ragu the colour of drying blood, and were strolling contentedly along Via Milano towards the Fontana di Trevi, in search of dessert. All around them thick coughing rattled through the night, a continuous percussion of illness and pain, while the dead and dying lay slumped in doorways and piled in stable yards.
    The Italian capital, like the rest of the world, was in the grip of a pandemic.
     
    The panicked, fearful public called it Spanish flu, because the neutral southern European country’s press were the only publications reporting on the devastation the pandemic had unleashed; the rest of the European newspapers were still operating under wartime censorship and forbidden from printing the grisly, terrifying truth. The virus had actually originated in the deep wilderness of northern China, a strain of such viciousness that it had laid Valeri himself low for almost an entire day after he had fed on a French soldier who had been infected.
    The European outbreak had apparently originated in northern France in January, where the huge concentrations of Allied troops in close proximity had created a fertile breeding ground for the microscopic virus. Unusually, it was the young and the healthy that succumbed in the greatest numbers, their noses running with blood, their stomachs and intestines haemorrhaging, their own immune systems destroying their bodies until pneumonia finished them off.
    There was no way to stop it; the virus had infiltrated every part of the world, all the way to the Arctic and Antarctica. When the second strain, which, if rumour was to be believed, had already killed more than twenty million people, erupted through the continent in the late summer, all the authorities could do was bury the dead, try to isolate the infected, and wait for it to pass, as all pandemics eventually did.
    Valeri, who still lamented having been born more than fifty years after the Black Death devastated Europe, killing almost a third of its population, thought it was wonderful.
    The Great War, and the viral sting in the tail that had followed on its heels, had afforded Valeri and his kind an abundance of opportunity so vast it was almost bewildering. The incredible numbers of casualties on the Western Front meant that the majority of the vampires in the world had descended on northern France throughout the war, all of them unwilling to miss out on an event that was likely never to be repeated.
    Humans are stupid , thought Valeri. But I doubt that even they are stupid enough to allow another war on this scale. The damage is going to take generations to undo.
    In the pitch-darkness of the battlefields, the vampires had gorged themselves. Never before had a chance existed for them to be so utterly brazen; the number of victims they took was insignificant among the roaring, churning murder of the first mechanised war, and their presence went completely undetected. After a matter of weeks or months, the majority of the vampires had returned to where they had come from, their every appetite sated. Valeri was one of the few exceptions; he simply could not tear himself away from the horror unfolding around him.
    Before his turning, the eldest Rusmanov brother had been a general, commanding the Wallachian armies of Vlad Tepes III, the man the world would come to know as Count Dracula. At his master’s behest, and often on his own sadistic initiative, he had ordered innumerable torments upon enemy soldiers and innocent civilians alike, had sent his own men, who trusted him like a father, into battles he knew they would not survive.
    But

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