Throne of Blood comes out on June 21st! Why am I releasing such a wintry book at the peak of summer? Let’s not forget that about 12% of all people live in the Southern Hemisphere where June 21st is the winter solstice ❄ ❄ ❄ I myself spent a semester in New Zealand and have nice wintry memories from June.
Okay, I initially wanted to release the book on Dec 21st last year but got delayed, and now I’m trying to come up with a deep and profound explanation. 😳
The book is almost here, but while we wait, here are the next two chapters:
A long line of motley nomads—vampires, shouldering multicolored bags and backpacks—twisted along the mountain pass. They moved quickly, feet sinking deep into the crunchy white blanket. More snow fell in massive flakes, burying the winding trail they left behind.
William’s lips curled into a bright, beautiful smile, and he tilted his head in Anne’s direction. She grinned back. He looked like a cat who had found a jar of cream. “You seem satisfied.”
“Just proud.” His warm hazel eyes ran over her face. “You did this, my love.” He gestured at the long train of vampires ahead. “You convinced Armida she was in danger and needed to run. We are all on the move because of your work. See how much you have grown.”
A small, rational part of Anne’s mind knew that was a lie. William—and, as much as she hated to admit it, Indira—had done most of the work in brainwashing and manipulating Armida. Nightly whispers of danger, steering the Queen in directions they wanted her to go and planting seeds of doubt until Vladimir had finished their work for them. But she silenced that little voice. William’s praise felt good.
And wasn’t it deserved? Had she not grown more than anyone else she had known? The baby vampire, turned during the Nightfall at seventeen, falling into the wrong company. Stuck for decades in a bleak existence of feeding on beasts and listening to the constant preaching of guilt and shame. Until William had found her and recruited her as his spy. That night, she had learned for the first time that being a vampire was not a vile sin. It was wondrous and exciting, and the vampire world was large and beautiful and offered so many possibilities. And now, this baby vampire was preparing her move to become the next Queen.
“I grew long ago.” She straightened her back and raised her chin. “Have you forgotten that during the Daybreak, I singlehandedly led the Resistance and Ila’s people into an ambush and, entirely thanks to me, we came close to preventing the Wizard’s destruction? Of course, you idiots messed it up. Even so, all thanks to me, we killed lots of humans and herbivores and captured Tristan.”
“Indeed. And now, Tristan might be alive and free, so let’s hope he won’t cause trouble.”
The vampires ahead of them stopped, and William turned forward, narrowing his eyes. “Oh. The hunters are back. And with a pretty sad bounty.”
Anne followed his gaze. The two vampires they had sent out were returning with just three humans between them—teenaged boys, bound and gagged and draped over the vampires’ shoulders. “Really? That’s all? I bet they found more and ate them themselves.” She sniffed. “Let’s see if we can smell fresh human on them.”
“Don’t get them in trouble.” William winked. “We want people to love their new queen. Come.”
They walked to the front of the column and watched as the hunters laid the humans at Armida’s feet. “For you, my Queen.”
The human girl they had been dragging along whimpered and looked away.
Armida raised her head, and her eyes swept over the trail of vampires. She turned around, and her long, impractical blue gown trailed in the deep snow. “I will feed only after all of my people have tasted human blood.”
Anne snorted. “Seriously? She is the benevolent ruler now?”
“She has always been desperate for people’s love,” William whispered. “Comes with the lack of confidence.”
“Well, then.” Anne dropped her bag in the snow. “Let’s show these people a proper queen.”
She walked to the bound humans lying in the snow. “If no one else is hungry, I am.” She knelt, grabbed the boy, and lifted him. “After all, I suffered for decades, living without human blood, spying for you all.” Without waiting for permission, she sank her teeth into the boy’s neck.
Hushed whispers rose all around her until she heard other vampires approach and pick up the rest of the humans to drink. She met William’s gaze over the boy’s shoulder, and he gave her a nod. Anne closed her eyes and let the blood fill her. Human blood gave her life and hope as nothing else did. All the wasted years living without it. She had so much to make up for.
Perhaps she should have drunk only a sip of her human and passed him on to someone else, but she could not bring herself to care. She drank the boy dry and let the body fall into the snow. Once she looked up, she saw Armida smiling at her.
“So true, my dear. Spies risk the most and reap no benefits. If anyone deserves a reward for their contributions to our cause, it’s you.”
Oh, come on. This pseudo-benevolent nonsense didn’t work on her. She forced herself to smile back and give a nod of what she hoped looked like gratitude.
Once everyone had finished feeding, the vampires resumed their trek, stopping only to catch and drink whatever beasts they found on the way. On and on, they traveled south, until they reached the stunning sapphire waters of the Adriatic Sea. Down along the rocky coast, climbing mountains, descending deep into the earth through a system of vertical caves.
The vampires flooded into a large underground hall they had found, and Armida walked to the far end. She turned around and faced everyone. “We will settle here until we know more about Vladimir’s plans and whereabouts. This means we need all comforts. I need volunteers to raid any nearby human settlements for furniture and other goods. I need a door for my bedroom, something quick and easy to install. And a bed, and a wardrobe for my clothes. And, speaking of clothes, if you find something nice, bring it. All my outfits are falling apart.”
Anne raised an eyebrow. Perhaps wearing a flowing ball gown for a trek through the snowy mountains wasn’t the best way to keep clothes intact.
“And don’t forget the human,” Armida continued. “We need to make a comfortable and warm room for her. Lots of blankets and pillows and whatever else you find. And…” She gave a warm, kind smile. “Make sure you take everything you need for yourselves.”
Anne’s eyes narrowed. Armida was overdoing this benevolent ruler thing. She had to make sure she avoided such behavior once she was queen; it looked ridiculous.
After the volunteers had left, Armida gathered her massive blue skirts and climbed towards the exit.
“Your Majesty!” Indira called after her. “Where are you going? Do you need anything?”
Armida turned around, and Anne stifled a gasp. Something strange in the Queen’s green eyes, something dark, deep, and sorrowful, struck a chord in her heart she could not explain. “Thank you. I will be fine on my own.”
Anne frowned as she watched her leave. “What is she doing?”
William shrugged. “Who cares?”
“I do.” Anne was not sure where the strange curiosity had come from, but now, she could not get rid of it. She needed to know where Armida was going. Shooting a glance at William, she casually walked to the vertical passage and climbed upward.
Once she had stepped on the snow outside, she turned to see that William had followed her. “Her footsteps are fresh in the snow. See? She was running. Don’t you find it suspicious?”
“Insecure queens have eccentricities. I’m sure it’s nothing important.”
“One way to find out.” Anne ran along the footsteps and heard crunching snow behind her. Good. William was coming along.
Ahead of them rose a high snowy peak that blocked the view. Anne slowed down, taking careful, silent steps. She reached the rocks and peeked behind them.
The azure sea spread out below, sparkling with the light of a thousand stars. A large stone protruded over the water. Armida sat on it, her legs bent to the side, her hand moving back and forth, brushing the snow off the rock.
Anne frowned. “What is she doing?”
“I told you,” William whispered. “Nothing at all.”
“But why did she come here?”
He sighed. “Who knows? It’s her birthplace on the other side of that sea. Perhaps she is getting nostalgic. And I’ve heard she has traveled along these shores with Vladimir. Maybe she is remembering some cheesy romantic moment.”
An unexpected wave of sadness washed over Anne’s heart. What if, by some cruel twist of fate, she and William one day found themselves on the opposite sides of a war, fighting to kill each other? No, that was not possible. But had Armida ever believed that such a thing could happen to her and the Prince? Anne could only imagine how Armida had to be feeling. And, for a short, strange second, she did not wish to kill her.
But the moment passed. She closed her eyes and steeled herself. If she wished to be queen, to rise above the sad, pathetic life she had led with Ila’s people, to write her name in history and make sure she mattered, it had to be now. She had pushed for this plan, and she had to see it to the end.
“When do we do it?” She opened her eyes. “When do we kill Indira?”
“Three nights from now. Let Armida settle down in these caves, put up the raided furniture, and feel at home. And then, we strike and show her she’s not safe anywhere.” He smiled and ran a hand through Anne’s pink hair. “Find something special to wear for that night, my love. We will be celebrating.”
So soon! Only three nights, and the dice would roll, shattering the world Armida had known and making way for Anne to rise to the top. But even as she closed her eyes and leaned in for a kiss, an image burned brightly in her mind—a vampire sitting on a bare rock by herself, staring into the endless starlit sea.
“How else did you expect to get out of here?” Vladimir reached the ridge and started descending the mountain on the other side. His small plane awaited in the valley below, half-covered in snow and black ashes.
“Why do we need to get out of anywhere?” Tristan crossed his arms. His feet remained planted in the snow. “It’s nice here. We can stay here forever and feed on arctic foxes and reindeer. You know I hate heights.”
“Fear of heights and fear of flying are unrelated.”
Tristan knitted his brows. “Well, then, I have both. You could have been more considerate after my traumatic ordeal. And now I have to suffer this nonsense only because you think you look cool flying a plane.” He kicked at a pile of ashen snow, sending black-and-white powder flying in all directions. “And do you seriously plan to fly in this?” He waved his arms at the blackened sky. “Back in the Old World, flights got canceled because of volcanic eruptions, and for a good reason.”
Vladimir took a step back up the hill and stretched out his hand. “Come. I know the way; I don’t need to see it. And I have checked the regular flights on our route—there are not many to crash with.”
Tristan ignored the offered hand and hopped over a block of ice. “If I hadn’t forced you to eat, you would have flown that thing on an empty stomach. And now you’re ready to fly it through the ashes? How did you survive five years without me?”
“The same way I survived five centuries before meeting you.” Vladimir threw a glance back as he half-walked, half-slid down the slope. “You have nothing to worry about. I’m keeping the plane in good condition. See? I have done some upgrades.”
Tristan narrowed his eyes. “Why does it have only two seats?”
“I removed the rest to expand the fuel tank. Now we can fly for ten hours without landing.”
Tristan stopped his descent, and his feet sank deep into the snow. “But we’re not flying for ten hours, are we?”
“But a plane like this would cover three thousand kilometers in ten hours.”
“And that’s the distance we need to cover.”
“That’s ridiculous.” Tristan looked like an angry hedgehog about to attack, little sparks flying out of his grey eyes. “If the landscape and volcanic ash are anything to go by, we’re in Iceland. Norway is less than a thousand kilometers away, and from there we can take a more reasonable means of transport to wherever you want to go.”
“First, there’s no Norway, and—”
Vladimir took a deep breath. He knew Tristan was not overly attached to his old homeland, and the recent changes were less dramatic than what had happened after the Nightfall, but still, it was hard to predict how he would react to the news. “Scandinavia is even more sparsely populated than before the Nightfall. It’s all under a single government and is called Gundamark, after a local domesticated human who fought and died during the Daybreak. Many cities and nations now bear the names of fallen humans.”
Tristan snorted and resumed his descent. “The Daybreak. This will never stop sounding absurd, no matter how many times I hear it. And Gunda is an insanely old-fashioned name.”
“We treated humans like livestock,” Vladimir said, “but they never forgot who they were. They sought their culture in stories of the past. Apparently, old names have come back into fashion among children born in captivity.”
“Humans are ridiculous.” Tristan slid down the slope, controlling his speed. “What happened to our palace?”
“It’s a museum, and the town that grew around it became the capital of what were once the British Isles, and are now the Freedom Isles.” Vladimir bit his lip, fighting a grin. “Humans called the city Thomasville.”
Tristan’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Thomasville? Ha! They named their capital city after the ginger?” He frowned. “Wait. He died?”
“At your hands, I assume?”
“You know me too well.”
Tristan rolled his eyes. “Now I understand why Myra was so angry at you all of a sudden.” He took the last step off the slope and into the flat valley. His face turned to the blackened sky. “I hate planes. If you wished to kill me, you should have staked me before waking me.”
He reached the plane in a few long strides, opened the door, and hopped inside. Vladimir took the other seat, tossing his backpack between them. “We have to wait for another half an hour for the sun to set. The flight will take us above the black ashes.”
“Right,” Tristan said. “Assuming we survive before we reach the ashes.”
They leaned against their backrests, staring through the front window at the sparkling glaciers under the black sky.
“I have herbs in my backpack that could help you sleep through the flight.”
“I’ve slept long enough.”
Vladimir hesitated. “I also have herbs that will help with nightmares, if that’s what you fear.”
Tristan banged his head against the backrest. “That’s not the problem. I’m not sleeping during this flight. I want to have a fair chance of survival once we inevitably crash.”
“Your faith in my piloting skills is humbling.”
Tristan gave him a sideways glance. “It’s not your skills I doubt; it’s your common sense. You never answered why we need to fly for ten hours when it would take us a little over three to reach Gundamark or whatever it’s called now.”
“We are in a hurry.”
Tristan pinched his lips together. “Didn’t your sire teach you that vampires live forever? We have all the time in the world.”
“We have no time at all.” Vladimir looked away, staring at the ashen snow. “We have to stop Armida. I fear she might be up to something.”
“Oh,” said Tristan. “That’s good, then. That’s very good.”
Vladimir whirled around. “Good?”
Tristan shrugged. “I was looking for a delicate way to tell you Armida is evil. I’m happy you already know.”
An iron fist gripped his heart. Armida is evil. It had been right in front of him all this time, but he had refused to see it. Every time he had returned to her after his searches for ancient spells, he had noticed the strange company she kept. He had wondered at it, but other thoughts had occupied his mind.
When Yong had told him the truth, he had refused to believe. He had questioned another vampire, and another, finding convoluted explanations in his head for why their independent stories matched so well when they were obviously false. They had to be false. It had taken him so long to believe Armida had turned on them. He was unsure he believed it even now.
Tristan shifted closer. “I’m sorry about Armida. And I’m sorry you had to go through the last five years on your own. But if it’s any comfort, I believe she still loves you, in her own way. She betrayed me, not you.”
“I fail to see the difference.” Vladimir pressed his lips together and stared straight ahead. “Put on your headset and tighten your seat belt. Time to go.”
He reached for his own headset and started the engine. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tristan grow pale as a sheet.
The small plane accelerated down the snowy field. The front rose, and the wheels separated from the icy ground, shaking and groaning. Vladimir pushed the throttle forward and the fuel mixture rod inward. He stole a glance to his right. Tristan was staring through the window, wide-eyed, his hands gripping his seat so tightly his fingers had grown bloodless.
The plane took off, shaking like a roller coaster, leaving high peaks and shiny glaciers behind. To the left, a geyser erupted, shooting water and steam to the sky. “Don’t look down,” Vladimir said. “Look at me.” He gripped the yoke firmly with his left hand and reached out with his right, placing it on top of Tristan’s forearm.
Tristan pulled away as if burned. Vladimir’s heart grew cold, and he withdrew his hand. Tristan had never before shied away from his touch. He turned around to look at his friend. The shadow in his grey eyes had grown, almost devouring them. Tristan was holding his hand in front of his face and staring at it as if surprised by his own reaction.
Vladimir bit at his lip, drawing blood, and stared at the ashy sky. A heavy silence descended over them.
“It helps me to look out of the window,” Tristan said after a while. “And do you know that most aircraft accidents happen with small planes, such as this one?”
“That’s because I wasn’t the one flying them.”
Tristan rolled his eyes. “Sure, let’s blame the victims. How classy.”
The plane rose over the cloud of volcanic ash, reaching into a starry sky. The crescent moon shone from far ahead. Once the ashes had cleared, Vladimir saw they had left the icy shore behind. Below them stretched an endless dark sea. The only sound was the engine, nearly muffled by his headset.
Suddenly, the plane jumped and plunged. Tristan yelped. “Could you mind your flying?”
“It’s just turbulence. Nothing to worry about.”
“Famous last words.” Tristan frowned. “I’m beginning to reconsider these sleeping herbs. Though I have no doubt if I go to sleep now, I will wake up dead.”
Vladimir tossed him the backpack. “They are inside.”
Tristan grabbed it and rummaged through the contents. “Hm. Why do you always carry around lockpicking tools? And why… okay, that’s creepy.”
Vladimir glanced at him. Ah, that. He had forgotten it was still in there. In Tristan’s hands lay a long pale blond braid. “Yong cut it off to keep as a souvenir. A hunting trophy, as he called it.”
Tristan snorted. “Great. And you decided to keep it as a souvenir as well.”
“I wasn’t sure Yong had told the truth, and I’d find you alive. Torture is a poor interrogation method—it often causes people to lie just to make you stop. I found the braid after I’d killed him and kept it in case I needed to perform the resurrection spell after all.” A lump formed in his throat. He could not tell Tristan how he had clutched at this braid as if it were a lifeline, his heart seeking comfort but finding only dread.
“But you don’t need it now,” Tristan said. “May I throw it out of the window?”
“Please, go ahead. If you don’t mind depressurizing the cabin.”
Tristan sighed overdramatically and returned his braid to the backpack. Thankfully, the next item he found was the herbs, and once they took effect, peace and quiet came.
While it filled his heart with joy to hear Tristan speak—even when it was insults and bickering—to see and hear every small shard of proof that he was indeed alive, there was no point in making him suffer through the flight. Turbulence shook the plane a few more times, but Vladimir did not mind. This was strangely enjoyable, like an unplanned amusement park ride. His laughter filled the cabin, unrestrained, mixing with tears of relief. He had succeeded. Tristan was alive. Everything else that followed would be easier.
Snowy peaks rose amidst the waves, shrouded in mists—the Faroe Islands. The endless sea stretched once again, and then the Shetland Islands appeared. He saw Scandinavia on his left and the former British Isles on his right, clear as if he was looking at a map. And, finally, they reached the mainland.
The plane flew over snowy plains and forests, lakes, and long, winding rivers. Tristan awoke in time to see the mountains. Vladimir adjusted the yoke and turned on the carburetor heat, and the plane began descending. High icy peaks rose all around them.
“Great,” Tristan grumbled. “I was hoping we’d be there already.”
“Almost there.” Vladimir’s gaze slid over the view. Pure starlight spilled over the snow. The crescent moon watched them from between two jagged rocky peaks.
A strange noise whistled in the night almost muffled by the headset. A bang came an eyeblink later. The plane shook and plummeted, descending fast.
Tristan gasped and grabbed his seat. “Don’t tell me that was turbulence.”
Vladimir’s hands gripped the yoke. That had been no turbulence at all. He made a sharp turn, narrowly avoiding another missile. “Someone shot us.”
Tristan’s head whirled around. “I told you we’re going to die!”
Vladimir’s eyes scanned the terrain. He was losing control over the plane, but they were already low, and the snow was deep. Perhaps he could keep the plane stable for a moment over a snowy area with no sharp rocks. “Tristan, I need you to be ready. When I say ‘jump,’ you must unfasten your seat belt, open the door, and jump out.”
“What?” Tristan cried. “Have you lost your mind? You want me to jump out of a plane? And what will you do?”
“I’ll jump after you.” It was not a lie. He would jump, but he would have lost control over the plane by then, and there was no telling what terrain he would fall over.
Tristan opened his door. All air flew out of the cabin, and a strong force yanked them towards the gaping hole. Vladimir’s backpack shot out of the window before he could grab it. The only thing keeping them from plunging out was their seat belts, but controlling the plane had become even harder. Vladimir whirled around. “I told you to wait until I say—”
“Forget that.” Tristan undid his seat belt.
Both their seat belts.
Tristan snatched him and hurled him out of the door. Vladimir caught a glimpse of his backpack, still falling into a bottomless abyss. He and Tristan followed a moment later. They were falling. Falling towards snow and rocks ready to meet them. Great. Was it that difficult for this stubborn fool to listen for once in his life?
The air swished past his ears, deafening him. Vladimir reached out through frost and snow and grabbed Tristan. The last thing he could do was rotate in the air so that he would take the impact of the fall upon himself.
Right above them, his small plane collided with a rocky peak, exploding in flames.