December 22nd, 4:44pm
Location Unknown, Yabinka National Park. Strysakstan.
Somewhere southwest of the city of Al Aqsan.
I lift the broad axe high overhead before swinging downward with brute force to split the substantial oak log that would burn on the hearth of my hunting cabin for the next six hours.. It is laborious, back breaking work, but I never objected to getting my hands dirty.. Actually, I kind of enjoy the heat it generates within the heavy duty lining of my khaki thermals and the ache of it in my muscles.. It is the simplest, most earnest form of survival and that is so much more rewarding than any of the riches or spoils of the privileged and high pressure life I was born into..
I walked away from it all to become the miserable recluse I am today..
Money.. Women.. Sex.. Power.. Status..
I had everything a man could possibly desire, but that existence was hollow.. Devoid of any meaning..
I had everything.. Everything except for my freedom..
My insidious uncle, Oleg Romanov, ruled the Moscow Mafia with all the tenderness of an iron fist, and he had used me, his only living relative, to do it..
Since before I can even remember I had been conditioned for violence and stripped of any emotion that might get in the way of doing what I am hardwired to do..
I was no more than thirteen when Oleg would indoctrinate me, the orphaned offspring of a slain Pakhan and his mistress..
My uncle would train me in combat, fill me with hatred and burn off my fingerprints one by one, just so he could use me to enact and enforce his law, under penalty of death.. I may be his nephew by blood, but I was never anything more than a weapon in his eyes..
The blood letting.. The reckoning.. The merciless killing.. Well, it had become enough to make me want to slit my own throat, just to cut off the collar Oleg had chained around my neck..
The guilt alone is a heavy cross to bear, but the knowledge that I would have to wake up each day and carry out the orders of a tyrannical madman became a burden on my soul too suffocating to survive..
I had to escape..
I had to get out..
I owe my every regret to my kin and it is because of him that I can not go home..
I can never return to Russia and so I will never belong.. The first decision I ever made for myself was to leave Moscow and The Mafia behind.. Choosing instead to hide in the last place anybody would ever think to look for me..
In a place where nobody would willingly elect to live.. In the middle of nowhere, deep in the wilderness of a god-forsaken country plagued by hardship and a savage guerilla war..
The chaotic rush of the storm drowns out all other noises as I continue cutting, eddies and currents pass all around me, buffered by the shakey woodshed that is butted up against the back of the log cabin.. The whistle of the wind as it gushes through the valley becomes a familiar melodic tune and the rumble of thunder above provides a powerful accompanying base note.. Despite the enraged weather, I keep my head down and my gloved hands stacked upon the axe handle.. There is not a single thing to distract me from my task.. After all, I am miles from anything or anyone.. Alone, encompassed by the isolation of the Stysak expanse..
It isn't until the great bear hunting Sheppard beside me begins to bark on an intuitive frantic loop, that I bother to turn in the direction of his alarm.. Squinting into the feathery flurry of the ivory void, I see nothing noteworthy..
"Feliks! Zamolchi!" (Feliks, shut up!)
I hiss at the enormous brindle beast-hound, demanding his silence.. But the determined creature just ignores my order as he begins to shift in agitated discomfort, shuffling back and forth on hefty paws.. Then, quickly and without pause for thought, the dog takes off running towards the trees and I am forced to grab for my diamondback rifle and follow..
“Feliks! Nyet!" (Feliks, no!) I take chase, silently hoping he isn't after another fucking bear.. Lately they've been coming curiously close to my cabin in search of food..
Trudging through the knee deep snow in my weathered leather combat boots, it doesn't take long for me to catch up with my hound.. Feliks is stopped by the base of a tall pine, where he digs around to exhume a lifeless bundle of crimson and fur that lays motionless on the ground, half buried by the latest dumping of snow..
At first I wonder if it might be a wounded wolf, resigned to die, but as I cautiously approach it becomes clear to me that the unmoving vision is undeniably human..
The hound snuffles at the cadaverous beauty, nudging her lifeless arm with his snout, but she doesn’t move.. Pale skin, blue and translucent, causes me to grimace in morbid expectation..
Is she dead?
"Feliks, nyet!" (Feliks, no!)
I grunt, taking a cautious step towards the trespasser, looking around in hopes of seeing where she might have appeared from.. The dog immediately ceases his investigation and runs back towards me, taking up his trained guardian stance at my side..
Nobody is supposed to know where I am..
I haven't told a soul about this place and it definitely isn't marked on any map..
So how the fuck did she find me?
And how did she make it past all the snares and proximity alarms?
I sling the polished Diamondback rifle over my shoulder when I reach her side, crouching down to inspect her dainty, inanimate form.. Rusted claret stains paint her pale cheeks while fresher blood coagulates at the shallow gash on her hairline.. Bruises marr her porcelain fair and her plump pout is a purplish hue, mottled from the cold..
Even so, half frozen and all banged up, she is incredibly beautiful..
Her feline lashes are thick and dark, sprinkled with the delicate glitter of a dozen snowflakes.. Her long hair, dampened and tangled, is a rich, chestnut brunette that contrasts her alabaster complexion..
Ah, and her hands– her dainty, feminine hands– cling desperately to the one item in her possession..
A black cellphone…
Snatching up the contraption, I quickly snap it apart to remove the battery and communication card, before folding the pieces of the device into my pocket..
Whoever this mysterious vixen is, I cannot allow her to give away my location to any one of the several sadistic fuckers that I know are looking for me..
I won't let her expose me..
That is, if she is even alive..
Tearing a glove from my hand with my teeth, I reach down and place two fingers at her throat to find her flesh frigid.. She is so stiff and unresponsive that I am surprised to feel a featherlight pulse throbbing determinedly beneath my touch.. Looking closer, I notice the almost imperceptible rise and fall of her buxom chest..
The sleeping-beauty is breathing..
What the fuck am I supposed to do with her?
Given the practically cryogenic state of her, it seems unlikely that she would regain consciousness enough to change her fate without my intervention.. Whether it is wise of me to intervene, however, remains to be seen..
It is at this moment I must weigh my choices..
Do I save the pretty girl and find out why she is here and who sent her?
Or, do I leave her right where she was found and simply allow nature to take its course?
Freezing to death certainly wouldn't be the worst way to go..
I force myself to focus on the logical decision, yet just from looking at her I take on a strange ache in my chest that is much like pity, only it isn't that at all.. It is something I haven't felt in so long that I'd almost forgotten I was capable..
In my rational mind, I know this woman is a dangerous and unexpected complication that I should be reluctant to invite into my life.. But for the stirring in my soul, I am no less curious about her the longer I pause to gaze at her beauty..
Who is she?
"AROOF!" Feliks stares at me with those ever expectant chocolate brown eyes, almost imploring me to do what is right, not what is selfish and safe.
That damn dog is always getting me in trouble!
"Chto ty khochesh' ot menya, eh?" (What do you want from me, eh?) I scoff, hardly able to answer my own question as I glare down at my furry companion..
Receiving an encouraging growl of reply, his black nose dips down in demonstration, gesturing towards the woman.. "Grrrrr!"
"Ugh!" I groan in concession, relenting to what I know is moral.. "Da, da, mudak.. Ya slyshu tebya!" (Yeah yeah, asshole.. I hear you!)
With ease I scoop up the darling broken doll from the drift, bundling her carefully into my arms before turning back, carrying her through the shimmering snowfall back to my cabin..
Once the mystery vixen is safely inside, I lay her fragile form on the rug by the fireside and kneel beside her to assess her various wounds.. Lacking in tact, but careful nonetheless, I begin to peel away the clingy layers of her cold, wet clothes.. Quickly ridding her of what would only exacerbate and accelerate a fatal case of hypothermia..
I try not to appreciate the enticing womanly shape of her figure, the planes of her long lean legs, the cinching of her lithe waist or the thickness of her curvaceous hips.. I try not to leer at the soft round swell of her perky tits or the chocolate freckles that speckle her toned stomach..
I try not to picture what it might feel like to put my hands on her, to claim her perfect body and warm it with my own..
I really fucking try..
But I've been alone on this mountain for a long fucking time.. Alone.. Nothing could keep the terrible predatory thoughts from racing through my head, as sinful and shameful as they may be..
Cutting myself off before I can be tempted any longer, I quickly cover her with a fleece blanket that had been thrown over the armrest of the sofa and it is then I notice the severe bruises that paint her left shoulder purple.. Blackened flesh meets the gruesome angle at which bone protrudes, an immediately recognisable injury that needs to be addressed quickly..
I take advantage of her unconsciousness and grab hold of her wrist to tug sharply on her dislocated arm.. There is an audible 'clunk' as the joint pops back into place and I grimace in the knowledge of the pain she will feel when she comes to.. She will appreciate it, or she will hate me for it, either way she will be grateful that she hadn't been awake for a procedure that I've seen turn grown men into blubbering babies..
A dislocation is not for the faint of heart..
Feliks watches intently from his place at my side as I clean the blood from her face, using a few medical swabs from an emergency kit.. Then, I fall back in my haunches to assess her for any signs of movement..
Learning closer to inspect her soft, doe-like features, I catch the captivating scent of her perfume.. A cinnamon and sugary aura surrounds her, making it increasingly difficult to think..
She really is so incredibly– something I can’t quite put my finger on.
If she doesn't begin to stir as she warms, I'm at a loss for what to do next.. The nearest hospital is over sixteen hours away.. And even if I were prepared to take her there, the storm outside would never allow it..
Now, all I can do is wait..