Home > Empire of the Vampire (Empire of the Vampire #1)

Empire of the Vampire (Empire of the Vampire #1)
Author: Jay Kristoff

 


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ASK ME NOT if God exists, but why he’s such a prick.

Even the greatest of fools can’t deny the existence of evil. We dwell in its shadow every day. The best of us rise above it, the worst of us swallow it whole, but we all of us wade hip-deep through it, every moment of our lives. Curses and blessings fall on the cruel and just alike. For every prayer heeded, ten thousand go unanswered. And saints suffer alongside the sinners, prey for monsters spat straight from the belly of hell.

But if there is a hell, mustn’t there also be a heaven?

And if there is a heaven, then can’t we ask it why?

Because if the Almighty is willing to put an end to all this wickedness, but somehow unable to do so, then he’s not as almighty as the priests would have you believe. If he’s both willing and able to put paid to it all, how can this evil exist in the first place? And if he’s neither willing nor able to lay it to rest, then he’s no god at all.

The only possibility remaining is that he can stop it. He simply chooses not to.

The children snatched from parents’ arms. The endless plains of unmarked graves. The deathless Dead who hunt us in the light of a blackened sun.

We are prey now, mon ami.

We are food.

And he never lifted a fucking finger to stop it.

He could have.

He just didn’t.

Do you ever wonder what we did, to make him hate us so?

 

 

SUNSET


IT WAS THE twenty-seventh year of daysdeath in the realm of the Forever King, and his murderer was waiting to die.

The killer stood watch at a thin window, impatient for his end to arrive. Tattooed hands were clasped at his back, stained with dried blood and ashes pale as starlight. His room stood high in the reaches of a lonely tower, kissed by sleepless mountain winds. The door was iron-clad, heavy, locked like a secret. From his vantage, the killer watched the sun sink towards an unearned rest and wondered how hell might taste.

The cobbles in the courtyard below promised him a short flight into a dreamless dark. But the window was too narrow to squeeze through, and his jailers had left nothing else to see him off to sleep. Just straw to lie on and a bucket to shit in and a view of the frail sunset to serve as torture ’til the real torture arrived. He wore a heavy coat, old boots, leather britches stained by long roads and soot. His pale skin was damp with sweat, but his breath hung chill in the air, and no fire burned in the hearth behind him. The coldbloods wouldn’t risk a flame, even in their prison cells.

They’d be coming for him soon.

The château below him was waking now. Monsters rising from beds of cold earth and slipping on the façade that they were something close to human. The air outside was thick with the hymn of bats’ wings. Thrall soldiers clad in dark steel patrolled the battlements below, twin wolves and twin moons emblazoned on black cloaks. The killer’s lip curled as he watched them; men standing guard where no dog would abase itself.

The sky above was dark as sin.

The horizon, red as his lady’s lips the last time he kissed her.

He ran one thumb across his fingers, the letters inked below his knuckles.

‘Patience,’ he whispered.

‘May I come in?’

The killer didn’t let himself flinch – he knew the coldblood would’ve relished that. Instead, he kept staring out the window at the broken knuckles of the mountains beyond, capped by ash-grey snow. He could feel the thing standing behind him now, its gaze roaming the back of his neck. He knew what it wanted, why it was here. Hoping it’d be quick and knowing, deep down, that they’d savour every scream.

He finally turned, feeling fire swell inside him at the sight of it. The anger was an old friend, welcome and warm. Making him forget the ache in his veins, the tug of his scars, the years on his bones. Looking at the monster before him, he felt positively young again. Borne towards forever on the wings of a pure and perfect hate.

‘Good evening, Chevalier,’ the coldblood said.

It had been only a boy when it died. Fifteen or sixteen, perhaps, still possessed of that slim androgyny found on manhood’s cusp. But God only knew how old it was, really. A hint of colour graced its cheeks, large brown eyes framed by thick golden locks, a tiny curl arranged artfully on its brow. Its skin was poreless and alabaster pale, but its lips were obscenely red, the whites of its eyes flushed just the same. Fresh fed.

If the killer didn’t know better, he’d have said it looked almost alive.

Its frockcoat was dark velvet, embroidered with golden curlicues. A mantle of raven’s feathers was draped over its shoulders, the collar upturned like a row of glossy black blades. The crest of its bloodline was stitched at its breast; twin wolves rampant against the twin moons. Dark britches, a silken cravat and stockings, and polished shoes completed the portrait. A monster, wearing an aristocrat’s skin.

It stood in the centre of his cell, though the door was still locked like a secret. A thick book was pressed between its bone-white palms, and its voice was lullaby sweet.

‘I am Marquis Jean-François of the Blood Chastain, Historian of Her Grace Margot Chastain, First and Last of Her Name, Undying Empress of Wolves and Men.’

The killer said nothing.

‘You are Gabriel de León, Last of the Silversaints.’

Still, the killer named Gabriel made not a sound. The thing’s eyes burned like candlelight in the silence; the air felt sticky-black and lush. It seemed for a moment that Gabriel stood at the edge of a cliff, and that only the cold press of those ruby lips to his throat might save him. He felt his skin prickling, an involuntary stirring of his blood as he imagined it. The want of moth for flame, begging to burn.

‘May I come in?’ the monster repeated.

‘You’re already in, coldblood,’ Gabriel replied.

The thing glanced below Gabriel’s belt and gifted him a knowing smile. ‘It is always polite to ask, Chevalier.’

It snapped its fingers, and the iron-clad door swung wide. A pretty thrall in a long black dress and corset slipped inside. Her gown was a crushed velvet damask, wasp-waisted, a choker of dark lace about her throat. Her long red hair was bound into braids, looped across her eyes like chains of burnished copper. She was perhaps mid-thirty, old as Gabriel was. Old enough to be the monster’s mother, if it had been just an ordinary boy and she just an ordinary woman. But she carried a leather armchair as heavy as she was, eyes downturned as she placed it effortlessly at the coldblood’s side.

The monster’s gaze didn’t stray from Gabriel. Nor his from it.

The woman brought in another armchair and a small oaken table. Placing the chair beside Gabriel, the table between, she stood with hands clasped like a prioress at prayer.

Gabriel could see scars at her throat now; telltale punctures under that choker she wore. He felt contempt, crawling on his skin. She’d carried the chair as if it weighed nothing, but standing now in the coldblood’s presence, the woman was almost breathless, her pale bosom heaving above her corset like a maiden on her wedding night.

‘Merci,’ Jean-François of the Blood Chastain said.

‘I am your servant, Master,’ the woman murmured.

‘Leave us now, love.’

The thrall met the monster’s eyes. She ran slow fingertips up the arc of her breast to the milk-white curve of her neck and—

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