My last contracted e-book comes out from Aspen Mountain Press this month. The Vampire Covenants, a trilogy I began with co-author Rob Graham, concludes with Defying the Covenants on March 21, 2011. Although Rob and I co-wrote the first two books, the final book is all mine. I wrote it by myself, which seems fitting as it's the last one.
For some reason, this book was harder to write than the others. I hemmed and hawed for a long time over the characters, the ultimate resolution of the plot (which changed drastically from what Rob and I had discussed) and how to bring the story to a final culmination. I'm not used to writing 'final' in any of my stories. I always like to think that even if I never write another word in the world, the story somehow goes on. The characters have amazing adventures without me, until they pass into the history of that world. Then they gradually adapt, becoming first a memory, then a legend and finally a myth.
But with Marguertie in the Covenants series, things are a little different. This is her last story. In a lot of ways, she is representative of me. Marguerite slides from the limelight, while I move from one sphere to another. I think that's very fitting. Marguerite has been one of my favorite characters ever. She's so different from Tamsen (Asphodel) and all my little goddesses from the Mythos series. Marguerite is a tragic character in a lot of ways. She finds ways to make her own happiness, true, but she also finds ways to screw that up. She didn't start out as a heroine, a woman destined for greatness. She falls into heroism because of a series of events completely out of her control, and throughout the three books her primary quest is to regain control over herself and her life. And, at long last, she accomplishes that goal--but at a terrible cost.
I'm very proud of Defying the Covenants. I think this book is an earmark of the change in my writing style, the maturation, perhaps, of how I develop characters and plots. I also think this story is true to my narrative voice. I was writing this book at the same time I was writing Theater of Seduction so that change in voice had already taken place. This book is darker, and yet at the same time more emotionally honest than its predecessors. A couple of the best scenes I have ever written are pivotal moments in the story.
Have you ever had one of those? A scene that for some reason works so well that it evokes the emotions in you, the writer, that you'd hoped to inspire in the reader? I had one of those in Apostle of Asphodel, with Anner's death. In Defying the Covenants, there are a couple of those--scenes that I re-read and that actually suck me into the story. One gives me shivers. The other...well, I've opened the document about thirty times to change that scene, thinking I needed to revise the ending of the story. But then, I'll read that scene over and I just don't want to touch the damn thing. So it stays, and because it stays I've stuck with an ending to the story that conventional wisdom would advise against.
That ending is a risk, and therefore I love it.
So now my last countdown clock is up for the vampires of the Covenants, counting down the hours and seconds and minutes when they will at last emerge into the light--figuratively of course. The feeling is bittersweet, which makes it all just that much more amazing.
I hope you love Defying the Covenants as much as I do. And just to give you a feel for it, take a moment and get a taste of what Marguerite and Gunther and Marcellin will bring to the table this time.
And farewell to this second era of my writing career. I hope the next era is as incredible as this one has been.
The Vampire Covenants 3: Defying the Covenants
by Celina Summers
Coming March 21, 2011 from Aspen Mountain Press
As the Conclave prepares to confront the Russian renegade Grigori Volkonsky, Marguerite von Wittershiem has been shunted aside. Her husband and mentors hope to keep her out of danger by assigning her the unglamorous task of protecting the written lore of their people.
But their plans go awry when a traitor within the Conclave betrays them all to the enemy. As the most powerful vampires in Europe fall to Volkonsky’s minions, Marguerite must find not only the strength to stand alone but the ability to withstand the greatest threat that the hidden world of vampires has ever faced. If she fails, the immortal races and humanity will be destroyed.
In order to ward the Covenants as she has sworn, Marguerite must be prepared to defy them as well.
* * * *
The Russians have surrounded us at Notre Dame! Calmet and Marcellin fight alone! Help us!
I was so close. I could make out the brass handle on the great door, gleaming with oily allure through the gloom. Something slammed into my body and hurled me into the pedestal of a statue warding the cathedral doors. I rolled to my feet, the sword in one hand and the dagger in the other. My foe laughed and circled me.
More vampires were dropping from the air now, most of them turning immediately to me. Marcellin was fighting against seven or eight immortals, all thralls, who had surrounded him but couldn’t get past the flashing guard of his blade.
“Come, little one,” the Russian nearest me said in atrocious English. “We will not harm you.”
Somehow, the new arrivals had gotten between me and the cathedral doors. There was no way I could speed through them and head for the sanctuary. I’d lead them right to it—and Calmet’s library. Desperately, I looked around for some other option.
I threw the knife at the Russian who’d spoken. He fell, screaming, to the ground with the blade protruding from his eye. I took advantage of his compatriots’ confusion and leapt for the narrow balustrade before the huge rose window.
My feet scrabbled on the edge of the stone railing, but I leaned forward and threw my arms around the Virgin Mary’s legs. The sword fell from my hand, spinning to the earth below. I didn’t wait to see what the Russians did next. As someone shouted below me, I ran across the narrow ledge to the southwest corner of the cathedral. I began to climb up the staggered bricks.
Overhead, the clouds that had been gathering over the death throes of the France I’d loved, rumbled ominously. I turned and barely bit back a scream. One of the gargoyles was right beside me, sneering over the embattled street below. I used the sculpture’s head to help me vault onto the ledge on its other side. By the time I reached the second balustrade between the twin towers of the cathedral, lightning flashed across the sky. It illuminated the false front of the façade and, for just a second, the steeply angled roof beyond it. I squeezed through two of the fluted columns and found myself standing on the peak of Notre Dame’s roof.
I sobbed, unsure which prospect was more terrifying—the Russians or the roof. Before I realized what I was doing, I mentally screamed, Gunther!
Every ounce of my power went into that psychic shout. Somewhere to the south and then, incredibly, to the north, I felt another immortal’s reaction to that desperate call. I didn’t have time to ponder who these vampires might be. Instead, I bit my lip and took my first step out onto the roof.
I couldn’t walk on the apex of the roof itself; decorative swirls and spikes of metal were enough to warn any vampire away. Instead, I progressed one step down from the peak, using the decorative ironwork to keep me balanced. I would never have attempted such a thing if I wasn’t able to turn into a bat if things went wrong. Regardless, I didn’t relish the idea of sliding down that pitched roof and forcing the shape shift before landing on the stones below. A vampire could experience all the pain of—and live through—breaking every bone in their body. It wasn’t a pleasant prospect at all.
While the storm gathered strength overhead, I scurried across the roof, keeping as low as I could and moving as quickly as I dared. Even to my ears, the sounds of battle were fading. I didn’t know if I was being pursued or not; I didn’t dare take the time to look. As I neared the first of the great flying buttresses, I had an idea.
Maybe I could conceal myself under one of those the same way Marcellin and I had hidden under the Pont Notre Dame. The towering spire reared in front of me. I scrabbled the rest of the way across the roof to it and pulled myself over the railing into the bell tower. For a moment, my legs wobbled in relief.
It didn’t matter that I could fly; all I knew was I could fall.
The massive bells hung in their frames as I slipped through the precarious walkway among them. I glanced over the edge of a landing into a stairwell that descended into the cathedral. For a moment I was tempted. Perhaps I could speed down those stairs and make my way to the crypt, obeying Marcellin’s orders and sealing the sanctuary against any who came. But a tickle at the back of my mind alerted me that others were nearing the spire.
I would give Calmet’s secret away if I followed my desire.
I crept around the huge bell in the center, easing my way toward the northern wing of the cathedral. The wood framework of the building would magnify even the slightest noise, betraying my position to any immortal nearby. I had to remain as stealthy as possible. Occasionally, I caught a whiff of some sour smell—an unwashed vampire, perhaps, still reeking of his last meal. The aroma overwhelmed the other, natural odors of this place—the warm spiciness of the wood, the metallic tang of verdigris and a lingering scent of spices from the cathedral below.
I froze. No, that aroma wasn’t the normal scent of the Catholic service. I was smelling myrrh.
Dear God—it’s Emmanuel Lando!
Terror, thick and cloying as the sickly sweetness of the myrrh, rose into my throat. I ducked under a smaller bell, edging around to the aperture that would lead me back to the roof and the buttresses keeping Notre Dame intact. If I was being stalked by Emmanuel Lando and not Volkonsky’s minions, things were worse than I could ever have imagined. Calmet’s blood, the blood of the eldest of night’s children, ran through my veins—his gift of healing.
Lando could not be allowed to drink from me, to add that power to his already considerable strength.
I slipped over the rail and back out onto the roof. I could hear the sounds of battle continuing hear the West Façade, punctuated by screams and clouts of power. It seemed as if there were more vampires involved now—probably Leandro had come at last to Marcellin and Calmet’s aid. I turned back to glance over my shoulder and one of the lead tiles loosened beneath my foot. I couldn’t help it; I screamed.
I slid toward the edge of the roof, grabbing desperately at tiles to slow my fall. I managed to grab hold of a gargoyle just as my feet and legs flew over the edge of the foot. I dangled there for a moment, relieved beyond measure at the sight of the gargoyle’s laughing snarl.
Lightning flashed above the cathedral, illuminating a lone figure at the top of the roof looking down at me. I didn’t have to see his sallow, drawn face or the tattered remnants of his Venetian robes to recognize Emmanuel Lando’s leering face.
I let go of the gargoyle.