Just two months left until Throne of Blood‘s release! And since I don’t want to make you wait that long, I thought I could already start sharing the first chapters. Here is Chapter One, and Chapter Two will follow soon.
- This is the third book in the Nightfall series. If you’ve missed the previous books, it makes more sense to start with the Kingdom of Ashes free sample
- The chapter hasn’t gone through final proofreading. Please forgive any typos
- Photos are mine. They are not a part of the book, just a little bonus for people reading here 😊
TREADING IN STARLIGHT
Scorching steam surged from bubbling black rivers, fleeing a fiery underworld. The Northern Lights painted the starry sky in streaks of blue and green. Across icy peaks, a new smell seeped through the air, soaring over the suffocating stench of sulfur and the piercing scent of frost. Familiar and comforting, tempting and exciting.
A human in this hellscape? Or a vampire, recently fed?
Strange. No humans lived here—not since the Nightfall. The harsh island had become uninhabited once again, which made it an ideal vampire hideout if one was happy to live off animal blood. Perhaps humans had figured that out, and military troops had come to eliminate any stray vampires they found.
A hooded figure emerged from across the ice hill. A woman, wrapped in layers of coats and scarves, with strands of platinum hair escaping her woolen hat and hood and flying around her reddened face. She froze, dropping her bag in the snow.
He met her blue eyes, and the corner of his lips twitched. Go on, my dear. Run to the nearest authorities and report another Prince Vladimir sighting. I promise you it’s not the first one for tonight, and it will not be the last.
Only the humans from his old Farm in the Palace knew his face. In the chaos after the Daybreak, no one had thought to find them an artist and create a reliable portrait.
And now, it was too late. Rumors had spread like a virus, twisting, morphing, mutating, taking on a life of their own. The description of Prince Vladimir passed from one human to another and took a different direction at every lip it touched.
Prince Vladimir: wanted dead.
Tall and broad-shouldered.
Short and stunted.
Strong, perfect features, chiseled cheekbones.
Disfigured. Crooked nose. Asymmetric eyes.
Eyes of different colors.
A hunchbacked dwarf.
Missing an eye and a nose.
Turned as a child, doomed to live forever in an undeveloped body.
Turned as an old man, half-blind and half-demented.
Skin of the darkest black.
Pale, blond, and blue-eyed.
A woman using a man’s name.
Nearly every vampire or human would fit one of the “Prince Vladimir” descriptions floating around. And many had. Thousands of reports had rained from every corner of the world—so many claiming to have seen the notorious Prince that following up on every tip had sometimes paralyzed this new world’s fragile infrastructure, and several governments had considered penalizing anyone spreading false leads.
He had become a folktale. A myth. A legend.
A monster for parents to scare disobedient children with.
Prince Vladimir comes at night to snatch bad children from their homes. He bakes them in his oven and eats them for dinner. You should listen to your father, or the Prince will come for you.
A memory flashed in his mind, brighter than the Northern Lights, and a sharp pain tore through his chest. Lifetimes ago, he had tried those tactics on his own daughters. And after the monsters his parents had scared him with had failed, he had borrowed one from the Slavs in his household.
But it had never worked, not even on five-year-old Erniké.
Erniké sat at the table, poring over books under the candlelight. Candles melted all around her, wax dripping from the candelabras onto the wood.
“That’s enough studying for today.” He reached out to close her book. “Bedtime passed long ago.”
She grabbed the book with chubby hands and pulled it to her chest, glaring at him. “I’ll translate this page!”
He smiled and withdrew his hand. “But you are wasting beeswax and straining your eyes. You need to sleep to grow big and strong.”
“I’ll translate the page first.” Erniké laid the open book on her lap, out of his reach, and scribbled words on a piece of parchment.
His gaze turned to her work. Her writing had improved since a year ago, when she had scrawled large letters on parchment amidst the open fields, her cheeks stuffed with figs. And yet, her words were still somewhat uneven, and she still spilled a few drops of ink. “You can do that tomorrow.”
“No.” She slapped her hand over the parchment, smearing ink on her fingers. “I write in Greek better than you do.”
That was not even close to the truth, though, by the looks of it, it would be the case in a few more years. “I know, my heart. Which is why you need no more lessons tonight. Time to go to bed. Come.”
He sneaked his hand under the table and tapped on the wooden surface. Knock-knock.
She looked up from her writing, wide-eyed, her head turning left and right.
He suppressed a smile and repeated. Knock-knock. “You hear that, my dear? Baba Yaga is knocking.”
Erniké’s eyes focused on the door. And when she spoke, her voice was calm, welcoming, and innocent. “Come in, Yaga.”
But did it matter that Erniké had disobeyed him? Even if she had always heeded her parents’ guidance, it would have changed nothing. She would still have died at fourteen.
The blade of fire in his chest dug deeper. Why was he thinking of Erniké now, of all times? But was it strange that he was thinking of his first family? Now, when he had lost the family he had kept in his heart for the past centuries?
And now, Armida…
But not everything was lost. His fingers curled around a piece of paper in his pocket.
And his eyes never left the human in front of him.
He could kill her, but he had fed tonight, and it would be a needless loss of life. And yet, if all went well, he would soon need fresh blood. Preferably human.
The wind rose and fell, carrying strands of platinum-blond hair in a mist of snowflakes and sulfuric steam. Vladimir still remembered seeing such hair for the first time. He had known blond people before, of course; he had grown up among Slavs. But the Vikings’ hair had been something else.
So pale, fine, and delicate, like a baby’s fuzz. How could an adult have such hair? A strong man or a woman? But the fine-haired Vikings had been as fierce as anyone he had known. He had learned his lesson, and when, centuries later, he had met a poet boy with this same hair, he had never doubted his strength.
His lips curled into a full smirk, and he gave the woman a nod. Her eyes widened, and she turned around and bolted.
Vladimir’s fist tightened around the piece of paper. He pulled it out of his pocket and stared at the numbers, although they were already etched into his mind and his heart.
He reached into his other pocket and took out a compass, a map, and a pencil.
Moving, drawing, rechecking. Magnetic declination negative west, but how much? So close to the North Pole, the numbers were changing with every step he took and every night that passed.
So many sources of error. Such a high probability that he was wrong, and such a low one that he was right. If his calculations were incorrect, he would dig up this whole cursed island until he reached the scalding magma underneath.
And if that maggot had lied to him, Vladimir would test the resurrection spell he had discovered just to kill him once again.
And now, he was here. At the point where all his calculations, all his measurements, all his hopes had led him. He knelt on the ground, placing his hands on the frozen earth.
Archaeologists had used soft brushes for their excavations, afraid that hard tools could destroy the ancient treasures they sought. But the treasure he was after was far more precious, and he dared use nothing but his hands.
Layer after layer of frozen earth, removed one dust particle at a time. Digging until his skin peeled off. Digging until his hands bled. Digging until the sun rose, and he had to build a small igloo to hide from its deadly kiss.
Thankfully, winter days were only a few hours long, and he kept on digging, one grid of frozen sand at a time, night after night. He left his post only to hunt, and even then, he never ventured too far and survived only on small minks, seagulls, and ravens. It pained him to feed on the birds of Odin in this holy place, but he would waste no time looking for alternatives. On the seventh night, a sob rose from his stomach and stuck in his throat. For there, underneath his raw fingertips, was a pale hand.
To be continued