Welcome to the Vaempires: Zombie Rising Bloody Chunks Tour! That is a badass name, isn’t it?
Here’s a special message from the author, Thomas Winship.
For this book tour, I decided to do something a bit different. Instead of sharing excerpts, reviews, interviews, and all the usual accompaniments, I’m giving you the book itself—piece by piece.
This tour is the only place where you can read Vaempires: Zombie Rising, the next chapter in the vaempires saga, before its official release!
This tour wouldn’t be possible without the time and efforts of a very special group of people, beginning with Silvia and Franny at Dark Mind Book Tours and including everyone on the list below. Please show your support by stopping by, commenting, and spreading the word!
Linq and Ray raced around the round hill—not quite pell-mell, but damned close—propelled as much by youthful exuberance as by a sense of impending resolution. They’d been alone for too long and they yearned for friendly faces.
The tower to their right was forgotten. Whatever secrets it contained remained safe for the time being, as the lure of the living overwhelmed any cold curiosity felt by either teen.
The stench of death intensified. There was no doubt that the teens approached a killing field. Linq caught hints of Cassandra’s and Daniel’s scents, there and then gone like a whisper of wind, but those scents were overpowered by the smell of blood and decay.
The heartbeat wasn’t repeated, but the buzzing of insects increased. The estate’s holofields still worked, thus keeping the carrion out, but Linq knew that some four-legged predators inhabited the estate’s woods. It was only a matter of time before the smell lured them out and they braved the castle in search of a fresh meal.
The expanse of the west ward flowed into view as the teens thundered around the hill. Linq stopped, blinking three times in amazement—or, perhaps, in horror—at the scene spread before them.
Ray ground to a halt beside him.
Both teens had known what they were heading toward, but what they encountered was nowhere near what they had expected.
The west ward was a sea of dead væmpires. Bodies were everywhere. Bodies. Body parts. Things that would require forensic evaluation to identify.
Ray turned to Linq, mouth agape. “Holy Mary, Mother of God!”
Linq frowned, looking at his friend out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t turn away from the carnage. “Why would you say such nonsense?”
The blond teen shrugged. “It carries such gravitas, don’t you think?”
“Whatever.” Linq couldn’t focus on Ray’s humor with the carnage lying before him. He started forward, moving toward the nearest pile of bodies. The stench was horrendous.
Ray followed in lockstep. “Well, I think all vampires should possess a sense of gravitas.”
“I’d think that would include showing respect for the dead,” Linq said, preoccupied. But Ray got his attention when he grabbed his upper arm in a steel grip and spun him around until they were facing each other.
Ray’s face was hard, with no trace of humor in his eyes. “I have plenty of respect for the dead,” he stressed. “Provided the dead aren’t animals who’ve attacked everyone I hold dear.”
“That isn’t what I meant,” Linq insisted, resisting the urge to pull his arm free. “Look around and tell me something isn’t seriously wrong here.”
Ray glanced around, a disgusted glance that perceived nothing. “I’m having a real hard time finding sympathy for these creatures, Linq.”
“This isn’t about sympathy, dammit,” Linq snapped. He took a deep breath and reached up to carefully pry Ray’s fingers from his biceps. “Something is wrong. It feels … wrong.”
He growled in frustration and walked over to a body. It had once been a young man, thirty or so years old, with a lean physique and a head of curly black hair. The man’s face looked like it had been put through a meat grinder and his torso was dotted with stab wounds. Next to him was an elderly woman whose lower jaw and right arm was missing.
Linq knelt beside the bodies. “Look at the nature of these wounds. These people weren’t killed. They’re mangled. Hacked apart. They’re almost … I don’t know … desecrated.”
Ray raised an eyebrow. “Desecrated?”
Linq waved a hand, shaking his head. “That’s not it, but I can’t find another word to describe it. These bodies are damaged way beyond what was necessary to kill them.”
“You’re overthinking this,” Ray countered. “And you’re also forgetting that we’re trained for this sort of thing, but most people aren’t. You and I—Daniel and Cassie even—we’re elite fighters. We’ve been in combat simulations since we could walk. We’ve killed thousands of enemies through the years—humans, vampires, animals, any type of holo-creature a programmer could think of. We’re efficient killers.
“But throw an untrained person into a fight, especially something as bad as this, and all you get is chaos. Fighting and killing and clawing and biting. Untrained people don’t know when to stop. They’re pushed beyond the pale, they’re fighting for their lives, and the next thing you know, their enemy is dead but they’re still attacking the dead body.”
Linq scanned the immediate area. “It’s every body, Ray. Every single one.”
Ray sighed. “Fine. It’s something bigger then. Someone went crazy or gave into bloodlust.” He snapped his fingers. “Maybe Daniel gave in again.”
Linq shook his head, lost in thought. “I don’t know. It would certainly explain the carnage.” Then his blood ran cold. “Oh man! What if Daniel gave in to bloodlust and killed Cassie as well?”
“Calm down,” Ray said, testing the air. “It’s obvious Cassie’s no longer here.”
“You think Daniel is?”
Ray’s shrug was noncommittal. His eyes said otherwise.
Linq looked around at the scores of dead bodies. “He could be any one of them.”
“I’m not going to assume the worst while there’s still hope.” Ray cocked his head. “Daniel’s scent is in that direction. Let’s go.”
They had walked a few yards when something that had been bothering Linq became apparent. “Why is the decay so rapid?”
Ray stopped, his rigid posture betraying frustration. “What?”
“The bodies are too deteriorated for having been dead for such a short time,” Linq explained. “Even if they were killed last night, it still wouldn’t make sense, but they haven’t even been dead that long. Look at them. They’re still warm. Hell, some of them are barely cooled.”
“For chrissakes,” Ray hissed. “Who cares? This isn’t a mystery to be solved.”
Linq gave the teen a measured look. “It might be important.”
Ray exhaled in a long, slow sigh. “Why?”
“For any number of reasons,” Linq said, struggling to keep exasperation from coloring his voice. “Not the least of which is the fact that we share the planet with these people. Even if we’re at war now, there’s still hope for a peaceful solution.”
Ray stepped forward, getting right in Linq’s face. Ray smelled of grime and gore, but it was the simmering rage that concerned Linq.
“I’m not hoping for a peaceful resolution, and I don’t give a damn about these bodies.”
“I don’t have time for a political debate,” the blond teen said, turning away. “And I’m done examining dead væmpires. I’m finding Daniel.”
Linq froze. Ray twirled to face him.
“That came from behind you.”
Linq turned. A body lay near the base of the tower. Although its temperature was low, it was the only body in the direction of the heartbeat. Before he started up the hill, Ray’s hand fell on his shoulder.
“Daniel’s scent is in the other direction,” Ray warned.
“I know. But all we have is a scent.” Linq nodded toward the hill. “We don’t even know if he’s out there, but we do know there’s a body up there. A body with a heartbeat.”
He steeled himself for an argument, but Ray said, “Fair enough.”
They ascended the hill. The heartbeat didn’t repeat as the teens drew near the body. Reaching it, they stared in silence for a moment.
“It’s a little girl,” Ray said, breaking the silence. He sounded equal parts amazed and puzzled.
It certainly looked like a girl. She was short, with multicolored hair pulled into pigtails. Her one-piece pajamas were even dotted with teddy bears. But there was nothing childish about her figure. Even prostrate, it was obvious the girl was well beyond puberty.
“Not a girl,” Linq remarked. “Although there’s something weird about her.” He knelt beside the body. He couldn’t bring himself to feel for a pulse; he even felt awkward watching her chest for the rise and fall that would indicate breathing. It was there—very little movement, almost imperceptible, but it was there.
The woman-child was on her back, arms outstretched and legs splayed, head to one side. He had no choice but to examine her, so he reached out, placing two fingers against her chin and turning her head. Her skin was cooler than normal but still warm to the touch. He could live a thousand years—well within expectations, provided he survived the ongoing hostilities—and still never get used to the feel of warm skin. It was too unnatural.
Linq grimaced, an involuntary reaction, when he saw the other side of her head. “She was shot,” he noted, even though Ray was well aware of what a laser-rifle wound looked like. “I don’t see bone or grey matter, so I don’t think it pierced her skull.”
He probed the cauterized furrow that ran from her temple to behind her ear, wrinkling his nose at the smell of scorched flesh and suppressing a shudder. Vampires didn’t share the human squeamishness about unprotected contact with body fluids, but digging in an open wound was still an unpleasant sensation.
The heartbeat was so loud that Linq jerked back in surprise, falling on his rear and dropping the girl’s head to the grass.
“Shit,” he said, scrambling back to the body, but the girl hadn’t even flinched. There was no response at all beyond the heartbeat. “She is alive, but that heartbeat’s too infrequent for her to be unconscious. She must be in a coma.” He cursed again, catching Ray’s eye. “She might never come out of it.”
“Well, if she’s of no use to us,” Ray said, claws extending, “let’s make sure she doesn’t come out of it.”
Linq leaped to his feet, wrapping a hand around Ray’s wrist. “No way.”
“Get out of my way,” Ray snarled, blue eyes flashing.
“Not gonna happen.”
Ray tried pulling his arm free, but Linq didn’t let go. “It isn’t your decision.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Linq said, trying to maintain eye contact. “I can’t let you kill her in cold blood.”
“Then wake her up,” Ray proposed, the calmness in his voice belying the intensity in his eyes.
“What?” Linq said in disbelief.
Neither paid attention to the heartbeat. “You heard me,” Ray said. “Wake her up. I’m not playing games anymore. I’m not letting another væmpire walk away because you don’t have the guts to do what needs to be done.”
With that, he placed his free hand against Linq’s chest and shoved. Linq stumbled back a step, releasing Ray’s wrist.
Ray looked down at the girl, but Linq growled, “Don’t even think about it.”
Ray’s head snapped up and Linq saw that he was thinking about doing it. Very much so, in fact. His eyes had a wild gleam that Linq had never seen before, forcing Linq to start thinking of tactical ways to subdue him in case he pressed the issue—all the while realizing that Ray knew all the same moves and countermoves that Linq would use.
Drawing himself up to his full height, Ray looked down at Linq. “If I were you, I’d get out of the way.”
Anger radiated off the teen in waves, but Linq couldn’t back down. “Ray, don’t do this.” His voice hardened. “Don’t. Do. This.”
“Don’t do what?” Ray asked between clenched teeth. “Don’t kill someone who’d kill you if given the chance, or don’t kill someone who’s defenseless? Or is it don’t kill someone involved in a sneak attack that killed God knows how many people?”
Linq didn’t have an answer, so Ray continued.
“How the hell can you stand there protecting her?” he snarled. He gazed down at the supine form for a few seconds while silence reigned. When he lifted his gaze, a semblance of sanity had been restored to his eyes. “These … these things killed my family … my parents … my brothers … my s-s-sis—”
Ray’s voice gave out and he almost broke down. Linq saw it in his eyes and in the set of his jaw. But the blond teen swiped a hand across his eyes, erasing any tears and replacing them with hatred and determination. The determination concerned Linq most.
“They killed my sister, Linq. My entire family. They probably killed your family, too. Everyone we cared about.” His eyes locked on to Linq’s. “Where are Daniel and Cassie? Dead, too, for all we know. Hell, we both smell Daniel. If we’re close enough for that, he smells us too. So where is he—in a coma like sleeping beauty here?”
Ray’s eyes were wide, unfocused. “You don’t wanna kill in cold blood. Fine. I get it. Wake her up, let her take a swing at us, and be done with it.”
“I’m sorry, Ray. We can’t.”
“Why not?” Ray roared.
Ray leaped at the girl as if galvanized by her heartbeat.
Linq managed to grab the teen by both wrists. He flung his arms apart, and they collided into each other but remained upright.
The two teens had argued before, but had never fought. It felt wrong to have it happen then.
Ray tried to pull his wrists in as Linq struggled to quell the instincts kicking in. His fingertip muscles tensed, ready to rocket razor-sharp claws forward, while his gums throbbed with fangs ready to burst forth.
Linq knew he was bound to lose a two-pronged battle, so he tried a desperate gamble. Letting his arms go slack, he threw his body forward, driving Ray back a step. Before the startled teen could react, Linq dropped to his back, yanking Ray forward onto his coiled legs before pistoning them out and sending the teen flying.
He jumped up, positioning his body between Ray and the girl as Ray rolled to his feet. “Ray, listen to me,” he pleaded. “If you kill her, you can’t go back.”
Ray marched toward him without responding.
“Don’t you understand?” Linq yelled. “If you do this, there’s no going back.”
Ray halted. “There’s no going back to what, Linq? Back to a world that made sense? Back to a family that’s alive? Back to what?”
“Back to now,” Linq reasoned. “Back to before you killed this girl.”
Ray held his claws up; they were black with dried blood. His eyes were haunted. “I’m already a killer.”
“But not a murderer.”
Ray snorted. “Killer. Murderer. There’s no difference in war.”
Linq shook his head. “Bullsh—”
Ray rushed him, pivoting right before they collided to try to sneak past Linq’s muscled bulk. Desperate, Linq threw a sweeping kick, upending his friend again.
Ray cartwheeled through the air and landed on the comatose væmpire with bone-crushing force. A whiff of strong perfume swirled through the air. Linq dove toward the pair while Ray scrambled off the girl, seemingly abandoning all murderous intent.
They stopped moving.
“Oh man.” Ray backed away from the body.
“Well, that was … a bad idea,” Ray said, looking sheepish and concerned. Just like that, whether due to the fall or something else, the old Ray was back.
Both teens braced, but the væmpire didn’t move.
Nothing happened beyond her increased heartbeat. Ray wiped a hand through his hair, pushing one side into his trademark spikes.
He walked over to Linq, holding his hand out. “I’m sorry, Linq. I don’t know what the heck came over—”
The heartbeat grew stronger with each beat.
They turned in unison toward the comatose girl—
—but strange sounds behind them—
—a huff, like an exhalation of breath—
—but a voluminous huff, like collective exhalations—
—followed by whispers of movement—
—brought them back to their original positions.
Linq shook his head. Ray just gaped at the scene before them.
Spread out across the west ward, the dead væmpires rose. But there was still only one heart beating.
“What the hell is this?” Linq whispered, too shocked to speak up.
“It’s that damned girl,” Ray said.
“I knew we should’ve killed her.”
Linq agreed with him, but didn’t waste his breath.
Down the hill, a pair of rheumy eyes locked on to Linq’s. The creature shuffled forward, claws and fangs extending as it did.
“It isn’t too late to kill her now,” Linq offered, turning toward the girl with the maddening heartbeat.
A door burst open, disgorging a pair of rotting væmpires from the guard tower.
The creatures shuffle-stumbled toward the teens, moving with surprising speed for such ungainly motions.
“Yes, it is,” Ray said, without a trace of bitterness in his voice.