Throne of Blood comes out tomorrow! Those of you who have preordered will receive it directly to your ebook reader. In case you want to start reading a day early, I’ve already uploaded the first five chapters, and here are two more.
I will do the raffle draw for the Throne of Book sighed paperback on Thursday, July 24th to give everyone preordering last minute a chance to enter. I will start mailing your character cards and the book to the winner the following Friday, July 25th. There will be more fun gifts and surprises for those of you who have preordered; you’ll see them soon 🌻
Important: I have responded to everyone who has forwarded me their preorder confirmation and requested postcards. If you have done so but haven’t received a response from me, it means I haven’t received and registered your details. If that’s the case, please contact me, so that I can add you to the raffle and the list for character cards. Good luck to everyone participating!
Okay, time to stop talking and start posting chapters…
You Are Next
William examined the improvised door. Light and cheap, timber on the outside and cardboard on the inside. In the past couple of nights, Armida’s vampires had turned a hall down one of the vertical passages into a makeshift bedroom, giving the Queen a measure of privacy.
A large bed was behind him, covered in dark blue satin sheets. In front of him, next to the entrance, was a solid oak wardrobe. But he was more interested in the door. Any moment now, it would open, and his plan would unfold, like a complex pattern of dominoes falling over the board to paint a masterpiece.
A sound drifted to his ears—someone climbing down the vertical corridor. A soft knock followed, and his heart jumped to his throat. “Come in.”
The door opened, and Anne stepped in. She wore a gorgeous pink evening dress, perfectly matching her hair color. William beamed and raised the single rose he held in his hand—a shade lighter than Anne’s gown. “You look stunning.”
Anne’s eyes shone. “You told me it was a special night. I dressed for the occasion.”
“You are perfect.” William placed the rose on the bed. He fished a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Look.”
Anne held up the note. “Tu sei la prossima. What does it mean?”
“‘You are next,’” William said. “But it’s not only the meaning that matters. It’s the handwriting.”
Anne’s eyes widened. “Vladimir’s.”
He nodded, a grin spreading across his face.
She grinned back. “You’re amazing. So we kill Indira and leave the note? And we do it tonight?”
“Yes, my love. We do it tonight.” William wound an arm around her waist and pulled her close.
He kissed her, and she leaned in, responding immediately. Her eyes closed, but his stayed wide open. He watched as Indira silently emerged from behind the wardrobe, wooden stake in hand. She approached them and placed the tip right behind Anne’s back.
Without breaking the kiss, William placed his free hand on Anne’s chest and pushed. Anne stiffened, having only a moment between realization and death.
William pulled back. Anne’s unseeing eyes stared at him, wide with betrayal, her mouth hanging open in shock. The piece of paper had slid from her fingers and fallen on the floor.
“I am so tired of naïve kids,” Indira said.
“They have their uses,” William said. “Let’s move her to the bed. Careful not to spill blood on the floor—like Vladimir would have done.”
Indira frowned. “I don’t think Vladimir would have done anything like that.”
William laughed. “Have you heard the reports describing Yong’s remains? You’d be surprised what Vladimir is capable of.” He carried Anne’s body to the bed and placed her on her back, the tip of the stake pressing against the sheets. He pushed her down until the stake’s tip broke through and emerged from her chest. “A final touch.” He took the pink rose and placed it between her teeth. “Perfectly dramatic.”
A frown appeared on his forehead. “Wait. I almost forgot the final touch.” He bent to pick up the fallen note and handed it to Indira. “What do you think?”
Her eyes widened. “That’s incredible. Looks as if Vladimir wrote it.”
“You sound surprised.” He took the note from her fingers and stuck it on the tip of the bloodied stake. “Ready?”
Indira nodded. And then, she screamed.
She rushed to the door, shouting her lungs out. “Get the Queen!” she yelled as a few guards ascended the vertical corridor. “Now!”
William and Indira exchanged a glance, waiting in silence. Finally, they heard hurried climbing. William rushed to the door.
“Your Majesty.” He barred Armida’s way. “I have to warn you, the sight is gruesome.”
She pushed him aside. “Let me through.”
Armida walked in and froze. William followed her.
“She betrayed Ila to join my ranks,” the Queen said after a moment of silence. “I promised her friendship and protection. And I failed her.”
She walked to the body and picked up the note. Armida stared at the piece of paper, and all blood drained from her face. “This is Vladimir’s handwriting.” She looked up, meeting William’s eyes.
“He has been in here,” Indira said. “He knows your bedroom. And he has made a threat.”
“We have to move,” Armida said. “I know the perfect place to face Vladimir, in case he comes again.”
“He will strike again,” William said. “We can’t keep running away. We must find him and kill him before he comes for you.”
Armida’s eyes narrowed. “And we will. As it happens, I know exactly how.”
William stepped forward. “How can I serve you, Your Majesty?”
Armida turned to him, her emerald eyes burning. “Gather your most loyal warriors. Only vampires you trust with all your secrets. Meet me at the Gouffre de Padirac in a week.” She turned to Indira. “I will share my plans with you there. And then, we will destroy Vladimir once and for all.”
The icy ground awaited far below, swirling, twisting, caught up in a mad, dizzy dance. Drawing him like a magnet, inviting him to meet it and crash to pieces against its unforgiving surface.
And he was heeding its call. Falling. Tristan wanted to throw up, but he was paralyzed, his stomach tied in a knot around the bile. Sweat beaded all over his skin, and his breath froze in his throat, choking him. The dark magic that kept him alive went wild, making his blood rush through his veins and then freeze, stale and unmoving like water in a swamp.
Crash. All air left his lungs, but this crash had been much softer than he had expected. Something cracked, but his ears were ringing, and the frozen world was twirling before his gaze, and he could no longer tell what was happening in the real world and what was inside his aching head.
He rolled off in the snow and lay on his back, head spinning. The ground was so cold, frozen as the blood inside of him. He forced himself to stop gasping for air. Breathe in. Hold. Breathe out. His blood flow was returning to normal. His dark magic was starting to obey him. The panic was leaving him. And then it returned a hundredfold.
That idiot had taken the fall. How many times did they have to discuss this? Tristan rolled over and crawled on all fours, his head still spinning. And there he was, his lord, his sire, the only person in this world he cared about, lying on his back amidst rocks and snow with his eyes closed and his face pale.
Tears pricked at his eyes, and for a moment he was back there, trapped in that fateful battle, watching a wooden-shafted arrow find its aim. Five years had passed since then, but in his mind, it felt as if it had been last night. His shaking hand found Vladimir’s shoulder. “My lord?”
Vladimir’s eyes fluttered open, fixing on the sky. Tristan’s face twisted involuntarily, and then he consciously forced his frown to deepen. “What is wrong with you? What was that?”
The damned fool grinned and raised an eyebrow as if anything about their predicament was even remotely humorous. “I told you we would reach our destination alive, didn’t I?”
Tristan gaped at him. Seriously? “You call this alive?”
The idiot had the decency to wipe off his grin. Good. Otherwise, Tristan might have smacked him and wiped it off himself.
“I’m sorry, Tristan. I failed to plan for someone trying to kill us.”
Tristan fell back in the snow, throwing his hands in the air. “Oh. You failed to foresee that someone would try to kill the vampire who wiped out human civilization and then destroyed vampire society? I am starting to think your fabled chess master skills are a myth. Let’s see. Who could possibly want to kill you?” He raised his hand, fingers outstretched. “We can narrow down our list of suspects to…” He curled a finger and then another. “Every single human and every single vampire in the world minus myself. And I’m not sure about the last part.”
The blasted fool rolled off as if thinking he could get up. “And we can narrow it down even further if you stop complaining, so we can finally go and find the shooters. Are you hurt?”
“I’m traumatized for life. I’m never getting on a plane ever again. Or going to the mountains. Or seeing snow. Or walking on this earth.” His eyes narrowed. “And you are hurt.”
Vladimir shrugged. “I was lucky. Just a broken rib or two.”
Tristan punched him lightly in the chest and raised an eyebrow at the hiss. “Sounds like at least three.”
“We’ll deal with that later. We have to go.”
Tristan leaned back in the snow. “Sure. Let’s run around and let your broken ribs mince your lungs into shreds. I’m certain that won’t slow us down at all.”
Vladimir rose in one fluid motion as if he did not have a single injury in his body. One moment he was lying in the snow, and the next he was standing tall. “What do you propose?”
Tristan crossed his arms across his chest. Although seeing his sire move with ease had heartened him, and he could not help but admire this natural grace in the face of what had to be excruciating pain, he forced himself to deepen his frown. “We’re not going anywhere until I’ve immobilized your ribs.”
Vladimir walked past him. “Is that your expert opinion? Doctors discarded the practice of wrapping broken ribs centuries ago. They will heal on their own.”
Tristan hopped in the snow after him. “Still, I’m certain you should be resting instead of running around, chasing after humans or vampires who want to kill you.” His throat grew tight. While he was used to his own pain and was ready to take more, seeing even a scratch on Vladimir always made him lose his mind. His sire was supposed to be untouchable, unbreakable, invulnerable. Sacred. But the last battle had proved him wrong. And all Tristan could do now was keep a watchful eye.
Vladimir hopped over a pile of snow and bent down to pick up his backpack, which had fallen from the plane. He brushed off the snow and slung it over one shoulder, and his gaze turned to the clear starry sky. “The shot came from over there.”
He ran down the valley, behind a rocky peak, and Tristan had no choice but to follow, grumbling as he sprinted to catch up.
They ran until Tristan spotted torchlight in the valley below. Three people stood around, wrapped in thick winter jackets. A rectangular metal construction stood next to them, with two missiles mounted and pointed at an angle to the sky and five unmounted missiles lying in the snow. A radar was next to the torches.
Tristan took a quiet step down the slope. “From all the lights, I guess they are human.”
Vladimir nodded. “They won’t see us in the dark. Stay silent.”
They slid over the snow, two shadows in the winter night. By the time they walked into the torchlight, they were mere steps away from the humans.
Vladimir gave them a deep bow and a charming smile. “Grüß Gott,” he said in greeting.
Tristan narrowed his eyes. Where were they?
The humans—two men and a woman—stared at them for half a second before they turned around and bolted. But the vampires were upon them in moments, and soon Tristan held one of the men in an iron grip while his foot kept the other pinned in the snow.
Vladimir held the woman and twisted her arm. “What are you doing here?” he asked in German, putting on a lilting accent, making the vowels long and broad. Tristan was starting to get a better idea of where they were. But why had they flown all the way here instead of landing at the nearest coast like normal people?
“Who were you targeting?” Vladimir continued.
Tristan gripped the little finger of the human he held and folded it in his fist, pressing.
The man gasped. “Prince Vladimir.”
“And why did you think Prince Vladimir would fly this way?” Tristan asked in High German, refusing to put on that ridiculous accent.
“An informant came to the police station,” the woman said. “A man.”
The man under Tristan’s foot wriggled, and a stream of words left his mouth. Some useless nonsense about his family and letting them go. Tristan frowned and pressed harder.
Vladimir released some pressure from the woman’s arm. “Human or vampire?”
“We assumed human,” she said. “He was blond. Short hair, no beard, high forehead. He gave the name Simon Bachmann.”
The two vampires exchanged a glance. “Probably Armida sent someone,” Vladimir said. “If she found what I left of Yong’s body, she could have figured out I knew she had betrayed us.”
Tristan frowned. “Or Ila. Or Mizuki. Or any other vampire or human in this world.” His foot pressed down against the struggling human’s back. “Everyone wants to kill you.”
Vladimir shrugged. “I survived the past five years with no problems.”
Tristan’s eyes swept the scene. “You call this with no problems? We should have stayed in Iceland and fed on arctic foxes until things quieted down. We could have returned to the world once everyone had forgotten about you.”
“We don’t know Armida’s plans. Perhaps there will be no world to return to if we stand by and do nothing.”
“Anyway.” Tristan pulled his human closer. “They know what we look like. We can’t let them live.”
“Many think they know what I look like,” Vladimir said with a shrug. “But I agree—we need food.” His fangs sank into the woman’s throat. Her scream died a moment after it rose.
Tristan bit the man and drank deep. The human under his feet resumed his struggles and desperate cries. Once the vampire had finished his meal, he let the drained body fall to the snow and bent to pick up the second man, wriggling beneath his foot. “This one is for you. You have broken ribs to heal.”
“No.” Vladimir finished his own meal and licked his lips. “We’ll save him as a gift for a friend.”
“You have friends who are not me?”
Warm, surprised laughter escaped Vladimir’s throat, and Tristan’s eyes softened. His heart grew light. It felt good to hear that sound. Had his sire laughed at all these past five years?
Vladimir raised an eyebrow. “Did you just admit we’re friends?” He started walking in the snow, towards a narrow path between two peaks.
Tristan followed, pulling the struggling human behind him. “I put up with you dragging me into horrible messes that end up with me getting buried alive for years, or falling from the skies onto rocky mountains in the middle of nowhere. If that’s not friendship, I don’t know what is.” His brow furrowed. “Where are we, anyway?”
“Take a wild guess.”
“Indeed.” Vladimir gestured at the human, who had stopped talking and fighting and was turning his face from one vampire to the other, wide-eyed. “Let me take care of him.” He produced a rope and a few rags from his backpack. In a minute, he had tied up and gagged the man. “More precisely, we are in the Tennengebirge.”
They walked on, this time with Vladimir dragging the human on a rope behind them. “Great,” Tristan said with a snort. “Did we fly all the way here for the scenery? Or to meet your imaginary friend?”
They walked around a wall of stone, and Tristan stopped. A field of snow stretched before him, peppered with scattered rocks, and at the end, a long and rugged range of peaks rose sharply to the sky. Grey and rocky, partially covered in snow and ice. Stars sprinkled the sky above, and the crescent moon encircled one thin peak as if framing a painting. If they had come just for the scenery, it was almost worth it.
Almost. But then a figure emerged from behind a stone, and all the words he had meant to say froze in his throat.
She was short and skinny, and a bush of fiery curls spilled around her shoulders, burning under the starlight. Sissi gave out a loud squeak and rushed towards him, arms outstretched and eyes bright.
Tristan wanted to hug her back. To raise her in the air, and twirl her, and laugh. But his body wanted something else entirely.
Tristan stepped back and twisted around, avoiding her embrace. He was moving on pure instinct, without thought or motivation. He froze, frowning, and looked at her face—the joy had left, and her eyes had filled with hurt and confusion. The same hurt and confusion he had seen in Vladimir’s eyes when Tristan had shied away from him on the plane. What is wrong with me?
Tristan forced himself to smile. “Sissi. I am so happy to see you.”
She smiled back, shy, uncertain. “When the Prince found out you were alive, I was so happy, but also so afraid. I can’t tell you how good it is to see you.”
Her hands twitched at her sides. Tristan took a deep breath and forced himself to stay calm. He stepped forward and pulled her into an embrace.
Sissi hugged back immediately, and he tensed in her arms but stayed calm, for her sake. But what was Sissi doing with Vladimir? Had she forgiven him for turning her against her will? He caught Vladimir’s gaze over his shoulder. His sire’s eyes were narrow and thoughtful.
“My dear.” Vladimir stepped forward, dragging the human prisoner behind him. Sissi finally pulled back to look at him, and Tristan breathed a sigh of relief. “We have a small gift for you. We hope you like him.”
Sissi looked at the human, her gaze sweeping over him from head to toe. “Where did you find him?”
“Ah, an excellent question,” Tristan said. “He and his companions shot at us after a certain genius decided we should fly around in a small and exceptionally unsafe plane over the entire Alps.”
Her eyes widened. “Humans shot at your plane?”
Finally, some sympathy and understanding. “And shot it down, too. Apparently, someone out there has a reason to assassinate the infamous Prince Vladimir. Who would have thought?”
Vladimir glanced at Sissi. “Don’t encourage him. He can keep whining about it all night.” He pulled at the rope. “Would you like a snack?”
She smiled. “Tempting, but I just ate.”
Vladimir frowned. “Are you embarrassed about the way we feed? There is no need to be shy—it is natural. We all do it.”
“I am not embarrassed.”
He stepped towards her, pulling the human closer. “And yet, you never feed in front of me.”
Sissi’s eyes burned. “Are you surprised?” She took a deep breath and met his gaze. “I have only love for you, Your Highness, but you turned me against my will. I am trying to overcome it, but your presence unsettles me. I’m sorry.”
Vladimir bowed his head. “I am the one who should apologize. And I am no longer a highness.”
“But you are. You’ll always be my Prince.” Sissi blushed so that even the tips of her ears turned bright red. “What’s the plan? Do we go to the Duchess now?”
Tristan froze. “The Duchess? We’re going to the Duchess?” He glared at Vladimir. “Are you insane? Why would we do that?”
The damned madman gave him an indifferent shrug. “We need allies against Armida. But you are right to distrust her.” He turned to Sissi. “Sissi, you’ll stay here. If we fail to return in five nights, come look for us, but sneak in in secret.” He handed her the end of the rope. “Take the human for later. If all goes well, we will meet at our cave.”
“Our cave?” Tristan wanted to shake these mad vampires until some sense settled into their empty heads. “We have a cave? And instead of going there and relaxing with some quality drinks and plum humans and a good day of sleep, you want to meet the Duchess?”
“Precisely.” Vladimir turned around and started walking.
Tristan glared at his back for a moment before he threw his arms up in the air and followed, muttering curses under his breath.