Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth (Part 4)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on June 1, 2017. This is Part 4. Read Part 1, Part 2 , and Part 3 here. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

FOUR

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

2 December 1999

Adam paced the study of the safe house like a caged tiger. Arkady Danilovich Markov, special agent for the Russian Orthodox Church, sat in one of the chairs, staring sullenly out the window. Inspector Nikola Gavrilović of the Sarajevo Police sat in the other chair, his fingertips pressed together.

“I’m beginning to share Clara’s opinion of your ‘safe’ houses,” Adam snapped at the Russian.

“So am I, for what it’s worth,” Arkady replied.

“How exactly does something like this happen?” Adam asked. “It was almost dawn. And this place, it has a threshold. A vampire shouldn’t have been able to cross.”

“Humans can, though. If a vampire had helpers like Stjepan did …” Inspector Gavrilović offered.

Stjepan, going by the name of Dragomir, was the three-hundred-year-old vampire leader of the Chetniks, a Serbian ultranationalist organization that had been after Dracula’s medallion. To complicate matters, he was also Elena’s former lover. Yasamin. Elena. A hard lump formed in the pit of Adam’s stomach. In Dracula, there were three brides.

“Also remember, a strong enough vampire can tolerate sunlight for a short amount of time,” Inspector Gavrilović continued, “especially at sunrise, when the light is not too strong. That’s one thing Bram Stoker got right.”
“In any event,” Arkady added, “Greta’s wounds could also have been made by something other than a vampire.”

Adam shook his head. “We didn’t find any blood.”

Arkady shrugged. “She could have been killed some-where else and brought here.”

Adam narrowed his eyes. “So what are you saying? You don’t think there are any vampires involved in this? Need I remind you what is pained on the wall downstairs?”

Arkady sighed. “What I’m saying is that we don’t know. Jumping to conclusions could get us killed. Or Clara.”

“So what do you suggest we do?”

“Inspector Gavrilović and I will work our contacts for now, and you should do what the note said, work faster.”

“That’s it? Clara is in danger. She could be anywhere now.” Adam plumbed the depths of his rage. “You could at least act like you care.”

Arkady shot up from the chair, his face suddenly red, his teeth clenched. “Do not ever question me again about that.” His face fell, and he sat back down. “I care. I’m just responsible for keeping you from doing something stupid.”

Adam grabbed his coat and headed for the door.

“What are you doing?” Arkady asked.

“Something stupid,” Adam replied. “I’m going for a walk. I need some air.”

“You really shouldn’t,” the inspector said, “until we know what we’re facing—”

Adam jabbed a finger in the inspector’s direction. “Don’t you start, too. I’ll be back before dark, and then I’ll ‘work faster.’”

He slammed the door behind him a little harder than he intended. Outside the air was crisp, but there was no breeze, so he found the cold bearable. He put one foot in front of the other without giving much thought to where he was going. Arkady’s new safe house, where they had moved after the first one was compromised, was in Sarajevo’s Stari Grad, or Old City. The streets were narrow, and buildings crowded the sidewalk. A few hardy tourists strolled about, admiring the store windows decorated for Christmas.

Adam was busy thinking about the books, running through possibilities in his mind. He didn’t understand how he was supposed to “work faster.” He was no closer to solving the clues to the whereabouts of the medallion than when he has started. And yet he had to wonder if he had missed something. A simple golden trinket couldn’t have caused so much death.

Lost in thought, Adam wandered from the shopping district and onto a residential street lined with trees. The sun went behind the clouds, and the temperature dropped. On the other side of the street, a couple walked. Something seemed odd about them, but Adam couldn’t place his finger on it.

As they drew closer, Adam slowed, trying to get a better look. They were huddled against the cold. The man covered his chin and mouth with a scarf. Only his eyes remained visible. The woman’s blond hair peeked from underneath her fur hat. She wore a scarf as well, but left her mouth and nose exposed. As they passed, she turned her head to look at him.

Adam held his breath. He flashed back to the beautiful Russian agent who had saved his life months earlier. Her name had been Anya, and she was dead, a fact that still gnawed at him.

After the couple passed, Adam craned his neck to watch them retreat. When they were some distance away, the sun came out again from behind the clouds, and the air warmed, at least a little. The woman didn’t show any signs of recognizing him. Still something unsettled Adam. He decided to return to the safe house.

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth (Part 3)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on June 1, 2017. This is Part 3. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

THREE

Near Berlin, Germany

6 June 1878

The bump in the road jolted Elizabeth awake. The slow rocking of the carriage and the rhythm of the horses’ hooves had lulled her to sleep. She looked out the window and immediately knew something was wrong. Even the light of the full moon wasn’t enough to penetrate the murky woods crowding the road on either side. Friedrich, the driver, had said they would make Berlin by sundown.

She leaned out as far as she dared and called to him. “Friedrich, where are we?”
He didn’t answer.

“Friedrich, is something wrong? Shouldn’t we be in Berlin by now?”

Again no answer.

Elizabeth tried one last time. “Friedrich, are we lost?”

At that moment, she caught a glimpse of something in the woods out of the corner of her eye, something that worried her more than Friedrich’s failure to answer. A few seconds later, it appeared again, a shadow, darker than the darkness itself, keeping pace with the carriage. It was following them, and it wasn’t the only one. All around her, yips and hoots pierced the night, and then a full-throated howl. The horses whinnied. The carriage lurched. Friedrich struggled to keep it under control.

The wolf howled again, joined by others this time. The carriage pitched to one side and then the other as the horses panicked. Friedrich fought as hard as he could to keep them from bolting, but ultimately lost. The carriage careened to the left and crashed onto its side.

Elizabeth lay there momentarily, listening to the horses’ hooves as they galloped away. Something warm and wet ran down her cheek. She winced when she reached up to touch it.

Elizabeth twisted herself around until she could stand. With some effort, she managed to push open the door on the side of the carriage facing up, and with even more effort, more than Elizabeth thought she was capable of, she lifted herself out of the overturned vehicle.

The horses were gone, and there was no sign of Friedrich. Elizabeth gingerly placed a foot on the carriage’s running board in order to climb down, but the barks and the yips returned. All around her in the woods, pairs of yellow eyes glowed. Emerging from the dimly lit tree line, a dozen smoke-grey wolves surrounded the ruined carriage. Teeth bared and growling, they inched toward her, making the circle smaller and smaller.

The largest lunged at her, catching the hem of her dress in its teeth. It tried to pull her off the carriage, but her dress tore, and the animal fell back. Elizabeth fell, too, and almost met her end at the jaws of another wolf taking the opportunity to spring at her. Sooner or later, one of them would succeed in pulling her down.

A gunshot shattered the night. The wolves broke rank, turning their attention from her. A moment later, another gunshot sent the pack scattering back into the woods. Elizabeth looked in the direction of the shots to see three men on coal-black horses emerge from the darkness. Gypsies.

The one in front barked something in a language she didn’t understand, and the three of them stopped. The leader dismounted and walked toward her. His piercing green eyes and long nose gave his face a hawk-like appearance, even over an ample brown mustache. At the base of the carriage, he made a dramatic bow and offered his hand to her. Elizabeth slipped her hand in his, and he helped her down off the carriage.

“Are you all right, my lady?” he asked in strangely accented German.

“Yes,” Elizabeth replied in her own tentative German. “Thank you for scaring off the wolves.”

The man smiled. “I simply could not let you be devoured. It would have been ungentlemanly.” His smile melted away, replaced by a look of concern. He reached up to touch her cheek. “My lady, we must get you some help. You have been hurt.”

“It’s just a scratch,” Elizabeth said.

The man shook his head. “No, our camp is not far from here. I insist that you come with us. We’ll have someone look at it there.”

He helped her onto the back of his horse. They followed the road for a while, then without warning turned off into the undergrowth. The Gypsy’s companions did the same. Startled, Elizabeth clutched the man’s midsection. She could feel his compact and powerful muscles as he guided the horse over a trail she never would have seen on her own. They wound their way deeper into the woods, into a world completely foreign to Elizabeth. The moon shown down in patches through the trees, spotlighting odd vignettes—a half-fallen tree with its branches turned to grow upward toward the sky, a thicket of shrubs with bright red berries, a massive oak tree with branches so heavy, they almost touched the ground. Unfamiliar sounds filled the air around her, too—not the night noises of the city, but crickets, owls, and bats.

The nearly invisible trail reminded Elizabeth of the stories her father used to tell her about fairy roads in England that appeared and disappeared without warning. If a hapless traveler took one of them, he would find himself in a different realm entirely, where the fairies ruled and where our world’s rules of logic held no sway. Only a very few ever came back from that world.

Soon, an orange glow emerged from the darkness ahead. They came upon a clearing where the Gypsies had set up camp. The man dismounted and helped Elizabeth off the horse. He walked over to a group of women and spoke to them in the same language he had used with the men earlier.

A few minutes later, he returned and spoke to her in his accented German, “Magda will show you where you can sleep tonight. Tomorrow, we will take you into the city.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth said again.

He took her hand and kissed it. “I would not be a man if I did not give aid to a beautiful woman in distress.”

As he turned to walk away she called after him. “Wait. I have to know your name. Please.”

“Alexej,” he replied before disappearing among the others in the camp.

A plump older woman led her to a small tent with blankets and pillows, and almost immediately, someone thrust a cup of some hot liquid into her hands. It smelled like cloves and honey. Elizabeth sipped while the Gypsy woman carefully dabbed the blood from her cheek with a cloth soaked in warm water. She stayed up listening to the Gypsy music as they played their instruments and sang in their peculiar language. She drifted to sleep with the music’s rhythms running through her head.

 

“Lady James.”

Elizabeth woke with a start. She looked up to see Friedrich’s concerned face from where she still lay in the overturned carriage. The sky overhead was several shades lighter than she remembered.

“Lady James,” Friedrich repeated. “Don’t worry. Help has arrived.”

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth (Part 2)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on June 1, 2017. This is Part 2. Read Part 1 here. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

TWO

Near Cluj, Romania

2 December 1999

Clara opened her eyes to find herself in a room Dracula would have been proud of. She lay in a giant four-poster bed covered in satin and silk and velvet. The room was long, with tall windows on one side. Opposite was a fireplace, framed in stone, in front of it two overstuffed chairs. There was also a bookshelf and writing desk in the room. Deep reds and dark woods dominated.

Clara threw back the covers and stepped across the wood floor to one of the windows. She looked out over a narrow snow-covered lawn, and beyond it a forest of bare trees. She had seen the same scene in any of a thousand paintings of the Eastern European landscape.

Her mind ran over the events that had brought her there. She made Adam go to bed and get some rest. Sleep had been her intention as well when she heard a noise downstairs in the townhouse. She thought Arkady might have returned, or perhaps Greta had chosen to come in early. When she went downstairs, though she didn’t see anything. She was about to return to her room when she heard the noise again. This time it was distinct—a knock at the door. She knew better than to answer. A sense of dread crept over her as the knocking continued. She backed away. Her hand went to the crucifix around her neck, the one Arkady had given her.

The knocking continued as shadows moved in front of the windows. Clara was about to call for Adam when a gloved hand closed over her mouth, and a harsh voice whispered in her ear, “You should have been paying attention to the other door.”

After that she didn’t remember anything until she had awoken in the room. She tested all the windows. The sashes were nailed shut, and in any event, she was on an upper floor, too high to drop to the ground below.

Behind her the room’s only door opened. She turned to find a man standing in the doorway. He was dressed more for the nineteenth century than the twentieth, in a black waistcoat with a red cravat. A streak of white ran through his black hair, from the tip of his widow’s peak to behind his left ear. He moved like a wolf prowling, and Clara caught herself watching his muscles tensing and flexing underneath his clothes.

He gave a slight bow “Welcome, Dr. MacIntosh. I trust the accommodations are to your liking?”

Clara couldn’t place his accent. She knew only it wasn’t Eastern European. “Where am I? Who are you?”

“We’re in the middle of a forest,” the man answered with a lopsided smile, “in a manor house that dates back to the eighteenth century, once owned by Hungarian nobles.”

“That’s … that’s not what I meant,” she stammered, “and you didn’t answer my second question.”

He grinned again, baring his teeth. “Not now. All you need to know is that I’m your host.” He glanced at the ta-ble next to the bed. “I’ll see you’re brought something to eat. Please, try to enjoy your stay. You may as well. You’ll probably be here for a while.”

He left her, locking the door behind him.

The sun had just set when the door opened again. Clara sat in the bed with the blankets pulled around her. With the loss of the light, the temperature in the room plummeted. An older man entered and set a tray of food on the table next to the bed. Then he began to stack wood in the fireplace. He barely looked at her.

While the man set about preparing a fire, she forced herself to ignore the rich aroma wafting from the food despite her protesting stomach.

“Excuse me,” she said. “What’s your name? What is this place?”

The man didn’t answer. Clara tried again in German. Still she received no response. When the man left a fire roared in the fireplace, and the room gradually warmed. She turned her attention to the tray of food to discover some sort of meaty red stew and a hunk of crusty bread. Clara almost gagged on the first spoonful at the amount of paprika, but she forced herself to eat, and the second spoonful she found more tolerable. About halfway through she began to enjoy the stew.

After she finished eating, Clara walked to the window again. Outside the crescent moon hung low in the sky, just above the trees, and the stars shone brightly. Frost spider-webbed its way across the glass. Shadowy figures moved among the naked trees in the woods.

When she turned around, the man in the black waist-coat sat in one of the chairs next to the fireplace.

“Please, have a seat,” he said, motioning to the other chair.

“I don’t think I want to do that.” She did want to, though.

He was dressed much as before, except the cravat was gone, and the collar of his shirt was open. Her eyes traced the line of his collarbone to his broad chest. The light from the fire never quite reached his face. The shadows flickered and darted around him.

“Please,” he repeated. “We have much to discuss.”

“Like what?”

He stood and walked towards her, his predator’s gait even more pronounced. “Really, now, you needn’t fear me. If we took some time to get to know one another, I’m sure you’d find we share quite a few of the same goals.”

He stood over her looking down, his face just inches from her. He smelled like cinnamon and sage, and even though something in the back of her head told her it ought not be, she could feel the heat coming off his body. She tried to back away, but there was nowhere to go. “I’m not going to hurt you. I want you to trust me.”

“That’s a little hard to do when I’m being held prisoner.”

He reached out and took her hand in his. “Only out of necessity. Maybe, soon we can alter that arrangement.”

Clara shivered as a wave of electricity passed through her body. Her heart fluttered, and her cheeks grew hot. “What do you mean? Where are Adam and Arkady? Did you do something to them?”

“I assure you they are alive and healthy, but you needn’t worry about them. They may have other worries at the moment.” He gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “You could come to like it here.”

Her gaze shifted to the moonlit scene outside. “I doubt that.”

With his other hand he caressed her cheek. “Perhaps I’m rushing things. I should give you some time. I know you don’t understand everything now, but you will soon.”

And with that he backed out of the room and closed the door, leaving her alone again. Only she didn’t feel like she was alone.

Clara climbed back into the bed and pulled the covers over her head. As she drifted off to sleep, a wolf howled, and when she dreamt, she dreamt she was someone else, somewhere else, in a time long past. Wolves howled there, too, and shadows moved in the darkness more dangerous than the wolves by far.

Part 3>>

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth (Part 1)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book III: Elizabeth I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on June 1, 2017. This is Part 1. I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

PROLOGUE

Târgoviște, Romania

29 December 1989

No one flees to Dracula’s Castle. Not without a very good reason.
When the Romanian people finally rose up against Nicolae Ceaușescu and drove him from Bucharest, the Communist dictator and his wife headed for Târgoviște in a helicopter. When the military forced the helicopter to land, the Ceaușescus commandeered not one but two different vehicles trying to get to the old castle that was once the stronghold of Vlad the Impaler.

Something was there. Maybe something they believed could keep them in power.

But they were gone now, executed after a hasty show trial, one held in the castle.

Why were they so desperate to get here?

Gabriel Popescu planned to find out.

Clouds obscured the night sky, but still the pale light of the full moon filtered through, casting shadows across the stone ruins as Gabriel made his way silently across what once had been a courtyard. Ahead the Chindia Tower loomed, built by Vlad himself. Gabriel covered his mouth with his gloved hand to keep his breath from coming out in white clouds.

Some would consider it ill advised to visit the place at night. Even if one didn’t believe in vampires, which Gabriel didn’t, most believed the place was best avoided after sunset. Horrible things had happened there and had left a taint in the air. Most people could sense it, even if they didn’t have a name for it. Even though Gabriel didn’t feel anything unnatural, the stories made him wary.

In his line of work it was good to be wary.

He probed the base of the tower first, trudging around the outside, looking for loose mortar or any obviously newer stones. He didn’t really expect such a search to bear fruit. After all, Ceaușescu was wily. He had held onto power for over forty years and had the resources of an entire nation at his disposal. He would not be so careless, but at the same time Gabriel would never forgive himself for missing something obvious.

After circling the tower and finding nothing, he came to a small wooden door. The lock took him only a few sec-onds to pick. On the other side, a circular set of stairs led upward into the darkness. Gabriel climbed, sweeping his pen light in front of him. About a third of the way up, he found an irregular stone in the wall, but a brief examina-tion proved it to be nothing special. He was about to pro-ceed when he saw a shadow move out of the corner of his eye. Ahead of him a window broke the monotony of the curved stone wall. Charcoal grey clouds moved against the inky sky. Just a cloud drifting in front of the moon, or so he reasoned. He shook his head and continued up.

Running his hands over the stones he had to wonder. Of any place, the tower made the most sense. It would be like Ceaușescu to place something of importance in Dracula’s stronghold. Gabriel had spent the last several days speculating, running through the possibilities. Gold was his best guess. If so, he’d have to return another night to retrieve it. Currency was another conjecture, though he doubted Romanian leus would be worth the effort. Better to be Russian rubles or German marks. State secrets offered another possibility. Intelligence the Russians or the Americans might pay for. Imminently more dangerous, but enough to allow him to buy a Greek Island and retire from the burglary business for good.

He had almost reached the top when the shadows moved again in his peripheral vision. He told himself it was merely another trick of the light. No one else was there besides him. Still he continued a little more cautiously. When he came to the end of the stairs, he pushed open the heavy door that led to the roof. The wind bit into him as he emerged. The clouds rushed across the sky. Around him the entire valley spread out.
Gabriel had another view in mind, though.

He scanned the floor for almost an hour until he discovered what he was looking for. One of the stones in the floor appeared worn, as if it had been there for five hundred years—a clever bit of camouflage—but the filtered moonlight revealed the obvious difference. The composition was not the same. The color of the tiny shimmering crystals in the rock was just slightly off. Gabriel smiled. It was nice to know he wasn’t out of practice.

He knelt over the stone and ran his fingers around the edges. There didn’t appear to be any gaps in the mortar, but looks could be deceiving. He probed the stones around the rock, seeking some hidden mechanism, until he felt one small stone give. He pushed down, and then a hand clamped over his mouth.

ONE

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

2 December 1999

Adam didn’t look up when the door opened, or when the cup of coffee appeared on his desk in one of the few places not covered by papers and books. He muttered a thank-you as he reached for the cup, only to have it jerked away. He looked up to find Clara glaring at him.

“What?” he asked.

“Do you even know what time it is?”

Adam glanced out the window of the study into the darkness. “Nighttime.”

Clara rolled her eyes. “It’s four o’clock in the morning. When was the last time you slept?”

“Not sure. What are you doing up?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” she replied.

“So, neither can I.”

“Really?” She crossed her arms. “In forty-eight hours?”

Adam surveyed the pile of papers on the desk. “I’m almost there.”

Clara reached over and shut the book in his hand. “You’ve said that for over a month. Now you need to get to sleep.” She wrinkled her nose. “Right after you take a shower.”

Adam smirked. “You’re not my mother.”

She sighed. “Come on Adam. You’ve been killing your-self trying to find Dracula’s medallion.” She picked up a piece of paper with Adam’s handwriting, a grid of letters. “What’s this?”

“It’s a table for a Vigenère cipher.”

“You think there’s some sort of code in these books?”

Several months earlier, Adam had received a worn copy of Dracula from his deceased friend Mihai Iliescu. The book was the first in a string of clues that led him on a scavenger hunt across the Balkans—a scavenger hunt with a high body count. Adam collected several books Mihai had left for him, in addition to confronting Yasamin, one of the women Bram Stoker immortalized as a Bride of Dracula.

“A code makes sense,” he replied. “There are random letters and words circled in all the books, including The Giaour, the one everyone said was the key, but the problem is that we don’t know what exactly the key is.”

The Giaour, an epic poem by Lord Byron and one of the first vampire stories in the West, was the last book Mihai wanted Adam to find, but it had been misplaced, and acquiring it meant working with another of Dracula’s Brides, the beguiling Elena. That encounter nearly cost Adam his life as well.

“Chances are you’re not going to figure it out in the next hour,” Clara said. “It can wait until you get some sleep.”

“Have you heard from Arkady?” Adam asked.

Clara shook her head. “Not yet, but he said he’d be out-of-pocket for a few days. He’ll send word soon I’m sure. Inspector Gavrilović did stop by earlier.”

“What did he say?”

“He said you need to go to bed.”

Adam sighed and stood up. “Fine. You’re probably right. A few more hours won’t make a difference at this point.”

He trudged out of the room, with Clara close behind. “Thank you,” he said.

She cocked her head to the side. “For what?”

“For looking out for me.”

The corners of her mouth turned up in a weak smile. “It’s what I do, it seems.”

Adam shut the door to his room and collapsed onto the bed, realizing only then how tired he was. Clara was right, of course. He had been pushing himself hard, maybe too hard, and he needed a break to get his thinking back on track.

He smiled wistfully as he gazed up at the ceiling. She had ended their relationship, and she’d had good reasons for doing so, but if it weren’t for Clara, he’d likely be dead. She came to find him when no one else would, and she stayed even after learning why he had left his entire life in the States behind. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep thinking, as always, of what might have been.

 

When Adam opened his eyes again, the sunlight punched through the gaps in his curtains. He pushed him-self up and staggered to the bathroom, dutifully following Clara’s orders to take a shower and wondering why he didn’t hear anyone else in the house.

Usually in the morning the housekeeper came, a dour woman named Greta. The only joy she ever seemed to take was in making as much noise as possible, banging pots in the kitchen and moving furniture emphatically, just to wake him up. Even after Adam stepped out of the shower, there was only silence in the townhouse.

“Clara,” Adam called as he came down the stairs. “Clara, are you there?”

Silence still.

When Adam reached the bottom of the stairs, he knew something was wrong. All of the clean, white furniture he had come to accept as part of the Russian government’s string of safe houses was overturned, and something even more chilling greeted Adam—smeared in red on the wall, a dragon curved in a circle, with its tail wrapped around its neck, the symbol of the Order of the Dragon, the symbol that gave Dracula his name.

Then he spotted an arm protruding from underneath an overturned chair, and his heart leaped into his throat. He ran over and pulled the chair off to find Greta. Some-thing had ripped her throat out. Something with big teeth. Adam covered his mouth and nose to keep from retching. A piece of paper was stuffed in her hand. Two words writ-ten in an exquisitely detailed hand seared into his mind.

Work faster.

Part 2 >>

5 Vampire Novels That Don’t Sparkle

The vampire, perennial monster, has received somewhat of a makeover in recent years. For almost two decades it has become romantic hero and seducer, often aimed at younger consumers. Twilight as well as the Vampire Diaries series may be the most obvious exponents of this trend, but the seeds were already planted in shows like Buffy (remember Angel?), and the territory continues to be watered with numerous vampire men in the urban fantasy or romance section of the bookstore, who must invariably profess eternal love to a nubile woman.

Courtesy of Tor.com.

Monster Monday: Dhampir

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about the Dhampir.

Vampire Killing Kit
Vampire Killing Kit (Attribution in link)

In the folklore of the Balkans, a dhampir is the result of a union between a vampire and a human. It was believed that vampires often came back after death to sleep with their widows, so often a recently widowed woman becoming pregnant would attribute it to her late husband who has supposedly com back.

In many legends a dhampir can be recognized by his or her dark unruly hair or lack of a shadow. In some legends the dhampir is said to lack bones or fingernails. Larger than normal eyes, ears, or teeth were also said to be signs of a dhampir.

A dhampir has many of the strengths of a vampire, such as superior speed and agility, but none of the weaknesses. A dhampir, for example, is able to venture out during the day, and in certain legends, vampires are invisible to everyone except dhampirs. Because of these attributes, dhampirs are particularly effective as vampire hunters.

Despite their striking similarity, the words dhampir and vampire are not related. Dhampir comes from two Albanian words meaning “drink” and “teeth”. In other words, “to drink with the teeth.” Vampire comes to English from Serbian vampir, which is derived from a proto-Slavic root of unclear meaning.

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena (Part 4)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena, I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on April 23, 2016. This is Part 2. (Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here.) I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

FOUR

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

7 October 1999

A crack began at the floor and ran all the way up the white plaster wall to the ceiling, the first thing Adam saw when he opened his eyes. Like a swimmer coming up for air, he fought through the grogginess and the pounding in his head. The smell of musty fabric hung in the air and mingled with the odor of stale cigarette smoke. He struggled to sit up, but froze when he locked eyes with the man from the Special Collections room. Seated in a threadbare chair, he glared at Adam from beneath a mop of dirty blond hair with intense but tired-looking blue eyes. He was slighter than he had seemed in the library, and young, probably in his early twenties.

“Where am I?” Adam asked, his voice like sandpaper.

The man didn’t answer, and Adam didn’t waste his breath asking again.

Glancing around, Adam found himself in the living area of a tiny apartment. The man’s chair was crammed into one corner. His own equally threadbare sofa was crammed into another. A decrepit radiator stood against the wall between them. Above the sputtering radiator threadbare curtains—bedsheets actually—covered the only window. Nearby, a black-and-white television sat on a small table. A newscaster was talking about the ethnic fighting in Kosovo. He spoke Serbian, or possibly Croatian, or maybe even Bosnian. All three languages were essentially the same, except that the speakers of each hated the speakers of the other two.

In the same wall as the giant crack there was a door—the entry, based on the adjacent coat rack. To the right of the door, an opening led into a cramped kitchen. An old gas stove stood in the middle of the room leaving barely enough space for a small dinette set.

Another door in the wall to his left promptly swung open, and a woman emerged from the darkened room on the other side. She wore a pair of faded blue jeans and a T-shirt. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She could have been a female student in any one of Adam’s freshman Western civilization lectures, except that she seemed to draw all the shadows in the room toward her. Her movements created a slight sense of vertigo. Adam’s heart pounded as he realized what she was.

“Dr. Mire,” she said, “so glad to see you’re finally awake. I trust your trip was a pleasant one?”

“I’d answer, but I’m afraid I don’t remember much of it.” Adam’s hand went to the crucifix around his neck, only to discover it missing. He shoved his other hand into his pocket. His knife was gone as well. He glared at the man seated in the chair, who simply grinned.

“Now, don’t look like that, Dr. Mire,” the woman said. “You’ll get your toys back when you leave.”

“Whether and how I leave is exactly what I’m worried about.”

She smiled. “You needn’t worry.”

He wasn’t sure if her words were meant to comfort him or not.

“Bogdan,” she said to the man in the chair, “would you mind giving us some privacy, just for a few hours?”

Bogdan’s grin melted. He hesitated, as if to ask her if she was certain, before he wordlessly stood and trudged out of the apartment. He slammed the door behind him.

She walked over to the television and turned it off before taking a seat in the dilapidated chair Bogdan had just vacated. Every move she made was deliberate, performed with a fluid grace that contradicted everything about her surroundings. “You’ve been busy, haven’t you, Dr. Mire? Confronting a vampire as formidable as Yasamin. Challenging Süleyman’s Blade. And coming out of the whole affair alive. Quite impressive.”

“Who are you?” Adam asked.

Her mouth twisted into an amused quirk. “My name is Elena.”

“Where am I?”

“Sarajevo.”

Adam’s mind went to a day in Prague a few weeks earlier. He was seated in a sidewalk café, drinking his coffee and smoking a cigarette, when his waiter slipped him an envelope. Inside was a clipping from Liberation, Sarajevo’s daily newspaper. It was dated 16 March 1994, during the height of the siege of the city. The article recounted several deaths that could not be explained by the daily bombardment of shells from the Yugoslav army. Among other things, the victims were found completely drained of blood.

The waiter couldn’t remember who handed him the envelope, but Adam knew, even though he caught only a glimpse of her as she walked away, it was Yasamin. And now he found himself speaking with another beguiling, raven-haired vampire. He remembered Stoker’s words from Dracula.

Two were dark, and one was fair …

“Why did you bring me here?” he asked.

“You could thank me for saving your life.”

“Saving my life? How so?”

“Did you honestly think you could keep up the charade of Edvard Novak forever? If I could find you, then others could as well. It was only a matter of time.”

“So I’m supposed to be grateful?”

“I thought you might be.”

“Why?”

“Because I need your help, Dr. Mire.”

Adam barely suppressed a laugh. “My help? Really?”

“You speak nine languages. You’ve published four books. You’re not even forty, and you’re one of the world’s leading experts on Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages … and on artifacts from the time period. Again, quite impressive.”

“What’s your point?”

“During your pas-de-deux with Süleyman’s Blade, you made a show of searching for a medallion depicting a dragon, formed into a circle, with a cross on its back—”

Adam shook his head. “I don’t know where it is. I can’t help you find it.”

Dracula’s medallion, the one he wore as a member of the Order of the Dragon, missing for centuries. In a mad plan to avenge the death of the woman he loved, Adam had used rumors of the medallion’s reappearance to lure the leader of Süleyman’s Blade into the deadly clutches of a vampire, Yasamin, one of Dracula’s legendary Brides.

But the medallion really was out there somewhere. He had almost all the clues to its whereabouts. He had spent much of his time in Prague trying to decipher them, but he always met with dead ends.

Elena cocked an eyebrow. “I’m not asking you to help me find it.”

“Then what—”

“There are others who want it, who mustn’t have it.”

“You’re not the first to feed me that line.”

She glanced at the television set. “They say the war in Kosovo is over now. They’ve been saying the same thing for six hundred years. Tell me, Dr. Mire, who do you think won the original Battle of Kosovo all those years ago?”

Adam replied without even thinking. “The Turks. Their victory on Kosovo Field paved the way for Ottoman domination of the Balkans for the next five hundred years.”

“You know the Serbs say they won.”

“I know that nineteenth-century nationalists mythologized the battle to make a claim for the righteousness of the Serbian nation, but that doesn’t change the facts.”

“Doesn’t it, Dr. Mire? Can’t events happening now affect the past, just as the past affects the present? I was there in 1989 at the rally to commemorate the six-hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, along with a million others. There were icons placed around the stage—of Jesus Christ, St. Sava, King Milutin … and Slobodan Milošević. It was as if those intervening years had never occurred. All the speeches I had heard before, in one form or another. I knew that day what was to come, because it had already happened.”

“Given the history of the Balkans, a lot of us felt what happened was inevitable.”

She shook her head. “No, Dr. Mire. You misunderstand. I don’t mean similar events have happened in the past. I mean the same events. Your problem is that despite all the time you’ve spent here among the Byzantines, you still think of time as the path of an arrow—straight and moving in only one direction. You’ve yet to learn that time is a circle. What is happening now has happened before and will happen again. 1389 is 1689 is 1989 is today. The past, the present, and the future are just different names for fate. To understand my story, you have to understand that.”

Monster Monday: Grando the Carniolan Vampire

We all know about vampires and werewolves, or at least we think we do. The legends and myths that inspired these monsters are sometimes surprisingly different, but no less chilling. In this series of posts, Monster Monday, we’ll investigate the monsters that have informed our modern notions, as well as some lesser known monsters. Today, we talk about Grando the Carniolan Vampire.

Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)
Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)

Jure Grando was from the village of Kringa in the region of Istria in modern-day Croatia. For sixteen years after his death by illness in 1656 he returned by night to terrorize the village. He knocked on the doors of his former neighbors, and if anyone answered the door, someone in the house would die within a week. He also appeared to his widow in her bed.

The priest who buried him when he died tried to exorcise his spirit, but it didn’t work. One night a group of villagers chased him and tried to stab him with a stake made from a hawthorn tree, but it bounced off him. The next night they dug up his body and found not only had it never decomposed, but Jure had a smile on his face. They tried to pierce his heard with a hawthorn stake again, but the stake wouldn’t penetrate his flesh.

Then the priest said another exorcism prayer and a villager took a saw and cut off Jure’s head. As soon as the saw blade touched his neck, Jure screamed and blood flowed freely from the cut. Afterward, Jure never returned.

Jure’s story is notable as it is the first time in a historical record that a once-living person was referred to specifically as a vampire.

Read a Free Excerpt from Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena (Part 3)

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Daughters of Shadow and Blood – Book II: Elena, I am releasing a free excerpt once a week until release day on April 23, 2016. This is Part 2. (Read Part 1 and Part 2 here.) I hope you enjoy! Please share and order your copy today!

THREE

Thessaloniki, Greece

6 October 1999

Clara leapt out of the chair and backed away from the desk where Arion’s bleeding form lay. She frantically scanned the office for the deadly red dot but failed to find it. She gathered up as many of the loose papers as she could and stuffed them into her bag. The professor continued to stare sightlessly at her, his mouth open, his last words still hanging on his lips, while the red stain spread across his shirt.

She yanked the door open and ran out into the hallway, directly into a man’s arms. She pushed herself away, but the man, dressed in riot gear with words in Greek written across the front of his jacket as well as POLICE in large white letters, seized her wrist. Clara looked up into cold, blue eyes set in a bulldog face.

He pulled her back toward him. “Please, miss, don’t fight,” he said in thickly accented English. “I am trying to get you away from here.”
People emerged from the other offices. The man yelled something in Greek, and they all ran toward the stairwell, panic on their faces. The bulldog dashed down the hall after them, dragging Clara behind.

Outside the building, police pushed back the gathering crowd underneath Arion’s window. The bulldog, however, took Clara in the opposite direction, around the corner to the other side of the building. He stopped in the shade of a sycamore tree.

“Thank you,” Clara said, struggling to catch her breath.

But the bulldog didn’t let go of her wrist.

Clara tried to fight until he squeezed. She winced and started to cry out, but he jerked her arm, bringing her close enough to feel his hot breath. He held up a pistol and touched the muzzle to his lips.

Clara glared. “You wouldn’t shoot me, not here, not in broad daylight.”

The bulldog’s mouth twisted into a smile. He eyed the rooftop of a nearby building. “Who said anything about me shooting you? Now if you don’t want someone else to get hurt, you’ll keep your mouth shut. Don’t worry. We’re not going far.”

He led her a short distance to a circular building lined with Ionic columns, obviously much older than the one where Arion had his office. Instead of the main entrance, he pushed her toward a small door on the opposite side. It opened onto a set of stairs that led down into the dark. At the bottom a short hallway ended in another door. The bulldog pushed it open and forced Clara into a dim room. The only light came from a small lantern resting on a low table. Another man already waited there.

The bulldog slung Clara toward the man. “Here, Filip. Why don’t you do something useful and tie her hands. I can tell she’s not going to be an easy one to deal with.” His smile told Clara he was speaking English for her benefit.

The man he called Filip didn’t reply.

The bulldog began stripping out of his police clothes. “Sometime today, Filip. We need to get moving soon.”

Still Filip didn’t reply.

The bulldog paused and snapped his fingers. “Filip, did you hear me?”

Filip stepped toward him, into the lantern’s pool of light. When Clara saw his face, she gasped. It was the man who had recovered her wallet in the market.

“I heard you the first time,” her Good Samaritan said.

The bulldog’s eyes grew wide. He went for his gun, but before he could get to it, the man from the market fired a shot from his own. With a lurch, Clara’s captor collapsed to the floor.

The man turned toward Clara. “Are you all right?”

“No,” she replied. “No I’m not.”

“What happened? How did they grab you?”

“Hell if I know. I don’t even know who they are. One minute I’m talking to a professor in his office. The next he’s dead on his desk from a sniper’s bullet.”

The man swore in a language Clara didn’t know. If she had to guess, she would have said it was Russian. He reached for her. “We need to get you someplace safe.”

Clara jerked away. “That’s what he told me. Why should I trust you?”

“Because I very probably just saved your life. And I also did catch the pickpocket who stole your wallet, which is fortunate because you’re going to need your ID.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean we have to leave now. You can’t stay in Thessaloniki.”

Clara shook her head. “Oh, no. No. I’m not going anywhere with you. I’m going back, and I’m going to talk to the police—the real police—and I’m going to tell them what happened, and then I’m going to book the first ticket back to the U.S.”

“I’d advise against that.”

“Why?”

“Because like it or not, you’re in danger. And because then you’ll never know what happened to Adam.”

Clara’s heart skipped a beat. “How do you know about Adam?”

“I have an interest in finding him too.”

Clara tried to study his face in the low light. “Your name’s not Filip, is it? Who are you?”

He motioned with his head in the direction of a heap behind him. “Filip is indisposed at the moment. My name is Arkady Danilovich Markov.”

“Why are you looking for Adam? Does that mean he’s still alive? Is he in danger, too?”

Arkady held up a hand. “Questions later. Now we need to be going.”

Clara hesitated. “How do I know this isn’t another trick?”

Arkady sighed. “You don’t. I’m not forcing you to stay. You can go back, go talk to the police if you want, but just know that I’m your best chance to find Adam.” He paused. “As well as to live to see another sunrise.”

Clara struggled to calm her thoughts. A large part of her wanted to leave, to go back to her hotel, book a flight back to the States, and continue with her life. But something else tugged at her. She loved Adam, and he didn’t have anyone else.

She stepped back and motioned to the door. “Okay. Lead the way.”

Arkady shook his head. “No. We’re going the way your friend here was planning to take you.”

“And what way is that?” Clara asked.

Arkady picked up the lantern and opened a door behind him that Clara hadn’t noticed. “We’re taking the tunnels.”

 

They could have been walking for twenty minutes or two hours. Not long after Arkady led her through the door in the cellar room, the cramped tunnel opened enough that the weak lantern light left the walls in shadow. Occasionally Arkady gave her a curt warning to watch her step as they navigated around fallen stonework and other debris. Somewhere in the distance, water trickled.

“Where is this tunnel taking us?” Clara asked.

“Away from the university,” Arkady answered.

“How do we know there aren’t more of them waiting for us at the other end?”

“Because these tunnels run underneath most of the city. There are countless ways in and out. There’s no way for them to know where we’re going to end up.”

A lump formed in the pit of Clara’s stomach as she envisioned getting lost in miles and miles of pitch-black, maze-like tunnels. “How do we know where we’re going?”

“I know the way,” Arkady said. “Don’t worry.”

“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll worry until we’re back on the surface.”

Arkady laughed, but there wasn’t any humor in his voice.

At the first juncture they came to, he took a tunnel that branched to the right of the main tunnel. Almost immediately, the ground began to slope upward, and it wasn’t long before the light seeped back in. The walls of the tunnel were different here, made of brick rather than stone. Soon they came upon another door. Pushing it open, Arkady led her into another cellar. This one was filled with crates, most of them emblazoned with some sort of crest.

“Wine?” Clara asked.

“Olive oil,” Arkady corrected. “This house used to belong to a wealthy merchant family. They traded olive oil all over the Eastern Mediterranean.”

“Who does it belong to now?”

“It’s abandoned.”

Clara followed Arkady across the cellar to a set of stairs. With each step she took, Clara’s sense of dread grew. Once they emerged on the floor above, Clara knew something was terribly wrong.

She forced down a wave of panic as she and Arkady made their way through rooms full of abandoned, crumbling furniture. Shadows moved, and voices whispered. Like a fog, tendrils of darkness writhed everywhere the light could not reach. Clara glanced at Arkady for any sign that he saw what she did. He didn’t look back at her, though his steps took on a new urgency. Once or twice, Clara caught glimpses of figures out of the corner of her eye—black, vaguely human shapes standing in otherwise vacant rooms. When they reached the front hallway of the house, Arkady practically sprinted for the door, dragging Clara with him. They emerged onto the street to find themselves at the market, just as the afternoon sun dipped behind the buildings.

Clara looked back at the house, only to discover the same looming façade she had passed earlier. Arkady glanced back as well, his face solemn. He muttered something under his breath Clara wasn’t able to catch before he offered his hand to her again.

“Come this way,” he said. “We have a long drive ahead of us.”

Part 4 >>