Men and Monsters Excerpt Reveal

Hi everyone! As always, I’m observing my favorite Hobbit tradition of giving other people gifts on my own birthday. And here is my gift to you today: the first three chapters of Men and Monsters and the artwork for Part One!

The chapters below haven’t gone through proofreading yet. Any typos are expected to be fixed in the final version.

Men and Monsters is a direct sequel to Kingdom of Ashes. If you haven’t read Kingdom of Ashes yet, it would be better to go back and start there. You can find a free sample here.

Men and Monsters is split into four parts:

  1. Crossroads
  2. Dance with the Devil
  3. Birth of a Monster
  4. Red Dawn

Each part has a relevant vector graphic to go with it. See the artwork for the first part and read the first three chapters below the cut!


PART ONE

CROSSROADS

face of a beautiful woman merges with the architecture of the ol

Chapter One

Secrets

The moth-eaten blanket stank of rot. Myra’s fist clenched the tattered fabric so hard, she nearly tore it apart. The cloth was so thin, her fingers touched in between the threads. Her eyes darted around the cellar: pitch dark and silent, apart from the familiar, high-pitched scratching—rat claws over stone.

She turned on the hard cot, willing herself to sleep, but her mind was reeling. It’s actually happening. The Resistance had captured Tristan alive. For the first time in fifty years, they held real, tangible power. And she, a selfish, dumb traitor, had promised to let Tristan go.

But self-reproach would help no one. Myra sat up and reached out in the darkness, finding two pieces of flint. She searched for the candle next to her bedside and frowned when her fingers found only a smooth, greasy blob of wax. Cold and solid on the outside, but the surface gave under her touch. Of course—she had let the candle burn down completely. What an efficient use of our scarce supplies. Just two months at the Prince’s Palace had made her spoiled and wasteful.

Myra opened a wooden box she had pulled from underneath her cot and rummaged through old papers, pens, forks, buttons, threads… and needles, she realized belatedly as a sharp sting shot up her finger. Finally, she found a new candle. She lit it with the flint and brought it closer to the large mechanical watch on the table. The hour hand had barely passed the second mark. No way. Had she been tossing and turning in bed for only a couple of hours? She would have sworn it had been much longer.

That meant she had to wait for four more hours until breakfast, and only then would the Warriors’ Council visit and feed the prisoner. If the last couple of hours had been such torture for her, what had they been for Tristan? Vlad had claimed vampires drained of blood would feel as if drowning in a sea of dreadful nightmares until someone fed them. She had promised the Prince she would take care of Tristan, but she had left him to suffer.

Myra stood up, running a hand through her hair so hard she pulled a few strands loose. She had betrayed everyone—both Zack and the Prince. The very least she could do now was try to keep at least one of her empty promises.

She raised the candle and took a step, wincing at the loud sound her feet made on the stone floor. The hinges squeaked as she opened the door, and her breath caught in her throat. Myra expected the whole Resistance to come rushing in, demanding to know why she was leaving her room in the middle of the night. She stood frozen still for a few minutes, hardly daring to breathe. When no sound came, she stepped into the corridor.

She squinted, trying to see beyond the candle flame. Myra spotted no guards, but she knew they would be patrolling all night. Perhaps she should snuff out her candle. Myra chewed on her bottom lip, gazing into the deep darkness. No. She had to finish this fast and could not risk stumbling into the wrong room. Quickly, she went back inside and retrieved the pieces of flint to put in her pocket—she needed the option to extinguish and relight the candle if she ran into trouble. As she returned to the door, a loud clank came from outside. Myra froze, heart pounding and throat tight. When no other sound followed, she walked on.

The corridor was pitch black and deserted. Sweat beaded on her forehead despite the cold, and Myra swallowed hard, trying to slow down her racing heart. The candlelight danced on the stone walls, and, for a moment, Myra stared at the play of light and shadow. She could see a fish, and a rat, and a man fighting a hideous two-headed serpent. She bit her lower lip and stared straight ahead. There are no monsters in the shadows. The true monsters live in the real world.

A bright light appeared at the end of the corridor, and Myra gasped. She blew out the candle and stood still, holding her breath.

“Hey. Who’s there?” She heard Lidia’s voice.

Myra squeezed the candleholder, thinking through her options. She could try to run in the darkness and hide back in her room, but Lidia was faster than her. “It’s okay, it’s me,” she called and walked towards her friend. “You startled me, and I dropped my candle. May I?”

Once she had reached Lidia, she used her friend’s candle to rekindle her own. Lidia frowned. “Myra, are you all right? What are you doing here?”

“I’m fine,” Myra said, her voice calm despite the tightness in her chest. “I just couldn’t sleep.” I was on my way to the library to pick up a book, she was about to say, when she realized the library was in the opposite direction. I had a bad dream and wanted to check if Thea is all right. Right, the children’s quarters were not this way either. Was there anything, besides the rat farm, that was this way? The school. “I left a book at the school. I wanted to pick it up; I thought it might help me sleep.”

“Yeah, no wonder you can’t sleep after the last day’s excitement,” Lidia said. “Do you want me to walk with you?”

“I’ll be fine, thanks,” Myra said. “Why are you patrolling? Shouldn’t you be resting and recovering from your wound?”

Lidia snorted. “You’re not the only one who can’t sleep.” She massaged her neck. “My wound will heal, though I won’t feel better until I kill the beast who did this to me.”

“Kill the Prince?” Myra said. “You know the plan is—”

“Yes, yes, I know.” Lidia rolled her eyes. “The plan is that he’ll help us blow up the WeatherWizard after we send him a few of the pretty vamp’s severed fingers. I still don’t believe that’s going to work.”

“Let’s be more optimistic,” Myra said, forcing herself to smile. “Goodnight, then. I hope you get some rest.”

“You too,” said Lidia and continued on her way.

Myra closed her eyes. She had just looked her friend in the eyes and lied to her. And, in all likelihood, that would not be the last lie she would have to tell.

The rest of her trip was uneventful, and Myra smiled once she reached the metal door that separated her from her goal. She rested her palm against the cold surface, taking a slow breath before she rotated the knob and stepped inside.

Rusty metal cages were stacked on top of each other on the tables and against the walls. Inside each were dark furry rodents, some small enough to fit in her palm, others as long as her forearm. A dozen pink and hairless newborns were in a separate cage, so their parents would not devour them. Bread crumbs, spilled water and rat feces littered all the cages. The stink and the hellish racket nearly made Myra go back, but she took a deep breath of the putrid air, closed the door behind her, and stepped further inside.

The rats squeaked. She closed her eyes and steadied herself for what she was about to do. Myra spotted a metal bucket next to the wall and picked it up, frowning as another thought came to her. Was she supposed to take them dead or alive? If they were alive, they would be unmanageable and would make noise in the bucket, but if she killed them now, their blood would stop flowing, making it harder to feed the unconscious vampire. Feeding Tristan was what mattered the most—she had to take the risk.

Myra donned the thick leather gloves left on the table for whoever needed to handle the rats and unlocked one of the cages. She could not take all the rats from a single cage—someone would notice they were missing—so her best bet was to take a single rat from one cage, a second one from another, until she had a decent number. She gingerly opened the door, not wide enough for a rat to get out, and all the rodents rushed towards the opening. She widened the gap, grabbed the closest rat and threw it into the bucket while she closed and locked the door with her left hand.

The creature hissed and squealed, running around and bumping itself against the metal. That would never work. If she went out in the corridor with a bucket full of these demons, she would wake everyone. She had to kill the rat and hope that Tristan would still manage to drink.

Myra knelt on the floor next to the bucket and reached out for a large sharp knife on the table. She lowered her hand into the bucket, grabbing the creature. It kicked, bit, and scratched, its sharp claws penetrating the thick leather glove and piercing skin and flesh. Myra cursed softly—she would have to clean the wound, and soon. She did not wish to imagine where the rat’s claws had been and what bacteria were now entering her bloodstream.

With a quick move, she thrust the blade into the creature’s throat. Thick, sticky blood sprayed forward, onto her face and blouse, and she dropped the knife. Myra pressed one hand against her mouth and one over her stomach, rocking back and forth and trying not to retch. Panic made her dizzy. If she threw up here, she could never clean it completely.

She slapped herself. What was wrong with her? She had killed plenty of rats in the past, and had baked them and eaten them. Had she become so squeamish after her time in the Palace? Was it easier for her to accept a vampire drinking a living human than a dead rat?

She closed her eyes and tried to pretend she was somewhere else. Perhaps on the fresh green grass after the hunt, with Tristan sitting next to her and drawing her the map of their route, the sweet smell of living plants and earth surrounding them. Or perhaps in the Prince’s study, with Vlad playing the piano and Tristan teaching her how to dance. Or perhaps at the opera, with Tristan explaining the plot.

Right. Of course, she preferred hunts and dances and operas to killing rats, but she had to stop being a coward and do what needed to be done. She opened her eyes and walked to the next cage.

After she had killed seven rats, Myra decided those had to be enough and stood up, dusting her knees. It did more harm than good as her bloodied hands left smears along her pants. She stared at the horrific stains—she would need to wash her clothes in secret. This mission was becoming messier at every turn.

Myra spotted a bucket full of water for the animals and used a rug to wash her hands and face. Feeling marginally better, she picked up the rats in one hand and the candle in the other and stepped into the corridor. Vlad, she thought angrily, the things I do for you.

 

 

Chapter Two

Bloodstains

Picking a book from the school definitely won’t work as an excuse now, Myra thought as she walked towards the prison cell. She had no way of explaining the bucket full of dead rats. The sticky blood covering her clothes made her feel as if she had committed a terrible crime and was now trying to hide the evidence. Which, in a way, was true.

At least Zack had stationed no guards at the prison door, apparently realizing the prisoner was in no condition to cause trouble. She put the bucket down to unlock the cell and stepped inside.

She coughed, choking. The air was moist and heavy everywhere in the Resistance’s caves, but the cell where they kept vampire prisoners was the worst. Taking a slow breath, Myra brought her candle forward and squinted in the darkness.

Tristan sat on the dirty floor with his back to the wall, his head hanging down and his hands and feet chained. Myra’s heart clenched. He looked so fragile. Why had Zack insisted on restraining him?

“Tristan?” she called softly even though she knew it was in vain. If anything, he would be weaker than he had been a few hours ago.

Myra gulped and walked in front of him, placing the bucket on the ground and raising her candle to illuminate him. He was hanging from his chains, completely limp, his skin even paler than usual. The wounds on his chest, neck and shoulder were still red and raw; perhaps they would not even start to heal until he had fed. His long silver-blond hair, now matted with dust and dry mud and blood, fell down in a curtain, concealing his features.

She reached out to brush his hair away and frowned. His face was like wax, sickly pale and twisted into a grimace of agony.

“Vlad will kill me,” she murmured under her breath and bent down to take a rat from the bucket. Her stomach turned as her fingers closed around the soft dead flesh. She drew in a deep breath before she brought the animal to the vampire’s lips.

“Come on, Tristan, drink. Don’t make this hard for me. I have no idea how to help you.”

After what seemed like ages, the vampire sniffed the air and instinctively started sucking on the rat’s wound. Myra nearly sobbed in relief. After the rat was sucked dry, she reached out for the second one.

After the fifth rat, Tristan frowned and a soft moan escaped his lips. His eyelids fluttered briefly before they fell shut once again.

“Tristan?” Myra called. “Tristan, can you hear me?” She slapped him gently on the cheek. “Please, open your eyes if you can.”

He made no sound or movement, and Myra reached out for the sixth rat. The vampire devoured it quickly and whimpered when there was no more blood. “Come now, I know you’re strong,” Myra said. “Armida said you can’t handle captivity. Open your eyes and prove her wrong.”

Tristan’s lips moved, and she leaned in to hear the barely perceptible sound.

“My lord?”

She frowned and grasped his uninjured shoulder. “Sorry to disappoint, but it’s just me. Myra.”

He blinked a few times and turned his bleary eyes to her. She tried to smile. “That’s it. You’ll recover.”

“Where am I?”

She winced. “Save your strength. I have one more rat. Drink it and we’ll talk.”

His eyes shot wide open, no longer bleary but focused and sharp. “Rat? Are you mad? I am going to stink.”

Myra rolled her eyes. “Honestly, this is your problem? That’s the only blood I can get you, so stop complaining and drink. I promised Vlad I’d take care of you. Don’t make my work harder than it already is.”

“You could have at least skinned it. My mouth is full of putrid hair.” Tristan squeezed his eyes shut. “Wait, what? Take care of me? Why?” He frowned. “I am at the Resistance.”

“Yes, and you need your strength. Drink.”

This time he did not protest and obediently drank the rat dry. After he was done, he gasped, throwing his head back, his face contorted.

“Are you in much pain?” Myra asked.

He made no response, but his twisted features were enough of an answer.

She moved the candle forward until the light illuminated his waxy skin. “Is it your wounds? Let me wash them.”

He shook his head, his eyes closed. “No,” he moaned. “My chest.”

“Your chest hurts?” Her eyes traveled over his pallid torso, trying to find something wrong, but nothing stood out apart from the two red spots where Armida had bitten him. “You mean the bite wound?”

He coughed and tried to curl up in a ball, as much as his chains allowed. “Not wound. Inside.”

She frowned. “Why is your chest hurting inside? What is wrong with you?”

His only response was another pained gasp before he tilted his face to one side, resting his cheek on his shoulder. Myra sighed. “Fine, don’t tell me, but I want to help. What can I bring you?”

“My sire’s blood.”

Myra rolled her eyes. “Right. Sorry, but I somehow forgot to ask Vlad to squeeze a bottle of blood for me before he left. Tristan, be serious. What can I bring you?”

“Painkillers.”

She bit her lower lip and looked away. “Tristan, I’m sorry. We ran out of painkillers last year. We never found any more during the recent patrols.”

Wait… why on earth was she apologizing to this creature? It was because of the vampires that they had no medicines, and many of her people had suffered as a result. And yet, seeing Tristan like this disturbed her, and she wanted to help. Myra reached out, brushing a few damp strands of hair from his forehead, revealing his ashen face. His skin was cold and clammy under her fingertips.

“Vlad will kill me,” she murmured.

To her surprise, Tristan grinned and opened his eyes to slits. “No, he won’t. I will tell him you took good care of me.”

“You would do that?”

“Of course. I am a gentleman. Besides, I know you are doing your best to help me. It is no fault of yours that you are incompetent.”

She rolled her eyes and stood up. “Is there anything at all I can do to help you?”

Tristan’s eyes fell shut, and he shivered. Myra stepped closer. “Are you cold?”

He shook his head. “Cold cannot harm vampires.”

“No, but it can still make you uncomfortable, especially if you’ve lost blood.” She reached out to touch his shoulder, but he pulled away.

“You want to help?” he said. “Then get out. I have no use for your pity. I am not broken.”

She stepped back and sighed. “Of course not. You’re in perfect health, which is why you’re moaning, and groaning, and shivering, curled in a fetal position. Fine, then. I’ll leave you to enjoy your excellent well-being.”

She walked to the door but turned back before she opened it. “Tristan, in a few hours my people will come to feed you. You must pretend to be unconscious before you eat. And try to appear as weak as possible—they can’t think you are a threat.”

“Will try,” he said. She left the cell, leaning her head against the metal door as she closed and locked it behind her. Tristan would not need much pretense.

***

Medicines in the Resistance were scarce, and Zack always kept them under lock and key, to be distributed only when needed. Luckily, Myra was one of the few who had access… and she was now abusing the trust placed in her. She hesitated only a moment before she pulled bottles of rubbing alcohol and iodine tincture, as well as plaster and bandages, out of the metal locker. The rat bite wasn’t bleeding too heavily, but it could still become infected.

Once she had picked all she needed, she returned to her room. The first thing she did, before even sitting down, was change out of her bloody clothes. The relief once the sticky blood was no longer touching her skin was immense, but she still needed to wash the blouse and pants. They had so little clothing in the Resistance, and she could not afford to throw them away.

Weariness spread deep into her bones, and all she wished to do was collapse on the cot. But she could not—the blood would be harder to wash out once it dried. As quickly as her fatigued arms allowed, she finished cleaning and dressing the wound and picked up a clean bucket. Myra left her room and walked to the underwater stream.

What’s wrong with Tristan? she wondered as her feet mechanically carried her along the familiar path. Vampires can’t get sick, and his wounds aren’t so bad. He is drained and starving, but that should cause weakness, not pain.

This was hopeless. If Tristan were to escape, he had to be able to at least stand on his own two feet. Currently, he was in no shape to even keep his eyes open.

Did Vlad know this would happen? He must have. And yet, he let it happen so he would spare me.

She sighed. Vladimir was a bloodthirsty monster, and one strange act of kindness could not erase all the murders he had committed. Still, she felt responsible. Vlad could have easily fed her to Tristan. He had held her in an iron grip, leaving her no chance to fight or run. Still, he had chosen to let Tristan end up in this condition instead of harming her. If Tristan was suffering, it was in a way her fault.

A treacherous thought struck her. After what Vlad had done, could she break her promise to him? Could she go back to her original plan—refuse to help Tristan escape, and give humanity a chance of survival? But would that make her eviler than the Prince himself?

Myra reached the stream and filled the bucket with as much water as she could carry. Her arms ached as she staggered towards the kitchen. She had to stop and take a break every few steps, and her destination seemed nowhere closer.

Lost in thought, Myra yelped when she nearly collided with Lidia.

Her friend laughed. “Another nightly stroll? Your time with vampires has messed up your perception of day and night.”

Myra grinned back. “I still couldn’t sleep. I thought I could do some laundry to make use of the time.”

Lidia raised an eyebrow. “I wish I had your enthusiasm for hard work. Come. Let me help you with that.”

Lidia grabbed the bucket and led on, and Myra followed, gazing at the floor. How many more times would she need to deceive her friends? Vlad had taught her to lie convincingly, but he had never told her how to suppress the guilt.

Once they had reached the kitchen, Myra built a fire, while Lidia poured some of the water into a kettle and let it boil. They sat at the table to wait, and Myra stared at the flames. Lidia is unwittingly helping me hide my crime. This is so unfair.

“Myra, what’s wrong?”

She looked up at her friend, startled. “Nothing is wrong. Why do you ask?”

Lidia smiled. “Come, now. Midnight walks to get a book? Doing laundry when you should be sleeping? Something is up, and if you tell me what, perhaps I could help.”

You’re already helping. “Thanks, but there is nothing to help with, really. I’m fine.” Great. And now she was alienating herself from her friends, from the people who had supported her all her life, and all for the sake of a cruel bloodsucker.

“Are you worried your plan won’t work?” Lidia prompted. “Do you really believe Prince Obnoxious will destroy the WeatherWizard in exchange for the pretty vamp?”

Myra snorted. Oh, he would. He would blow up the Wizard and more, if that meant getting Tristan back. Instead, I’m going to let our prisoner go and demand nothing in return. “He might,” she said.

Lidia nodded. “Well, then, I will support your proposal to keep him alive. Come, the water is ready.”

Lidia walked Myra back to her cellar and paused in front of the door. “Do you need help with the laundry?”

Myra’s breath caught in her throat, but she smiled. “No, thanks. I know how much you love housework.”

Lidia bid her goodbye and left, and Myra entered her room, nearly collapsing on the cot.

Unfortunately, there was no time to rest. With a sigh, Myra pulled out three metal basins from underneath her cot and poured cold water into the largest.

The water for the prewash had to be cold, so that the blood would not congeal, but this knowledge did not make it easier on her hands. Myra shuddered as pain spread across her palms and wrists, but she did not pull out of the icy water.

The moment she soaked the garments, red inky tendrils spread from them, until the water turned a sickening pink. Myra resisted the urge to retch and scrubbed at the stains, trying to get the blood out. The more she scrubbed, the more hopeless it seemed. The rusty brown stains stood there, bright and visible against the pale fabric. Myra scrubbed vigorously, on and on, until she had scrubbed the skin off her knuckles. The raw, skinless flesh stung as it made contact with the soapy water, and Myra sobbed. Her bandage fell off and her blood mingled with the rats’.

She felt like a murderer trying to hide the deed. And yet, the crime she was committing was much more heinous.

Myra mixed cold and hot water to continue washing in the second basin, and rinsed the clothes in the third. She would have to throw all the crimson water into the waste pit before anyone saw it.

After she was done, she wrung out the wet clothes and hung them on the chair, then collapsed on the cot, staring miserably at her hands, which now felt painfully dry. The skin was rubbed raw in a few places, and the rat bite would need redressing.

Vlad, the things I do for you, indeed. With a last look at her abused hands, Myra finally fell asleep.

 

 

Chapter Three

Unbroken

This is taking forever. Myra watched as if in slow-motion as Zack took his knife and spread the canned tuna over flatbread prepared from decades-old flour. The smell of fish and baked rats mingled, heavy and sharp.

“How should we do this?” he said between bites. “Do we send an ambassador to negotiate with the Prince?”

Thomas put down his rat and frowned. “It’s too risky. The vamps could torture and kill our messenger.”

And more back-and-forth talks, leading nowhere. Myra was glad she had fed Tristan during the night; otherwise the wait would have driven her mad. It was driving her mad anyway.

“I’ll go,” she said. “The Prince won’t hurt me; he knows that if he does, Tristan is doomed.”

Sissi looked up and opened her mouth to speak, but Myra threw her a warning glance before she could say a word. Sissi wanted to volunteer, no doubt, but Myra had no time or patience to indulge her fantasies.

“You place too much trust in this bloodsucker,” Thomas said. “He drank his supposed friend and left him to die, and now you expect me to believe he cares if we harm him?”

“I’m only risking my own life,” Myra said. “I know the Prince better than anyone here. I know what to expect from him.”

“Reasonable,” said Zack. “When do you think you should go?”

“As soon as I’m sure the prisoner will recover,” Myra said. “I can’t negotiate with the Prince unless I know we have something to offer him.”

Zack sipped from his boiled water. “Very well. Let’s finish up here and go and feed him.”

Myra picked at her food but had no real appetite. Watching the others take their time made her fidget in her seat, and she breathed a sigh of relief once the majority of the Warriors finished their breakfast and stood up.

They walked to the rat farm, and Myra watched, wide-eyed, as Andre opened a cage, took out the rats one by one, slit their throats, and dropped them into a bucket with quick, expert moves. I wish I could do that. She scanned the Warriors’ faces, looking for a sign that someone noticed a few rats were missing.

Myra swallowed hard. Would they know? Was anyone keeping track? If they noticed something, would Lidia remember their nighttime encounters and make the connection? Would her friend reveal her secret? Would she blame her?

Myra fisted her hands and silently followed the others towards the prison cell. She would help no one by going crazy with paranoia, but it was stronger than her.

Zack took out the keys to unlock the door, and Myra stared at him, her palms sweating. Would Tristan remember her advice and pretend to be weak and unconscious? If he was obviously stronger than when they’d captured him, would her friends think she had lied to them?

Myra bit her lower lip until she tasted blood. Stop it! Nobody knows anything. Get a grip.

They stepped inside, and she squinted, trying to make out Tristan’s form under the meager light of the candle in Zack’s hand. Zack lit up a torch, and Myra stepped closer, her eyes flying to the chained vampire.

Tristan’s head hung down, his long pale hair concealing his face. He made no move or sound when Zack called for him and poked him with the tip of his boot, and Myra wondered if he was truly unconscious or pretending.

“Looks like he won’t wake up on his own,” Zack said and nodded at Thomas. “Tommy, let’s do this.”

Thomas reached inside the bucket and took out a rat, his hand trembling. “What if he wakes up and bites me?”

Myra snatched the rat out of his hand and with a quick move of her knife skinned a part of the rodent’s back. Swiftly, she made a deeper cut and placed the animal right in front of Tristan’s face. All fell silent.

The vampire sniffed and sucked on it. He drank the rat until there wasn’t a drop left, and Myra reached out for another.

“We have to go on at least until he wakes up, perhaps more,” Sissi said. “Otherwise we risk brain damage.”

In the middle of the fourth rat, Tristan’s head started rolling left and right. He spat the blood on the floor, and his eyes flew open.

“Ew, rat blood,” he choked and looked up. “Oh, hello, Myra. You escape the Palace to return to this place? I’ve always found your taste lacking, but this goes beyond my expectations. Who is the leader around here?”

Myra glared at the vampire. What was this halfwit doing? He was supposed to look weak and disoriented.

Everyone was silent for a few seconds until Zack spoke. “That would be me.”

“Good,” Tristan said. “May I please get a toothbrush? I need to get the taste of rat out of my mouth.”

Zack’s eyes widened. “You’re our captive and are in no position to make demands.”

Tristan leaned back against the stone wall and raised a silver-golden eyebrow. “When Myra was our prisoner, we treated her much better. And we most certainly didn’t deny her a toothbrush.”

“I would be more respectful if I were you,” Zack said. “We can’t kill you, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hurt you.”

“You cannot kill me?” Tristan said, grinning. “And why would that be?”

“The Prince has something we want,” Zack said, his voice tense.

Tristan laughed, and Myra wanted to smack him. Was he insane, provoking Zack when his life was on the line? “If you think you can use me against the Prince, you are dead wrong. His Highness will never lower himself to speak to the likes of you.”

Myra gave him a pointed look, but he simply winked in return.

“You should hope that he does,” Zack said.

“And you should hope you have an unbroken bone left in your body when he is done with you,” Tristan said.

“Tristan, don’t be silly,” Myra said, giving him her best shut-up-if-you-want-to-live glare. “You know very well the Prince would do anything for you.”

“Of course he would,” the vampire said, and for a half-second, she hoped he had gotten the hint. “As long as it doesn’t involve talking to filthy humans.”

Thomas stood up and slapped him, sending his head flying backwards and colliding with the stone wall. “Enough,” Zack said. “Let’s leave him to muse over his current position. Hopefully, he’ll be more cooperative when we return.”

“Zack, we need to feed him at least a few more rats,” Sissi said. “He’s barely alive.”

“That’s his problem, not mine,” Zack said, and they walked out of the door. Once they had put enough distance between themselves and the prison door, he stared at Myra, his face pale. “Tristan? Since when are you on first-name terms with vampires?”

“Everyone is on first-name terms in the vampire world,” Myra said. Of course they were. They had no children, and most of their parents had been dead for centuries. What was the meaning of a family name if they had no families? “They find our idea of placing so much importance on a family name ridiculous and outdated. A person is defined by their individuality, they say, not by belonging to a certain clan.”

“Yes, I would expect vampires to have no understanding of what a family is,” Zack said. “I have to admit, seeing you talking to a vamp as if you knew him was a bit disconcerting.”

“But I do know him,” Myra said. “Whether you like it or not, I talked to the vampires and interacted with them. It doesn’t mean I like them. You saw Tristan. If you spent two months in his captivity, would you like him any better?”

“I see your point,” Zack said. “I’m sorry I doubted you, Myra. It’s just that Franka said some things.”

“I’m not surprised,” Myra said. “The Prince was trying to manipulate me, and she feared I’d fall into his trap. She saw what she expected to see.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Zack said. “I had a hard time believing it myself.” He paused to put out a burning torch as they passed it by and no longer needed its light. “I suppose everything is going according to your plan so far. Let’s leave the Prince to wait for a few days, so that he grows worried and uncertain. Then you’ll go to him and bring him a little token from his friend. I suppose we shouldn’t start with fingers on the first visit. A lock of hair, perhaps?”

Myra winced. “That would make him angry, and when he’s angry, he’s unreasonable. I think the cloak and the pin you took from the prisoner should be enough.”

Zack nodded. “Fine, I’ll trust your judgment.” They reached the door to the Headquarters and he put his hand on the knob. “I’m meeting Lydia now to go over the patrolling schedule. See you later.”

Myra smiled and nodded and walked back to her cellar as if in a daze. Once she was inside, she closed the door and leaned against it. What kind of a mess had she made? Zack seemed all too eager to start cutting off Tristan’s body parts, and if it came to that, Vlad would never forgive her.

I’m being selfish, Myra thought as she sat on the cot. All I can think about is my promise. Would I break my word? What would Vlad think of me? And Tristan is the one actually suffering.

But as she remembered the harebrained way the vampire had acted around Zack, she snorted. Perhaps a bit of suffering would do Tristan some good.

Still, Myra could not get him out of her head. The image of him chained and hurting burned inside her mind. She tried reading but stopped at the second page, realizing she had no memory of what had happened on the page before. She reread it, again and again, but her mind flew in all directions. She tried writing, but all she could do was draw jagged trees on the blank page.

She started pacing back and forth, checking the mechanical watch in her hand every three seconds. She wanted to go to Tristan, to talk to him in private and see if he was feeling better, but she couldn’t go right away. Zack’s suspicions had just been quelled; it would be unwise to rekindle them while they were still fresh.

After she decided enough time had passed and she would not seem too eager if a guard saw her, Myra walked to the prisoner’s cell. She wanted to punch Tristan. She had worked so hard to persuade Zack to keep him alive, and now the vampire was doing everything possible to undo her efforts.

But as she opened the door and stepped inside, all thoughts of smacking the vampire flew away. She froze in her tracks and the candle slid out of her limp fingers and fell to the stone floor. The flame died and pitch-black darkness devoured the room.


TBC

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2 thoughts on “Men and Monsters Excerpt Reveal

    • The artist is so talented! I’ve purchased the rights for four of their works to use in the book—cover art for Part One, Part Two, Part Four, as well as the chapter header. The artwork for Part Three is quite distinct, which makes sense to me: that section is different from the rest, focusing on Prince Vladimir instead of on Myra. There, I did some Photoshop work myself, and though the artwork is nowhere nearly as impressive as the rest, I feel it really captures the spirit of the story.

      Kingdom of Ashes had a relatively simple internal design, but for Men and Monsters I want to make the look match the sense and feel of the tale. I spent so much time going through stock graphics and trying to pick the right ones, until I realized I was doing it all wrong. Part One is called “Crossroads” and focuses on Myra facing a major dilemma, and so I was certain the graphic had to be a literal crossroad, or some road signs pointing at different directions. I went thought so many of these, and none was saying what I wanted it to say. But once I started looking at more abstract graphics, everything fell in place, and I think this one captures absolutely perfectly what Myra is going through in the first part of the book.

      Like

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