I’m happy to spotlight Corcitura with fellow readers today, an intriguing paranormal thriller by Melika Dannese Lux. I hope you will check out the book trailer and read Lux’s fascinating guest post that explains the novel’s origins. Now, after reading the excerpt, I’ve definitely added this to my list of future reads.
Corcitura by Melika Dannese Lux
Publication Date: November 2012
Genre: Paranormal, Horror, Thriller
Corcitura. Some call it hybrid, others half-blood, mongrel, beast. They are all names for the same thing: vampire—the created progeny of the half-wolf, half-vampire, barb-tongued Grecian Vrykolakas, and the suave but equally vicious Russian Upyr. Corcitura: this is what happens when a man is attacked by two vampires of differing species. He becomes an entirely new breed—ruthless, deadly, unstoppable…almost.
London, 1888: Eric Bradburry and Stefan Ratliff, best friends since childhood, have finally succeeded in convincing their parents to send them on a Grand Tour of the Continent. It will be the adventure of a lifetime for the two eighteen-year-old Englishmen, but almost from the moment they set foot on French soil, Eric senses a change in Stefan, a change that is intensified when they cross paths with the enigmatic Vladec Salei and his traveling companions: Leonora Bianchetti, a woman who fascinates Eric for reasons he does not understand, and the bewitching Augustin and Sorina Boroi—siblings, opera impresarios, and wielders of an alarming power that nearly drives Eric mad.
Unable to resist the pull of their new friends, Eric and Stefan walk into a trap that has been waiting to be sprung for more than five hundred years—and Stefan is the catalyst. Terrified by the transformation his friend is undergoing, Eric knows he must get Stefan away from Vladec Salei and Constantinos, the rabid, blood-crazed Vrykolakas, before Stefan is changed beyond recognition. But after witnessing a horrific scene in a shadowed courtyard in Eastern Europe, Eric’s worst fears are confirmed.
Six years removed from the terror he experienced at the hands of Salei and Constantinos, Eric finally believes he has escaped his past. But once marked, forever marked, as he painfully begins to understand. He has kept company with vampires, and now they have returned to claim him for their own.
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I have been an author since the age of fourteen and write Young/New Adult historical romance, suspense, supernatural/paranormal thrillers, fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, novellas—you name it, I write it! I am also a classically trained soprano/violinist/pianist and have been performing since the age of three. Additionally, I hold a BA in Management and an MBA in Marketing.
If I had not decided to become a writer, I would have become a marine biologist, but after countless years spent watching Shark Week, I realized I am very attached to my arms and legs and would rather write sharks into my stories than get up close and personal with those toothy wonders.
“Genesis of Corcitura“
Be honest. You’re wondering what on earth a Corcitura is, right? Well, I’d be more than happy to slake your curiosity! 😉 Corcitura is the Romanian word for hybrid. It has no vampiric connotations whatsoever, but before I tell you why I chose this as the name for my new creature, how about a little backstory?
A year before I even got the idea for the Corcitura, I had seen a painting that sent my mind reeling with all the possible implications behind it. The painting was “Oh, what’s that in the hollow?” by Edward Robert Hughes.
I took one look at that painting and screamed “VAMPIRE!” There’s something so morbidly entrancing and enigmatic about that painting. Is he dead? The sheen of his nearly translucent eyes certainly seems to suggest it. But what if he’s just resting until the moon rises? I only recently found out that he is dead! But back then, I was still in the dark, and so I did what all good storytellers do: I totally ignored the inconvenient facts behind the painting and ran roughshod with my inspiration. Those translucent eyes were never far from my mind and inspired me so much that they found life in the book’s eponymous creature.
So, why vampires, after all? Out of all the monsters of myth, vampires had always been my favorites. I had always been fascinated by how they could be suave and alluring on the outside (or when the sun wasn’t up), but with the flick of a barbed tongue, turn into slavering, fang-toothed, bloodsucking beasts! The juxtaposition fascinated me, since in original folklore almost all vampires are essentially plagues. Some just know how to mask their true nature better than others.
I knew if I was going to write about vampires, they’d better be different and intriguing, and since I have always been crazy for folklore from different parts of the world, this idea gave me an excuse to explore vampire mythology. It’s fascinating reading, freaky, but fascinating. Up until this point, I had the makings of a novel, but my vampire wasn’t being cooperative at all and just stayed hidden in the background, kicking through my mind until he finally got his act together
and distinguished himself enough to set the story in motion. Until then, I had nicknamed him “Our Combo,” since he was going to be a hybrid—created after being bitten by two vampires of differing species. I knew I couldn’t continue calling him by such a McDonald’s Value Meal sounding name forever, so I took the next step in finding out what the word “hybrid” in Romanian was (since Stefan’s family has a long and torturous history deep in the soil of that country). I have Romanian ancestors, so digging into the country’s myths and legends was an added bonus. When I discovered that corcitura meant hybrid, I thought about it, and since I didn’t like any of the names I’d made up in the interim, it eventually stuck.
One huge thing that was clear in my mind from the outset was to make certain my novel took place before Dracula was even published. Dracula was such a tremendous milestone in vampire literature…and I didn’t want my characters to know about it at all. I wanted to create new myths, new ways of dispatching the creatures of the night, new fears and horrors—all things which would have been greatly hindered by a post-1897 setting. Where would the suspense be if my characters could fall back on what they’d read in Stoker’s novel? When they came up against pointy-toothed demons, I wanted no little lights going off in my characters’ heads, and definitely no saying, “Ah ha! This is exactly like what happened in Dracula! Quick, get some garlic!” I wanted my characters to have absolutely no frame of reference for dealing with the horrible situations they found themselves in, which is why all the action in the novel takes place from 1888 (there is also a very ripping reason for choosing that year, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why 😉 through 1895.
That settled, I turned my attention to sunlight. Yes, sunlight. That was the real impetus behind the idea of having the victim be a hybrid, and was how the whole “combo” concept was born—finding a way to make sure my vampire would be able to frolic around during daylight hours without being charred to ashes by the sun’s rays. For three months, I went back and forth on how a vampire could achieve this, during which time I whittled down my choices for favorite vampire candidates. Once I started seeing how different the strengths and weaknesses were, and understanding how much more indestructible the combined blood of two vampires would be (plus the human blood of the original victim), I knew I was on the right path, and settled on the Vrykolakas (from Greece) and the Upyr (from Russia) for the creators of my new vampiric species.
The Vrykolakas (referred to as the Vryk from this point forward) was a jackpot find for me, mainly because he’s a virtual unknown in literature, but mostly because it is unclear if the Vryk is a vampire or a werewolf. You see where this is going, right? Just before I hit the halfway point of the novel, I realized I would have to be crazy not to exploit that gray area to the hilt. It only made sense to embrace this ambiguity, which led to a whole new story arc being created for my two female Vryk protagonists later on in the novel. I am so happy I did this because it launched the second and third halves of the novel onto a completely different plane, with the book beginning to essentially write itself from that point on. To quote Colonel Hannibal Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together!” 😉
The Upyr and the Vryk are two sides of the same coin. Where the Vryk was plague-ravaged, nasty, and didn’t do anything to hide his true nature, the Upyr moved heaven and earth not to show his hand. My Vryk was rabid and couldn’t do much to control it. But the Upyr…he was a bird of an entirely different breed. Debonair on the outside, but blacker than the foulest dungeon, he was ten times more deadly than the Vryk and no one would ever be able to tell. He was my linchpin and turned out to come on scene much quicker than expected, which goes to show you that when the character wants out, you’d better listen, because from the moment he waltzed into the story, everything was transformed.
I began this process thinking I would just write a vampire novel with a new twist, but what started as a story about hybrid vampires quickly morphed into something beyond what I had been planning to write. Probably more than anything else, Corcitura became the story of the corruption of a soul and how this has a domino effect on all those who encounter him—life is overturned for everyone; everything they have ever known is distorted past recognition; nothing can ever go back to the way it used to be, for now they live in danger, fear, and some that loved him most meet their ends at his hands.
After everything was said and done, and the book marinated and went through countless edits, I realized that Corcitura is, in fact, a horror novel, but not in the normal sense. It’s horror on many levels. The first part deals with the visceral, blatant horror of the vampires and the terror of having no way of stopping these creatures from corrupting you, body and soul; the second with the horror of deception, lying, treachery, betrayal, with thinking you know someone but discovering they have lied to you about practically everything; the third with the horror of abandonment; and lastly with the horror of the unknown—the uncertainty of things to come. But Corcitura is also a historical novel, a thriller, a book with that unnerving Gothic feeling that permeated the stories I grew up with—novels you could lose yourself in for days at a time, tales filled with characters you’d miss when the final page was turned. That’s what I set out to write, even more than a straight up vampire novel, because it’s really not about vampires in the end. It’s about the people whose lives they destroy, the people who choose to fight against them, who team up with vampires who have decided that it doesn’t matter what the legends have taught them, they will do everything in their power to stop the undead from claiming even more souls.
Nine years, thousands of revisions, and 700 pages later, Corcitura is finally here. Welcome to a world where an ancient Upyr plots your destruction and a half-wolf, half-vampire haunts your doorstep, its barbed tongue poised to rip into your throat the second you answer its call.
Button up your collar.
Keep the flame burning.
And come along for the ride.
Taken from Corcitura, Chapter 8, A Tavern in Venice
For what must have been the thousandth time that night, I second-guessed my course of action. I vaguely sensed that he was taking me somewhere dangerous, yet I couldn’t let him loose in a strange city when he was obviously struggling to control something he had not yet learned how to master. The sane thing to do would have been to run as far away from him as I could while I had the chance, but the situation was not as desperate as that…yet. There was nothing for it but to join him.
Stefan was already getting into the gondola by the time I arrived at the pier. I expected the gondolier to be garrulous or start singing as soon as I took my seat, but the man seemed bent and cowed and had a strange abstracted look in his eyes, as if he were an automaton carrying out a duty he had no interest in.
The gondola drifted slowly down the canal as I took in my surroundings. The night was brilliant, with millions of stars dotting the sky. A full, blue-tinted moon peeked out from behind a few stray clouds and illuminated the water, which glowed faintly green in the moonlight.
I tried to think up something to say to Stefan, but was unsuccessful in my attempts. He, in turn, showed no inclination to talk during our journey, but instead draped his arm over the side of the gondola and let his fingers trail along the water’s surface, his eyes remaining transfixed on the moon. The one thing I had to stop myself from asking him was how he had enjoyed his hour with Vladec Salei. By the time I thought up a banal comment on the beauty of the night, something that could not possibly be construed as intrusive, we had arrived at our destination.
“Here we are!” Stefan boomed, coming suddenly to life and nearly upsetting the gondola. “A splendid taverna, don’t you think?”
I had to laugh in spite of myself because the so-called “taverna” looked more like a palazzo. Dozens of flaming chandeliers were affixed to the building’s exterior. Everywhere you looked, from the balcony on the fourth floor to the pier at the entrance, people were milling about with goblets grasped in their hands. “Rather a misnomer, don’t you think?” I said.
“This is no laughing matter, my good son,” Stefan said. For that one instant, it was as if the old Stefan had returned, so jovial and natural was his tone. But when he looked back at the taverna, all his joviality vanished and a vacant look entered his eyes.
“La Dimora di Notte,” he said, almost reverentially. He closed his eyes and stood there as though he had been transported by some unknown bliss. I was already wary of this nocturnal escapade, but upon hearing the name of the place, a chill went through my body. I involuntarily looked over my shoulder, certain my eyes would light upon a face I was not prepared to see.
“The Dwelling of Night?” I asked uneasily.
Stefan’s eyes flickered open, and he seemed to regain his composure. His moods were so erratic that it was almost impossible to determine how he would react in any given situation. A mere word, question, or glance, however harmless it might have seemed, could have sent him into a rage or the deepest melancholy. He was becoming as changeable as Vladec Salei.
“Roughly translated, yes,” he said, shaking his head as if to clear his mind. “Catchy, isn’t it?”
“A rather strange name for a tavern, don’t you think?”
“Not at all!” he said, smiling. His better nature was at the forefront. How long this would last, I could not say. “It is night, people dwell here. It’s all very fitting. The top floor is where we are headed. Come, step lively. We’ve already tarried long enough.”
Stefan punched me in the arm and we headed down the pier toward the brass double doors, which swung open ceremoniously before we reached them. I thought they had opened of their own volition and was momentarily startled until I saw that a porter was standing on the inside. Stefan said something to the man in an undertone I couldn’t catch and jerked his thumb back at me. The man laughed suddenly and Stefan joined in his mirth, sharing in the private joke that had no doubt been made at my expense.
I smiled despite my annoyance and followed Stefan up the first flight of stairs. At the first landing, I noticed that there was a passageway that led off to a private room. The door was closed to public eyes, but the sounds that pierced through the brass told of some great revelry taking place within. I could hear glasses clanking and voices raised in jubilation. Someone let out a screech that sent chills down my neck, but I was apparently being oversensitive because a great burst of laughter followed what I had thought was a cry of pain.
The stairwell did not match the undoubted opulence of this secret room, however. The walls were whitewashed and peeling in several places. There was no light at this stage. Had it not been for the brilliant golden beam that was visible underneath the doorway of the private room, this entire landing would have been cloaked in almost total darkness.
“Isn’t it divine?” Stefan gushed, obviously feeling right at home.
“That wasn’t exactly the word I was thinking of,” I answered.
“Oh, stop being a prude, Bradburry.”
My head snapped up at the sudden use of my surname. He had never called me Bradburry before, even in jest, and the fact that this had occurred in such a disreputable place as I was discovering this “taverna” to be, filled me with a sense of foreboding I could not repress. Only one other person had ever called me that—Vladec Salei.
We walked up to the second landing in silence and were making our way to the third, when I was nearly knocked off my feet. The man sagged against me and didn’t seem to be conscious, until I collared him and he came to life with a vengeance. He rushed me like a thing possessed, his arms flailing about, his fists punching madly at the air, but I countered with a blow to the jaw that sent the man reeling. He staggered back against the wall, clutching his face and moaning pitifully, and I was astonished to see that the man who had attacked me was our gondolier.
“Well, look who we have here!” said Stefan in that same perfect Venetian he had used before, shocking me by going over to my assailant and placing his arm around the man’s shoulder as if they were the best of friends.
I’d heard of being kind to one’s enemies and turning the other cheek, but this was ridiculous.
“What an unfortunate incident,” he said soothingly. I half expected him to pat the man’s hand as if he were merely a child who had fallen and scraped his knee. “Now, do the sensible thing and get upstairs and refresh yourself, my good man. Off with you, now!”
The man looked as bewildered as I was, but upon hearing that he was not going to be detained, relief registered on his face and he scurried up the stairs.
“You must be kind to these poor wretches,” Stefan said magnanimously, straightening his jacket, although this action wasn’t necessary, since he had taken no part in the scrum. “He is in obvious need of stimulants. Besides, he is our ride home.”
“I think stimulants are the last things he needs. The man is obviously drunk beyond reason. Who knows how many more of his friends are waiting to ambush us upstairs. And how did he even get upstairs before us, for that matter? And if you think for one moment that I am going to get into the same gondola as that raving madman, well, you don’t know me at all. I think it’s time we left.”
His voice reverberated through the vacant stairwell like a clap of thunder. His face clouded over so dramatically and his eyes grew so dark that only the huge black pupils were left visible. I stared in horror at what I could have sworn was no longer Stefan, but a demon released from the bowels of hell.
Just as quickly as the fury had come, it vanished, and Stefan was once again himself, or as near to himself as the other side of his nature would allow him to be.
“We’ve come this far already,” he said in a soothing tone I had never heard him use before. “Are you, the ‘Man of the Hour,’ going to let one drunken reveler spoil the entire evening?”
I looked at him warily, knowing it was just another trick, this cajoling of his, to get me to go on. I had no desire to spend another minute in this wretched place and was on the verge of making my feelings known, when I suddenly felt the urge to discover what it was that Stefan and the other patrons found so enticing about this mysterious fourth floor. Against all my better judgment, I gave in. The pull of this place, coupled with my inordinate curiosity, was becoming too strong to resist.
“Very well,” I agreed.
“Splendid! Come, the hour is growing late.”
I watched him dart up a few more steps before I began to trudge along behind.
As we passed the third landing, I noticed for the first time that Stefan was carrying a cane of some sort. Why he hadn’t used this to stop my attacker was beyond me, and the thought that he had had a weapon handy and had done nothing with it made anger well up inside me all over again.
I hurried after him, trying to catch a better glimpse, since the light was growing a trifle brighter at this stage. But when I finally saw it, I wished I hadn’t. My heart somersaulted in my chest. The top of the cane was made of gold and had been carved into the shape of a beast’s head.
A wyvern’s—exactly the same as the pendants the vampiresses had worn.
The only difference was that the gems that were set into the eye sockets were emeralds instead of rubies, yet they still sparkled with an unearthly intensity. I had never seen him with that cane before, but the sinking feeling in my stomach told me it had been a gift from his newest and dearest friend, for it had been personalized just for Stefan. The eyes were green like his, not red like Salei’s had been when he had revealed himself to me, if only for an instant. This wyvern was fiercer and more striking than the others. I wondered if it had been designed to symbolize Stefan’s transformation into a monster more powerful than even Vladec Salei.
“So it has begun…” I said, but the words faded away.
We had finally reached the fourth floor.
I thought I was standing on the threshold of a seraglio. Silk hangings of red and gold, crimson and brilliant ochre, met my eyes everywhere I looked. The room was nearly full to capacity, with people lounging about on overstuffed cushions or sitting at one of the few tables scattered around the chamber. As I looked up, I saw several gold chandeliers dangling from the frescoed ceiling. Each chandelier contained a single candle that guttered in a red Venetian blown-glass holder. The effect was striking yet eerie, since the lights cast a reddish pall over the room, making everyone appear to be bathed in blood.
I looked over at Stefan to see if he shared my concern, but he was smiling so broadly I thought his face would split.
“What did I tell you?” he said, taking my arm and guiding me over to an empty table at the farthest end of the room. “A birthday to remember!”
Stefan signaled to a waiter and ordered the man to bring us two glasses of the taverna’s finest wine. The man gave me a sidelong glance that made me feel decidedly unwelcome, then bustled off to the elaborate, mirrored bar at the other end of the room. There must have been over a hundred bottles of wine encased in the intricately wrought Venetian glass holders resting on the bars’ shelves. I had no desire to join Stefan in fraternizing with our neighbors at the next table—whom he seemed to be getting along famously with—so I decided to make a count of the bottles to keep my mind occupied until the drinks arrived.
I had counted twenty bottles before I noticed the gondolier sitting at the bar, glowering at me over the rim of his wine glass. My mood did not improve when I saw that he was advancing to our table, our drinks set atop a golden platter he was carrying.
He placed Stefan’s glass down first. After Stefan gave him a pointed look, he set the other glass before me.
“Grazie,” said Stefan, but the gondolier was already walking back to his post at the bar.
“I’m not drinking that,” I said, pushing the glass into the center of the table. “Why in the world would he be giving us our drinks?”
“A member of the brethren.”
“It’s a guild they have here,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. “I remember reading about it before we arrived. Quite powerful, I’ve heard. Its members are not limited to a single profession.”
He was mocking me. I could see his mouth beginning to lift in a maddening smirk, a smile that was half sardonic and half secretive, as if the fate of the world depended on the answer to a riddle only he knew and would never share.
I looked away from him in disgust, my eyes lighting upon the goblet I had refused. In all the tumult, I had not paid attention to the contents of the glass. Now that I studied it, I realized that it was the most viscous looking drink I had ever seen in my life. It did not look anything like wine, but rather resembled a thick, red-black custard. I felt sick just staring at it. Stefan shouldn’t drink that. Who knew where it came from and what it even was. I reached for the glass, but stopped myself before my fingers could close around the stem. Something distracted me, something I hadn’t noticed until that moment.
Everyone else in the taverna was downing the same drink.
“At last,” Stefan said, eying the glass hungrily. “It has to be drunk in one fell swoop, so the locals say. Well, when in Rome, eh, old friend?” And before I could answer, he set the glass against his lips, tilted back his head, and the liquid was gone. After a minute, he let out a satisfied sigh and opened his eyes. “Not bad,” he said. “Not bad at all.”
Stefan signaled to the gondolier again. “Another two glasses of Sangue di Vita for me and my friend here,” he said in Venetian. By the time the gondolier turned away, Stefan had claimed my glass and drunk the wine in that goblet, too.
“Tell me, Eric,” he said, licking a droplet from the corner of his mouth. “Have you ever tasted blood?”
My mouth was so dry I could barely find the voice to answer him. “What an odd question…”
“But a valid one. Well, have you?”
“I’ve cut my lip before, so yes, I suppose I have tasted blood, but…”
“Not your own, you foolish boy.” He let out a short, derisive laugh and leaned in so that he was only a few inches from my face. “I mean the blood of another.”
“Good God, Stefan, of course not!”
I jerked away from him in horror. There was such genuine disappointment in his voice when he said this that I believed he had finally gone insane.
“Stefan, this is madness,” I said, my voice cracking in spite of my resolve to remain calm, “listen to yourself. What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that there are things in this world you cannot understand. Things you don’t even want to imagine.”
“And why should I be concerned about any of this?”
The gondolier returned with two more glasses of the wine. Stefan inclined his head in thanks, took the goblet between his fingers, and looked me dead in the eyes. “Because, my dear Eric, I have tasted the secret knowledge. I know how much to say and when to pull back. I know what to see and not see. And now that I have become whole again, I can never go back. All these things he has given me. Better than my supposed mother and father ever could. For that, I owe him my life and allegiance.”
“Stefan, this is nonsense!” I cried. My voice echoed off the walls of the suddenly silent room. Apparently, my outburst had made our table the center of attention. Dozens of bloodshot eyes were now leering at us. And all of those eyes looked…unnatural. It was something about them, the way they were illumined in the darkness, as if they possessed a light all their own. Of course, it could have been the sheen that occurs when one has had too much to drink, but I doubted that was the reason.
I had seen the same glassy look in the eyes of the gondolier when he had attacked me.