Book Four Prologue (As Promised)

This is still subject to change…

 

Prologue

Nikolai

 

 

I, being of sound mind, body, and death, was fully aware that attempting an escape from the ancient, marble barriers of the Dark City would surely be the end of me. The real end of me, because I had only very recently lost my human life and joined the ranks of the undead. The Vampires.

I suppose it wasn’t totally unexpected. I’ve been destined for the darkness since I was born.

My mortal parents never understood me. My father never cared to try. But I missed my family. Despite all the times I felt out of place with them, I missed them. My sister most of all.

I can still hear her screams so loud, the memory of the night she was ripped from her life, so vivid, it torments me even now—now that I’ve become the very thing that destroyed her.

My life has begun again.

Escaping one’s own grave proves difficult. Especially when the keepers of hell, itself, hold you down so long, you forget how to scream.

It’s moments like those people discover who they truly are. They learn things they’ve never known about themselves. Like how they’ve possessed a strength and courage that otherwise thrived undetected and dormant beneath their surfaces for their whole lives, as was my own case.

Several days prior, which now felt like years, I was kidnapped with a mortal girl named Charlotte and taken down to the very mecca—the very headquarters of darkness, death, and impossibilities. A city they named Abelim—a metropolis built under the ancient foundation of Prague. The Dark City exists in secret. It harbors an ancient clan of monsters that walk among us—an army I am now part of. And Charlotte, the most interesting girl I’d ever met, escaped her dangerous imprisonment with the most powerful Vampire I’d ever known, and left me down there. Alone. Afraid.

It is arguable that I had not always been a monster. And even though I was born with impossible powers I never understood, I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask for an eternity of thirst and anguish. Evil was forced upon me soon after I was captured in the depths of that underground city of shadow. I had no choice.

They, the ancient Parliament coven, tied me up and shoved it down my throat like I was some animal—some amusing experiment. They didn’t care how it hurt me to watch the fear wash through Charlotte’s eyes when she looked at my new, monster flesh for the first time. The Elders didn’t shift an inch to comfort me while I watched her leave with him—with Valek—the one who I was allegedly a descendent of.

My only living relative, they all said.

It was something I didn’t want to believe. Valek was the picture of darkness itself. I never wanted to be like him, skulking around in misery and loneliness for centuries. I had been surrounded by misery and loneliness enough while I was an awkward, mortal teenager. I had been the outcast. The loner English major with secret powers I hid under my sweatshirts next to the emotional scars left by an aloof father.

But Charlotte pushed through my dark walls like a honey-colored sunrise. The day she literally ran into me, felt like the day I took my first breath. For the first time, the girl standing in front of me didn’t look up at me with the word ‘freak’ written in her eyes. She didn’t judge me. Not even an ounce.

Because we were the same.

Down in Abelim, it might have seemed I would be around creatures who would finally understand me. After all, they had also been human once, but now possessed unearthly power. They too hid from normalcy. The Elders of the Parliament knew what it felt like to wield powers so unreal those powers also seemed a burden. They knew what it felt like to hide. They should have been on my side.

I could not have been more wrong.

Those fiends were no more friends of mine than any of the kids I grew up with. No. No one understood me the way Charlotte did. Even after I was completely changed into the beast I am now, it seemed like she would be the only one who would ever get me—who would ever really understand. We were kindred. We were twin souls. Not quite magic, and not quite mortal.

So many people wanted her. To know her. To be close to her. To destroy her. The Parliament Elders wanted her blood under their claws to avenge all the damage she’d done. Aiden wanted her for the worst of reasons. Valek wanted her because he felt responsible for her. I wanted her simply because I wanted to love her. There was no complicated way about it. And I knew I could love her better than he ever could.

The city of Abelim was under complete discord after the mysterious Curator creatures took over the capitol and the Sands of Lilith had been stopped by the flow of Cicero’s blood. It had been days of elaborate scheming and dark-magic-trickery that lead us all to this point.

The darkness seemed to have come alive, melting into a liquid shadow that swallowed the floors and flowed up the marble walls. It drowned the light in the Pearl Hall. Many of the Elders escaped to their crypts, for refuge.

Ophelia was left beyond repair after Valek viciously dismembered her body and left the pieces scattered about her crystal-clad bedchamber—a fashionable and fitting grave for such a chic member of the dead.

A few of the more loyal Elders raced her body to the hag, Baba Yaga, with hopes that the ancient Sorceress might have been able to revive her.

Another band of Vampires bolted to the world upward in an attempt to catch Valek. But even I, who knew so little, knew they would be too late. In the short time I became acquainted with Valek, I knew he was the cleverest of them all. That bastard would have been halfway to Poland within a single beat of Charlotte’s pulse by the time any of the others reached the surface.

There were no moments to waste. I had no time to figure out how to effectively save anybody, let alone myself.

Among the rioting pummel of collapsing stalagmites and skin-crawling screams, I collapsed against one of the walls, it’s roughness causing no arousal from my new, stony skin. I felt nothing. I was empty, like an inanimate thing. Sliding down against my spine, I buried my face in my hands; an effort to hide myself from my own terrifying reality; things only a few, short weeks before I thought to only be true in fiction.

My beastly eyes stung, awash with these new, blood tears I wasn’t used to. I inhaled their rusty scent as they fell between my sneakers, seeping into the cracked marble, like veins in the stone. I raked my claws through my hair and searched through the shadow for a plan.

I had always been a freak in life, but, as I looked around at the immense, underground crypt, I knew I didn’t belong down there, either. Immortality. Strength. Undeniable beauty. They weren’t ever things I was surrounded by. They weren’t comfortable. They weren’t familiar. And they weren’t worth everything I’d lost. Family. Love. Life.

“Nikolai!” A tiny voice called out for me.

I looked toward the sound from my lost and lonely place on the floor. Frowning, I blinked hard to focus on the figure racing down the hollow corridor toward me. The Witch. The little one.

Her aged, violet eyes were cautious and locked on me, as she stopped several feet away from where I was curled up. Her hair was still gray, her spine still bent.

She looked just as lost as I felt. Just as afraid. Afraid of me, perhaps. After all, I was newly created. At the pique of my thirst. There was no telling what I was capable of. Who I would kill. Of course, no harm would come to her. She didn’t smell like the others. She didn’t appeal to me at all in the way they did. Still, I didn’t know what to do. Attempting to make no sudden movements, I shifted back up to my feet as slowly as I could, blinking back at her.

The only part of her that moved, was the slight step she took toward me.

And then I smelled it, and I figured out why she was there. She was trying to warn me. Or, perhaps, protect the others.

The warm, gushing pulses were enough to drown me. I caught myself on the wall, digging my nails as far as they could go into the stone. Salt. Iron. Blood. I looked up to see the horde of human girls racing through the various passageways behind Sarah.

The little enchantress stood as the only blockade between them and me. I felt my heart give one, dead thump and it was nearly powerful enough to knock me forward. If she hadn’t been there, I would have undoubtedly killed every last one of them.

As I focused, all of the commotion before me seemed to play on dramatically slow.

Silvery tears slipped from Sarah’s eyes. Her pulse sounded far closer than the others, though, hers was dry and as rapid as a mouse’s. She reached for me, holding her arms out straight, like she was begging, willing me to come to her and control myself. She looked weathered, so much beside herself that she needed someone else beside her or she might collapse.

I ran. I made the choice. This change within me would not overpower me. I was a good guy. Under it all, I was good.

Among the snarling monsters, the screeching, scattered humans, and the waves of enchanted, dark shadow, I ran and scooped her up into my arms.

“I’m going to get us out of here,” I promised.

All I could hear were Sarah’s quiet whimpers with the fevered fluttering of her mouse-sized pulse. I cradled her against me, her tiny face buried into my shoulder. I hugged her tighter to ensure her that she was safe. It was not romantic. It was friend comforting friend. Lost comforting lost. Everything else was just white noise and seemed to vanish as I raced through grim the tunnels.

The dim light from the wall sconces reflected over the polished floors and guided my way. I knew the more light there was, the closer we were to our exit. I wasn’t sure how long it was that I was running, making my way through the maze of halls.

I flipped through my various, dizzying thoughts for a plan, but I just kept coming up empty. It was all I could do to just keep moving. My new, Vampire mind should have been quick and keen, but I was distracted. I was supposed to be clever, wasn’t I? After all, he could make decisions on the turn of a dime. And allegedly, I was from him, so why couldn’t I?

“S-Sarah!” Abruptly, another familiar voice called out to the Witch in my arms from out of the chaos. She looked up toward the source of the sound, and I slowed. I saw him then, as well.

Edwin, along with the giant Spider-guy-thing standing stock still against the emptiness of a corridor abandoned. They looked just as maddeningly lost as she did—as we all did. I set the Witch down, and before I could release her from my arms, her legs were already moving. Just as she had to me, she was racing for the animated, burlap fellow. The scarecrow boy, or whatever sort of creature he was.

But she didn’t see the Vampire that was coming. Didn’t hear the snarling gnashes that bounced off the hardened surroundings to my new, overly-sensitive ears. Once again, the lightning-fast action before me slowed. The fiend was headed straight for her. In rage? In confusion? Did he think she belonged to the group of captive girls? I began to panic, but there it came. The sharpness of thought. The plan I had been waiting for.

I dashed for him, my claws bared. A furious roar ripped from my center, a sound that I didn’t know I was even capable of making. Surprised at myself, I slammed into him, both of us tumbling to the marble floors of the capitol. Half my mind was amazed by my strength. It was the human half that was still leftover somehow, marveling at the power and agility of my Vampire half.

I rolled atop the Elder. My claw covering the entirety of his face, I pulled him up with his head in my grasp, before slamming his skull down hard, cracking the marble floors beneath him in a deep way. If he were human, the impact would have been enough to flatten him. But this only made him angrier. He howled something beastly and slashed at me, gaining the upper hand for only a minute as he then rolled on top of me. With both of his claws on either side of my face, he threatened to tear my head clean off my shoulders. I could see it in his eyes and the way he grinned down at me—as though he’d already won.

“Nikolai!” Sarah called from somewhere behind me. “Finish him!”

Without another human thought, I was growling from between my fangs, my talons gripping his cranium, as well. We were about to kill each other when one other voice boomed from over the chaos.

“Stop. Right. There.”

The Vampire above me grinned wider as we both looked to see Milo, who had appeared in the corridor with the rest of his posse. His claws were in fists. “Leave him to me,” he said to the Elder who immediately pushed up and away, though not without a satisfied snicker.

I shot to my feet, though remained crouching, ready to lunge again.

Milo’s initial response was only the chilling sound of his wicked laughter. “What are you going to do, Nikolai? Kill me?” Taking a few steps forward, he gestured to himself. “Have you forgotten? Kill me, and it is our law that you are executed at dawn.” He lifted his thick, black eyebrows, a crooked grin contorting his features. “The single, most important piece of Vampire code.” He continued to advance, his smugness unfaltering. And as he did, the quaking palace seemed to quiet around us at last.

I peered about our surroundings, finding no more screaming. No more running, or twisting shadows.

“We have great plans for you,” he continued. I looked to see a few more Elders had appeared, flanking Sarah, Edwin, and the Spider. “You’re not escaping the Silver City. Not just yet.” Milo came toe to toe with me. His beady eyes slanted even more, as he gripped the top of my shoulder with his claw, his nails digging deep. “Your presence is requested by Cicero in the Great Hall.”

GIVEAWAYS, CONTESTS & RELEASE DAY SURPRISES

Hello to all,

Francis, once more! I am writing to let everyone know about some VERY exciting news (I consider it exciting) from author, Shayne Leighton.

We do hope that you will all join us for the LIVE USTREAM book release party on Tuesday, October 28th at 6pm EST. Be there with bells on, of course.

Just as well, we have some exciting announcements that will apply to everybody, even if you cannot make it to the party. If you have yet to crack open even a single page of the Of Light and Darkness Series, fret no more! Beginning Monday, October 27th, The Vampire’s Daughter will be FREE on AMAZON for an entire week! The first installment will be completely free until Monday, November 3rd, so if you have yet to read it, this week will be your perfect opportunity! Seize the night, as I say!

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With that in mind, it is a celebration, is it not? So Shayne will ALSO have The Vampire’s Reflection (OLAD Book 2) and The Anatomy of Vampires (Companion Novella) on sale for 99 cents this week, as well.

A terrific celebration for all! Oh, and I almost forgot! We are hosting a CONTEST! 

This week, beginning MONDAY, Shayne will be giving away 5 SIGNED PAPERBACKS of The Vampire’s Reflection (book 2) to five, lucky winners. What do you have to do? It’s very simple:

1) Download your free copy of Book 1 on Amazon on Monday (if you already have a copy, that works too)

2) Post a picture of you with your copy either on your kindle, computer, or phone to our Facebook page

3) Tell your friends about the FREE eBOOK GIVEAWAY this week, as well as the release of book 3 on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter

4) Send those friends to our Facebook page. Have them post a comment, tagging your name saying “—- sent me” (i.e. “Francis sent me”) Make sure they’ve TAGGED you!

5) Those who’ve delivered the most fresh blood, er, the most new fans win a signed paperback of the book and a little something extra special from Shayne!

Cicero

Don’t disappoint me! I’ll see you all for the BIG celebration!

 

~Francis

The Vampire’s Hourglass – TEASER CHAPTER

Chapter Five

Affinity

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Nikolai clutched the brass door handle and knocked lightly again at the wood, frowning upon not being answered the first time. Maybe she really did jump this time. But then, real panic started to sink in after a few moments of receiving nothing but silence in return. He and the others had left her completely alone after the stunt she’d pulled the night prior, down in the dungeon. After the way she reacted to his scolding her, he’d figured she only wanted some space. No one had come calling for her in the last twenty-four hours.

“Charlotte,” he called, embarrassed by the nervous stammer in his voice. His face heated. He was such a dork. The only girl who ever bothered to pay any attention to him at all, and he was striking out, again. What was wrong with him? “Charlotte?” he called to her again, though this time, he added some weight to the sound of his voice, trying to muster up the macho-ness he knew would never, truly be there. With still no answer from the other side of the door, his heart leapt into his throat. Holy God, what if she really did do something crazy? He reached for the door handle.

“Nikolai?” Her soft voice, like autumn air, wafted from behind him.

He whirled around to find the little redhead standing there in the dankness of the rotting corridor. She hugged her frail arms around herself with her boots planted on the gritty stone of the floor. He exhaled to release the knot in his stomach. Face smudged with dirt, her green eyes peered up at him from under ruddy locks of curls. Her eyelashes were the most prominent feature on her face, and he was embarrassed to admit he wanted to kiss the end of every last one of them. She blinked at him once and it was enough to knock him over.

Realization punched him in the nose. “Were you down in the catacombs by yourself, just now?”

She threw her hands on her hips and narrowed her eyes at him, pursing her lips. “Were you coming to check on me again?”

“Can you blame me for worrying? Look what happens when I don’t come to check on you.” He gestured to her less-than-perfect appearance, noticing a few tears along the hem of her dress. “I’ll bet you were actually crawling inside a few of those crypts, weren’t you?” He folded his arms over his chest and widened his stance. “You’re crazy enough.”

Charlotte shook her head. “You sound just like your great grandfather.”

Nikolai sighed, forfeiting the argument instantly. “It is so creepy when you say things like that.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. Am I making things uncomfortable?” Her sarcasm was like a stab in the gut.

“Charlotte, please. Just be easy for once.”

“What do you want?” She sneered.

It didn’t take very long for things to turn sour between them. It never seemed to. He should have been used to women speaking to him this way, by now. He rolled his eyes, but then the nerves came back like an angry swarm of butterflies to his stomach when he remembered the real reason for him coming to find her. He thought he had the perfect plan when he came knocking at her door, but after yet another war of words, he wasn’t so sure.

“I-I wanted to….”

She only continued to glare at him, and he sighed, giving up his attempt at keeping himself together.

“Have you ever been out on a date? Like a real date?” He stammered so hard, he wanted to punch himself in the face. Why couldn’t he just be smooth? “Did he ever take you out?” The last part came out a little bitter. Nikolai couldn’t help it.

Charlotte’s mouth fell open. She blinked at him, her arms dropping to her sides. Her lips trembled with words that didn’t come out.

“Well?” Nikolai waited. Did he finally render her speechless? A distant voice in his mind asked him if it was a minor victory or a major defeat. Either way, he was so clueless when it came to this sort of thing. Maybe his plans would work if he pretended like he knew what he was doing. He wondered if there was an academy award for “the nerd with the best pretend swagger.”

“Valek never…we didn’t ever…,” she fought to say. “It was always too dangerous,” she huffed. “Besides, people like us.” Was that meant to exclude him? “We don’t really do those sorts of things.”

“Why not?” Nikolai shrugged. “He might not be human, literally speaking, but didn’t he used to be, at one point? Didn’t he take his wife out on dates, or court her, or whatever? He must know what that feels like. He must know you deserve to have some fun once in a while.”

Charlotte shuddered almost unnoticeably. Almost. Maybe Nikolai shouldn’t have played that dirty card, but he knew it would work. “Fine. You win. I need to get out of this place, anyway. I’m tired of looking at it.” She pushed passed him, and into the bedchamber. Snatching up an oversized, male coat, which had been strewn across the bed, she shrugged it on, pulling her curls out from the collar. She whirled to face him, again. When she locked eyes with him this time, almost instantly she dropped her gaze to the floor. Was there something nervous about what lived behind those lashes? She tugged on a strand of her hair, avoiding any further eye contact. His fingers itched to run through her hair. Her heart-shaped mouth released the smallest exhale, and the muscles in his stomach clenched.

“Where are we going?”

Uh oh. He hadn’t thought this through completely. He hadn’t actually believed he would get her to say yes, let alone think about where he was going to take her once she did. “Well, um, I’m not sure, yet. I thought we could figure it out as we go. You know…improvise.”

“Great start. You’ve never really done this before, either, have you?”

“Hey, lose the attitude! I’m trying to do something nice!” he barked, but regretted it the instant the words left his lips.

She recoiled. She was used to being yelled at, he realized. Used to the harshness. That was it. He blew his chance. “Geez, your temper seems a bit familiar, too,” she said.

Nikolai exhaled slowly through his nose. He couldn’t decide if he was angry for her constant comparisons, or worried because she might have been right.

Charlotte’s cheeks turned a deeper shade of pink, and her gaze dropped to the floor again. “I’m sorry.”

Clumsily, like he’d somehow broken her, he approached her with his arms stretched out in an effort to put her back together again. “Look. You’ve really been through it. I can tell. I probably don’t even know the half of it. And I know I’m not him, and I’m not trying to be. But he’s not here. And it seems like things with him were a little too complicated anyway. All I’m saying is, maybe I’m someone who would be…less complicated.”

Charlotte looked at him square in the face, a little snarl playing around her lips. He struggled not to smile. She was cute when she was angry. “So you want me to settle for you, because you would be the less complicated decision?”

Nikolai thought about it and shrugged, despite her biting choice of words. “Kind of. Yeah.”

Charlotte giggled, and this time, Nikolai could not keep his smile hidden under the surface. It was such an amazing sound. “That really isn’t how it works. At least, it’s not how I work. ”

“Okay.” He nodded. “That’s fair. How do you work? Because, as you can probably tell, I don’t have a clue.”

Charlotte smiled so big, he noticed something twinkle in the darkest corner of those soft eyes. Nikolai had never seen that before. Out of all of these myths and monsters, it was the most magical thing he’d seen yet. “You’ll just have to figure it out. And at any rate, you must try to think more highly of yourself. As it turns out, you do have somewhat of a clue.”

He released a pent-up breath of air. “Thanks. That’s good to know.” Nikolai grinned wider and offered his arm. Shyly, she laced hers through his, and they walked down the stony corridor. He wasn’t anything special, yet. Wasn’t a Vampire—but walked the line. He couldn’t completely hear her thoughts or count how many times her heart beat in her chest. And maybe his lack of supernatural ability wouldn’t be such a problem. Maybe the mystery of what went on behind those large, watery eyes was part of the fun.

But there was something that did speak to him from deep within his gut. Something he knew inherently and could not deny. He loved her. In such a short time, and even though he barely knew anything about this strange girl—a child among impossible things—he knew he loved every, damaged part of her.

He started to count the beats of his own pulse, then, suddenly finding remembering how to breathe wasn’t coming so easily with her standing so close to him. Holy crap, did he just admit it to himself? He loved her. Silently, he thanked whatever divine force working against him for causing him to be there, with her. Despite all of the awful things he was made to endure, at least he was able to get to this point.

“So, did you find anything down there?” He changed the subject before they descended the main staircase, the one that spiraled down floor after floor and leveled out into the grand hall of the rubble palace.

“No.” She shook her head, frustration painting lines on her face. “I have no idea where the mirror could be. I’m scared.” She looked at him. “For Sarah. She is my best friend. What will happen to her if we never find it?”

Nikolai blinked down at her. If they never found the mirror, Charlotte was the one who was in the most trouble, not Sarah. “We’ll find it.” He smiled. “No worries.”

Charlotte made an odd, uncomfortable sound. He looked to find her frowning, again. “What?” He quirked an eyebrow at her.

“It’s nothing. It’s just…the way you talk. You sound like the rest of them.”

“Who?”

“People. Humans. The ones I used to bring back to Valek at dusk for him to feed on. The ones I hunted.” Her eyes went distant and cloudy as she seemed to recall the images she was describing. “I always used to pretend to cry—used to explain to them I had gotten lost and couldn’t find my way. They always used to say something similar. No worries,” she mocked in an over-exaggerated voice that still sounded a little annoyed.

Nikolai shook his head. “You are the prettiest, little murderer I have ever met. No one would ever suspect you.”

“That makes me the most dangerous kind,” she said with the kind of age-old wisdom that told Nikolai not to ask any questions. It was true. Charlotte wasn’t human. Not in the least. They were two of the same. Walking the Earth in mortal bodies, but not human in spirit, at all. There was something about her, in the way she spoke, and in the way she moved. It was like she’d lived, before.

“I’m sorry, you know. For what I said, last night. You are like us. I just didn’t realize it. You are more powerful than you know, Charlie,” he offered with a smile.

He noticed the muscles in her jaw clench. “Why do you insist on calling me that?”

Nikolai shrugged. “I’m not sure. He calls you ‘Lottie.’ No one else is allowed to call you Lottie, I’ve noticed. You snap at them if they try.”

“You’re correct.”

“So, I figured, I needed my own nickname for you. Charlotte is just lacking…affection. You know?” He elbowed her in the ribs, and she recoiled.

Crossing her arms, she continued to walk in silence next to him a few moments, looking like she was considering this in her mind. He held his breath, until finally, a smile cracked the hardness in her face. It made her previously dull and sad complexion seem to glow. And so did he.

“Alright. Charlie.” She nodded, testing it out for herself.

The marble floors of the grand hall were singed and scarred, a goliath chandelier crashed down in the center, its metalworking dented. The crystals adorning the outer edges of it were scattered about in thousands of glittering shards. It lay slain on its axis. Chunks were missing from the walls, debris piled on the floor. Weapons neither of them knew how to use were littered about over the many guard corpses. Abruptly, Charlotte stopped walking. Her eyes had grown extremely wide, her face marble-white.

“What is it?” He placed an affirming hand on her shoulder.

Her gaze darted about details of the room, as though she were watching ghosts. Absolute terror lived in her eyes. She didn’t answer.

“Charlotte! What is it? What’s wrong?” Nikolai grasped her shoulders and shook her a little harder this time.

Charlotte blinked, coming out of it, slightly. “There was fire.” Her voice reduced to a whisper as she looked around, specifically at the crashed chandelier. “And then that.” She pointed at it. “It flew through the air. And there was screaming. He was standing there.” She pointed at an empty spot in the hall.

“Who? Valek?”

“No.” She shook her head. “No. Nothing,” she said. “Sorry, it was nothing. It was just an old memory.” She looked damaged and weathered, the memories continuing to haunt her, the delicate features of her face strained. Try as he might to tune into her mind, he could only come up with fragments of what she was talking about. Shouting. Guards. Fire. A pointed ear protruding from locks of auburn hair. Aiden?

Something flashed in the corner of Nikolai’s vision and a chill washed across his skin. It was something dark. His gaze flicked to the far wall of the room, though he found nothing there. He shuddered again. “Come on.” He pulled her forward by the hand, electricity zapping him when their palms met. “Let’s get out of here.”

They made their way out of the massive, baroque palace entrance, and into the early dusk of Prague. The city street in front of the unassuming building, snaked around into a shadowed alleyway near Old Town—the most tourist-populated spot and home to much of what made the city so surreal; ancient and mysterious architecture standard for a place that eclipsed the old world with the new.

Nikolai held onto Charlotte, keeping her close. Her gaze remained fixed on the various gargoyles and dark visages of the towering building windows and doors. The neo-classic art. The Gothic spires. There was magic about the place despite its welcoming nature to human society. This was Nikolai’s city. And he was aware of such magic well before it came to claim him. He could smell it on the air as he walked the streets. Hear it whistling through the alleys. It was an impossible energy even disbelieving humans could not ignore. Things he was sure held some sort of magical, symbolic meaning lined the bustling square just around the corner. The Astronomical Clock chimed seven times, seemingly to illustrate his feelings about the city. It must have been exactly on the hour.

He and Charlotte lingered silently in the shadows of a side alley as a single car sputtered along, past them Nikolai squeezed Charlotte’s hand, tightly. He felt inclined to remain in the darkness with her, forever. To protect her from the spotlight of whatever might have been watching. When the car rounded a corner, he looked down at her and smiled, stringing her forward and along a couple of stony steps onto the street.

“So, where shall we go on our date?” She giggled, clearly mocking him, swinging their collected hands freely between them. Was she making a joke of this?

It didn’t matter if it was a joke to her. Nikolai couldn’t wipe the smile from his face. He wasn’t used to seeing her so cheery. It was refreshing like the evening wind that blew her curls around her face. She looked so bright in the moonlight. He had to admit, the night agreed with her. “Let me take you to Hradčany.”

“The gates will be closed, at this hour.” She kicked at a small pebble near her shoe.

“I know a secret way in through Golden Lane. It’ll be fun. I used to sneak in all the time. I’ll show you.” They walked along a bit farther, until he reached an iron-gated doorway with a rusted padlock.

Ducking down to peer under the arch, Golden Lane wound past them and farther up the hill, heading straight for the castle square. Turning back to Charlotte, he grinned. “Come.” Rattling the gate a bit, he saw it was still just as flimsy as it had ever been, back when he was just a semi-normal, college student. With one kick of his Converse sneaker, the door flew in on itself, keeping at the lock, but breaking at the hinge. He pulled himself and Charlotte in past the graphitized walls, and around the golden pools of lantern light that seemed to give the road its name. On either side of them, artisan inns and homes were fused tightly next to each other, each of the curtains drawn. The street was essentially like one, long museum. One, at this hour, was closed.

“Stay quiet,” he whispered over his shoulder. She continued to eye him. He could feel her curious stare burning into the back of his head. In many ways, she reminded him of a little girl. So mistrusting, but with a sort of innocence, you’d never blame her for being that way.

“What will happen if we’re caught?” she whispered back, after a bit of walking.

“The castle guards will probably take us to prison for trespassing,” Nikolai admitted, a snarky sort of chuckle coloring his words. She made a small squeak from behind him, and he knew he had scared her into complete silence. As long as she listened, and remained quiet, he was confident they’d be fine. No one would notice them. Not with his sort of unique powers, anyway. If he needed to make them both disappear, well thankfully, he could.

They climbed up the shallow hill, reaching the end of the Golden Lane. There was a larger door with signs pointing the way to Hradčany and other parts of Prague. Again, it was barred and locked, though with much stronger holdings, this time.

Nikolai released Charlotte’s hand, wrapping his around the iron bars. He didn’t rattle it, afraid of catching the attention of some hiding guard. Instead, he remained in the deepest shadow he could find, and eyed the space before him to see if he could find anyone lurking just on the other side. He barely dared to breathe, though it seemed the space was empty, enough. He glanced upwards, toward the top of the gate.

“You know,” he began again, “I bet we could scale this thing.” But before he could finish, he saw Charlotte begin up the bars as though they were nothing but the most simple of tasks.

“My thoughts exactly,” she whispered through her grit. She clambered, nearly silent, up the length of the bars, catching what she could with the toe of her boot, but mostly pulling herself up by her arms. Nikolai continued to stare wildly disbelieving at the pretty, little girl in the pink dress, doing something he’d only seen badass criminals do when they were trying to escape jail on television. Clearly, he was not dealing with any sort of amateur.

“Charlotte! Be careful.” His heart was in his throat. If anything happened to her—any scratch at all—the Witch would have his head, before the Spider and the scarecrow-thing could get their hands on him. They were all so protective over her. It made him want to be doubly so.

“Don’t worry about me,” she said, straddling the top before plummeting to the ground and landing on her feet. “I’ve learned a thing or two from my odd life. It’s you I’m worried about.”

Nikolai sighed and started his own ascent up the gate. Though, he had to admit, he took a little longer.

Charlotte stood on the other side, tapping her foot against the stone beneath her, her arms folded over her chest.

“I’m coming. Keep your panties on.”

She grimaced at him. “Oh, I plan on it.”

Finally, Nikolai dropped down next to her, though he did not land as stealthily as she did, stumbling backward on his heels a bit.

“Better get used to a life of grace, now. You will be a Vampire soon, after all,” she said.

“How do you know?” Playfully, he approached her, a twisted smile curling the corners of his mouth as he angled his face down, and glared at her. “Maybe I’ll never taste my first drop of human blood.”

She stared up at him as he took a strand of her hair in between his fingers, and slowly inhaled the scent of it. “Maybe…I’ll refuse.”

“And remain the ever-clumsy you?” she chided, and shoved him away. Chuckling, he fell back from her, but held out his hand, fingers splayed for hers.

“Come on. We’re on an adventure.”

Charlotte’s hand laced with his, and they made their way farther through the desolate square. A large smile painted itself across her pink lips, her face suddenly bright. It sort of caught him off guard, and he relinquished an awkward exhale.

“Have you ever been here? To the castle?”

A quick look shot across her face he didn’t quite understand, but it disappeared as quickly as it came. She dropped her gaze to her feet and they continued to walk together. “Yes. A long time ago.”

“How long?” he continued to pry. She had piqued his curiosity again. She often did. “Was it on a hunting errand for great granddad?”

Charlotte stopped short again, tugging his arm back so he would stop and look at her. “So you finally believe me?”

“No.” He sighed. “That was a joke. Ever heard of one of those?”

She mashed her lips into a tight line and finally looked away from him, her face fallen. “No. It wasn’t a hunting errand.” Her focus dashed around the various corners of the square and to where it branched out to other side streets and alleys—where it let out to the main entrance for tourists. It seemed like she was looking for something. “Valek told me, a long time ago, this was where he’d found me. It might have been a spot outside the gates, but it was around here, somewhere—the place my mortal parents left me.” She frowned, hugging her arms around herself in an effort to stifle some chill Nikolai did not feel.

He took her face in his hands. “Hey, listen to me. He hurt you. You don’t want to go back to that part of your life, right now. Just forget about those problems. You can deal with them later.” He released her, and she backed away blinking misty-eyed up at him. Had he finally gotten through to her? “Besides, we are on our date. Your first date, I should point out. Have fun. Live a little. Stop worrying so much about the past.”

He offered her his hand again, and she took it, but not without glancing once over her shoulder up at the St. Vitus cathedral. She narrowed her eyes at the structure, and he didn’t like the way her gaze lingered. Like it spoke to her. When she didn’t move on her own after a moment, he tugged her lightly forward.

“Come on. Let’s get out of here. I think coming to this place was a bad idea.”

“You’re probably right.” Her voice was distant and dreamlike as she neglected to rip her stare from the ancient, Gothic spires. “Let’s go.”

Without another word, Nikolai tugged her through the main area of the square, and up to the bolted castle gates. He released her hand long enough to rattle them in order to seek some attention from the guards standing vigilant outside. “Excuse me!” Nikolai called to them.

“What are you doing? Are you crazy?” Charlotte screeched and grabbed hold of his arm, pulling him back.

“Relax,” he whispered back to her. “Excuse me! Is anyone there?”

Finally, two guards poked their heads out from their posts on either side of the entrance, both sharing an equally surprised expression on either of their faces. “What are you kids doing there?” One guard rushed to the front of the gate, struggling to unlock it with his massive ring of keys. “You must get out of there! It’s after hours!”

Nikolai quickly eyed the other one whose gaze darted around behind Charlotte. What was he looking for? “Sorry. We are tourists. From Moravia. We didn’t notice the castle grounds had closed until just a few minutes ago,” Nikolai explained. The guard succeeded in prying the gate open.

Hastily, and as though he were actually afraid of something, he yanked the two of them out onto the main street. “It is not good to be in this area after dark! No one is to be inside,” he said with a voice so grave, it sent a slight shiver up Nikolai’s spine.

“Sure. No worries. Won’t happen again.” Nikolai feigned a grin, and wrapped his hand around Charlotte’s again. He noticed she was still staring back at the castle, behind her. But more importantly, at the cathedral. “My girlfriend and I were just exploring, like I said.” He shrugged.

His using the term girlfriend was enough to snap Charlotte back from whatever she was searching for. She glared up at Nikolai, incredulously, which made him so tickled, his grin grew three times its size.

“Very well,” the guard concluded, his eyes still darting about the shadows. “Be on your way, then. Quickly.”

Nikolai nodded his thanks and pulled Charlotte fast down the streets. He had gotten away with sneaking around the castle what seemed like a million times before, but his interaction with the guards was never anything so ominous. This time had felt just plain creepy, and he had the urge to run, rather than walk. He couldn’t shake the nerves crawling under his skin.

“Why are you pulling me so fast?” Charlotte protested, her shoes clomping on the stony street behind him.

“Because, those guards totally creeped me out and I want to get out of here,” he explained. “Fast.”

A rusted, old Škoda sat parked near the curb, submerged in a deep shadow. It looked at least a few decades old. It sparked an idea, and, oddly, a question.

“Charlie.” He quirked an eyebrow, the realization hitting him. “Have you ever even been in a car?”

Charlotte bit her lower lip and smiled, shaking her head.

He squeezed her hand tighter and rolled his eyes. She was driving him crazy. There were so many things he wanted to…. “You have never been inside of a car?” he asked, almost laughing now, himself.

“No!” she hollered, smacking him in the arm with her free hand. “I have never been inside of an…automobile.”

Nikolai whistled and stopped walking. He eyed the car and looked back to her. “Let’s hijack it.”

“What?”

“Let’s take it for a joy ride!” He pointed to the car and watched her eyes lock on it, her jaw dropping.

“You mean, steal it? Do you know how to do that?”

Nikolai shrugged. “I may or may not have done it a few times in my rebellious youth. What are mysterious childhood powers for?” he added, “Only if you want to.”

Charlotte’s cheeks turned a bright red. She looked at the ground, hips swinging from side to side as she deliberated. “Why not? I’ve committed worse crimes.”

“Much.” Nikolai beamed, unable to contain his excitement. He’d never felt so high in his life—finally liberated of all of the things and all of the people who always reduced him to feeling like he was nothing. With the crisp, evening wind, and Charlotte’s hand in his, he was on top of the world. He stopped just short of the cars back bumper, suddenly nervous. He could feel the shaking begin down in his knees. But this felt so right. He had to take the chance.

“Ch-charlotte,” he stammered. “I’d like to….” He began nearing her, the warm, honey glow of the nearby streetlamp washing in a pool around their feet. The color of it shimmering in her large eyes made their normal green color deepen into the shade of a maple leaf in autumn. She neglected to back away from him, like he would have initially expected. Instead, she peered up at him, expectant. It only urged him on more. “What I mean is…I want to….” He cupped the side of her face, his fingers sliding over her ear and into her soft curls. “If it’s okay, I….” He blinked, his lips so close to hers, it sent a shudder down his back. Would she slap him? He’d never gotten this far before, always striking out way before this part.

“Nikolai.” She inhaled and then frowned, a pretty, little crease forming in between her eyebrows—like she was in pain. His pulse sped. Oh no. Here comes the rejection. “I’m not…I’m not like other girls.” Her eyes searched his, so many questions living inside of them. “I am complicated.”

He couldn’t take it anymore. It was now or never. Before another instant passed, and before she could say anything else, he pressed his lips hard to hers. And the resulting spark was like nothing he’d ever experienced. He melted in the wake of her. She was like the embodiment of autumn, so warm and sweet and refreshing. She smelled like pumpkin and tasted like cinnamon and apples. He released her other hand, so both of his could wind in her hair. This was ecstasy, and, distantly, he wondered if he was a good kisser or not. She sighed against his mouth as they swayed somewhere in the universe of Prague, and the Czech Republic, and the rest of the world around them.

Something cool touched along his cheek, then, and a very small sob broke from her, so faint, he wasn’t even sure if he’d heard it at all. He pulled away, looking down to find her grimacing at the ground beneath her. Oh God, what if she really didn’t want that to happen.

“Charlotte, are you okay? I’m sorry.” He held her face in between both of his hands. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“No.” She cut him off. “No, please don’t be sorry. It was…breathtaking,” she admitted. She wiped at her face, some wretched emotion causing her smile to sink, and the light in her eyes to dim.

“Then, what’s the matter?” He straightened, afraid if he looked away from her, she would start crying again. Or worse. Run away.

She shook her head. “It’s nothing. I guess I don’t understand my own guilt. Now, I’m sorry. I have ruined the moment.”

“Charlie, nothing could ruin this for me. This was the single, most brilliant moment in my life. Even more amazing than when I found out all of this magic existed—when I found out I had an actual purpose in life. To me, this is even greater magic. You are magic. It’s like you’ve lit me up from the inside.”

She looked up at him and grinned, most of the traces of sadness and stress leaving her face. “Doesn’t take much to rip me apart, I guess.”

“Come on.” He reached his hand out to her. “We have a Škoda to steal.” He winked and she giggled in response.

“How do we do it?” There was an edge of electric anticipation to Charlotte’s voice. He smiled confidently. Finally, he could use his powers to impress a girl, rather than just freak her out and frighten her away. “You just keep an eye out. We don’t want anyone to see us,” he said, straining to see the lock on the driver’s door. “I think I’ve got it.” He placed his palm flat over the lock and handle, concentrating hard on the mechanics inside. He felt Charlotte’s eyes burning into him as he closed his own, really trying hard to focus.

Clenching his eyelids, and with a single exhale, he heard something click, but then, to his surprise the metallic opening of a car door. Nikolai’s eyelids flashed open to see Charlotte shimmying in to the passenger’s seat, her door pulled wide open. She had the mirror down as she adjusted the look of her hair within the reflection. Nikolai, gaped, astonished. “What the….” He yanked the driver’s side open, and quickly slid in next to her. “How did you do that?”

She peered up at him, a confident, satisfied smile playing at her lips. “Chalk it up to my many years of studying my prey. If there’s one thing I know about humans, it’s that they don’t trust themselves at all. After all, to err is human, right? I found this little baby hidden inside the back bumper. It was an easy guess.” She held up a small, glistening key in the dim alley light. As it turned out, she didn’t need any powers at all in order to be powerful.

Nikolai quirked an eyebrow and chided, “So you can quote Shakespeare, but you can’t drive a car?”

“Valek had his priorities when I was growing up. Literature was a big one. Automobiles were not.” She shoved the key into the ignition and Nikolai’s heart leapt into his throat and nearly suffocated him.

“Wait, wait, wait!” he called out, his hands catching hers.

She blinked at him. “What?”

“You can’t just do that! If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll strip the gears.” Nikolai pulled the key out and glared down at her.

“But I do know,” she whined. “I’ve seen people do it before.”

“No. Stalking your victim while you watch what they do through a car window, does not count. You’ve never been inside a vehicle with them, so it’s impossible for you to know!” he scolded, jabbing the point of the key at her.

She rolled her eyes at him. He adjusted the rear view mirror, and slammed his door shut. The inside of the car was cool, the crisp air from the night having filtered in. The sedan was an older model, something from the late eighties. The seats were springy and uncomfortable and it seemed like the radio was beyond repair. Either way, this was exactly where he wanted to be.

“Now,” he began again, “watch me.” He pushed the key into the ignition, his foot pressed against the brake. The car was manual, which was good. Way more fun to drive. He struggled to move the stick shift into the proper place after the engine sputtered to life. “One rule about cars is women suck at driving stick shift.”

“Oh yeah? Says who?” Charlotte very dramatically fastened her seatbelt as if to get the point across she felt her life was severely at risk with Nikolai in the driver’s seat.

“Says all of mankind.” He barked a chuckle. “Which, by the way, you are still a member of. Whether you like it or not.”

She stuck her tongue out at him. The car jolted forward underneath them, and they pulled away from the parking space, moving at a relatively slow and careful speed down the street. As Nikolai rounded the corner, he shoved at the little stick beneath his hand and they lurched forward and back with the new speed, the engine squealing in protest.

“What are you doing?” Charlotte called over the rattling. “You’re going too fast! This thing is going to become scrap metal!”

“No worries!” Nikolai only laughed at her over the rush of his own excitement. “You’ve got to trust me!” He noticed the rusted, old radio again and wondered if, by some miracle, it still might work. He reached for the dial and it buzzed and sputtered to life. He glanced sideways at Charlotte, smirking. Searching through the white noise, he finally found a clear station. One of his most favorite songs was playing, so he turned the volume to blasting. “You like The Beatles?” He shouted over the song, John Lennon starting to blare, I want you. I want you so bad. I want you so bad it’s driving me mad, it’s driving me mad.

“The who?”
“No! Not The Who! The Beatles!” Nikolai replied, laughing at his own joke.

Charlotte only shrugged and shook her head. She was wincing with the volume, so he turned it down just as the chorus hit: She’s so heavy!

“I want to see what this baby can really do!” He shoved at the stick again, and the car reacted with its new lease on life, the engine roaring. “There may be life in this old beast!”

The streets, so late at night, were not entirely empty, though just enough to get away with his reckless amount of speed. People on the sidewalks were nothing but mere blurs. They rushed past several tourist-trap stores still illuminated with the promise of doing business, even in the late hour. Nikolai whirled through the winding streets, snaking their way through the alleys of New Town and then eventually toward the ancient bridges that stretched over the Vltava.

“What are you doing?” Charlotte frowned, white-knuckling the dashboard. Her eyes were wide, and filled with this new, electric terror; though he noticed a tiny smile playing at the corners of her lips. Apparently, a speeding automobile was a kind of magic she had yet to experience.

“I want to show you the lights of Prague over the river at night. I want to show you what real magic looks like. We’ll go up to Petřín Hill. You’ll love it.” With one hand still clutching the steering wheel, he laced his fingers though Charlotte’s. He looked at her and smiled. “I told you. No worries. I said I wanted to take you out on a date, so I am the man with the plan.” He winked.

Charlotte smiled back before turning forward. He didn’t see her face, but he heard her gasp. She threw her arms up over her face and screamed, “Nikolai!”

What happened next was as if the entire world around him stopped in time. Nikolai’s mouth fell open. He saw the familiar, shadowed man before him, his face clouding the entirety of the windshield in murky black. Nikolai felt himself screaming, though he heard nothing, swerving the steering wheel, unable to see a thing past the grim, dark face in front of him. He recognized him as the same man who appeared in his apartment before his family was murdered. The one who came to warn him. The one who told him to find the mortal among the monsters. The angel among the demons. The one who told him to find her before Valek did.

“You are being summoned,” the mysterious man’s voice sounded ominously around them.

Charlotte’s hand was clutched so tightly to Nikolai’s, he thought his fingers might break. The car was spinning, though he was not sure which direction they were facing before it plummeted, nose first, off of what he could have only assumed was a bridge, for the car did not bump and rattle with the promise of grass or dirt underneath it. They were most definitely airborne.

Charlotte’s screams pierced his ears, the front of the car making impact with the water of the river, the thin, cheap glass imploding around them, slivers of it slicing at his face and arms. Not wanting to release her hand, he knew he had to let her go in order to get his bearings to save her. He unfastened his seatbelt and swam up and out through where the windshield used to be. He surfaced up from the black waters, choking back the bit he swallowed, and gulping for air, instead. He whirled around in the river, desperately searching for Charlotte among the small waves and ripples. His heart plunged into his stomach upon not finding her anywhere. She was still in the car. “Charlotte!”

People were already starting to gather along the bridge above, a few of them shouting down to him, though he could not make out their words. Somewhere in the city, the sounds of sirens began to blare.

He dove under the surface, trying his best to peer through the murkiness at the car wreckage. He followed a trail of billowing air bubbles to see it sinking deeper and deeper to the bottom. Violently, he pushed back at the water around him, racing to catch up with the vehicle. Eventually, as he reached the passenger window, he looked to see nothing but an empty seat, the seatbelt frayed where it had been cut. Frantically, he pushed away, looking through the darkness around him for any sign of her. Had she escaped? How?

A faint hint of a noise reverberated through the thickness of the river water, to his ears. A human-like voice called to him. He looked to see the frantic, wavering hands of Charlotte, and then her fiery curls whirling through the water. But he noticed something else, then, that made his stomach turn. Dark arms, no, claws, were wrapped around her frail body—at her chest and middle—as she fought hard to get away. Another clump of hair, dark and highlighted with locks of green, billowed out from behind Charlotte. And what was odder, was there was a tail. Something like a fish’s tail extending from the lower part of whoever this was as they kept Charlotte submerged.

Nikolai was running out of time, and out of air, to come up with any sort of intelligent plan of escape. Instead, he frantically began shimmying up toward the surface again, his lungs burning in his chest with the lack of oxygen. He felt like he might pass out as he reached toward the air.

He was almost there. Almost to the top, when he felt hands grasp around his ankles. He let out some sort of muddled noise, watching the release of what he was sure was his last bit of air float up to the top, where he wanted to be. He kicked and fought and swam as hard as he could, to try and free himself from the grasp that was tearing at his pant leg. But his struggle wasn’t working. The thing yanked him down, its scaly, webbed hands pressing at the sides of his face. Something crushed against his lips, his lungs filling with new oxygen, and a fishy sort of aftertaste. It was disgusting, but as least he didn’t feel like he was going to die. Not just yet.

He opened his eyes to come face to face with one of the utmost haunting images he had ever seen. Two pairs of slanted eyes stared back at him, aglow with an unearthly, silver light that illuminated the details of gill slits on either side of her cheeks. Nikolai gasped, the sound watery and gargled, for he believed he’d come face to face with something he’d never seen before.

A mermaid.

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One Week Away!!!

Hey all,

Francis here and I’m all atwitter with excitement. No. Not Twitter. Atwitter. Nevermind.

We are officially only ONE WEEK away from the official release of The Vampire’s Hourglass and we are celebrating with the official pre-order link HERE! 

Ensure your copy by securing your pre-order today and gear up for the official release party on USTREAM at 6pm on October 28th!

We are also in the middle of coordinating a CONTEST to give away SIGNED copies of book 2, in case you don’t already have yours!!! So get your best clothes ready! I expect to see you at the release party with bells on!!!!

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Hugs,

Franics

Prologue – The Vampire’s Hourglass

Hello good people of the Occult,

Francis here, again! Since this is my takeover…and since Shayne isn’t looking…do you think it would kill her if I shared the entire prologue of Book 3? I didn’t think so… I mean, it does star yours truly. It is in my perspective! So, I think I have every right to share my thoughts with you! Ladies and gentlemen, I hope this sets the scene. There is so much more coming…

~ F

Prologue

Francis

st__vitus_cathedral___prague_by_ruthsantcortis-d4ba24o

I sat in silence, the memory of Valek’s harsh cries still stabbing at my eardrums. Lion’s cries. I had not anticipated what his induction ceremony would entail. My ceremony had been vastly different, for the Elders needed nothing from me.

For Valek’s induction, I was the messenger, sent to usher Valek through the Abelim city gates.

The Parliament never skimped on luxury; the carriage that had brought us into the underbellies of Prague was lush, the inside covered in fine, indigo-colored satin. There were more than enough cushions to throw around, each embellished with a scrawling “P” in the center, done in silver thread. The fabrics were imported, no doubt, from far areas of the globe that even I, in all my worldliness, had never visited. The curtains that did nothing to shield out any sort of light from the windows, hung in layers of pellucid tulle, and even the ornate lines of the handles, which matched Prague’s baroque façade, were sterling. But of course I would notice these superfluous details. Valek could have given a damn and half.

The coach was propelled by six demon beasts like the ones Valek and Sarah had created only weeks ago—horses injected with the same dark curse rampant in our own bodies.

On the way to the underground city of heathens, the conversation between us was one-sided, and misery draped his near-perfect features. I attempted to distract him from the thoughts of the feeble and seemingly defenseless Charlotte he’d left back in the forest clearing with the stranger—with Nikolai, and the other misfit monsters.

As we traveled on through the dim streets, the cartwheels clattering over the cobblestone, I watched Valek’s eyes, lost and distant somewhere between here and hell. I attempted to ignore the images replaying in his mind like a broken record. It was enough to see the bloodied, dying girl once. These visions were only starting to make me salivate, and I didn’t want to be disrespectful, so I attempted to focus on my own thoughts.

Charlotte had made her own decision. She did not want him to stay. Valek needed to remind himself of that. I had hopes he would forget the girl once he was at home with me. At home in the Dark City of Abelim.

Yet however distant Valek strayed from her, the more obsessed he became. His thoughts were relentless as he fantasized over again about Lusian’s heinous acts and the sort of revenge Valek would seek. She would not suffer in vain, he’d decided.

During those weeks Valek had spent in the Dark City without her, his cogs had been turning. For the first time since I’d known him, he frightened me.

The initiation ceremony to induct him into the Parliament was complicated—painful, even to those of us who were spectating. Valek had been merely a ghost of himself that night he arrived with me. The Elders greeted him lavishly with gifts, overflowing bottles of the purest blood, and the best quarters, but he barely took notice.

Cicero, the previous liege, greeted us in a marble and onyx hall that seemed too impossibly large and tall to fit anywhere under the earth. In fact, everything about the way Abelim was erected seemed impossible. The caverns around the capital palace were immense structures of residences and odd, dangerous-looking, little shops carved into the very stalagmites, quartz, and stone.

The dim lights about the under-Earth megalopolis were nothing other than bewitched enchantments; similar to the ones Sarah liked to create—ghostly-white orbs floating about the chilled air. They cast phantasmal reflections in the dark surface of a black river that flowed along the pathways that snaked under highly vaulted caves. Walking through those dismal passages, one could hear a distant plummeting of water from a fall situated somewhere in that shadowed abyss, and the screeching of bats.

There was no warmth. There was neither humanity nor the sounds of throbbing pulses and delicious, rusty, iron smells. That place was a crypt with only the cold scents of wet algae on stone and the musty, cursed creatures forced to an eternity in that darkness.

We followed the one envoy called Milo, robed in dark suede and shimmering silver, as he led Valek and me into the capital. Every member of Parliament behaved as lavishly as they dressed and they indulged in all of the opulent things I loved so well. Fine clothing. Fine furnishings. Pure, hot, blood. Elaborate ceremonies and celebrations. I belonged with them. Valek did not. It was disheartening, but I knew he only belonged in one place, however woebegone it was then.

He seemed barely present during that first night in the Dark City. The only time Valek’s consciousness found him was when a few of the highest Elders splayed and strapped him over a marble slab in the center of some other large room; this one with stone floors that were separated and uneven. Small rivers and pools of glistening water circulated around where we stepped, lapping over the smooth boulder faces. I cringed at the notion of my boots getting wet.

Curious markings were etched deep into the walls, too, all conjoined, but somehow forming individual symbols, until they met at the far wall and disappeared behind a grand, four-story effigy of Lilith. Lodged within her stony heart was an ancient hourglass, cradled by more sterling fixtures that swirled around the ballooned glass and stone carvings. It seemed less an hourglass, and more of a work of art, for within the elaborate, silver designs that covered mechanical gears, precious stones were embedded, glimmering in the dim light.

Of course, time had encased the structure with dust and cobwebs, but even so, I considered it hauntingly lovely. Red grains of sand from behind the glass plummeted to a mountainous pile in the bottom half with each passing moment. I understood that the sand symbolically represented blood, and the passing of life. Lilith’s marble eyes stared coldly over Valek writhing on the pedestal, as he was surrounded by some whirling, blue streams of magic that I’d never seen before. Dark sorcery, for sure.

Ophelia, Cicero’s sister, moved forward up the crude steps and tore Valek’s shirt from his body. With a wicked glint in her eye, she watched as a few of the others continued with the part of the induction that was a surprise, even to me. I would have never agreed to fetch him if I’d known, for his pain from that night is so branded into my memory.

Cold! I gasped as the mental wave of ice struck me from behind. I should not have tuned in so intently to his mind. Valek’s thoughts revealed to me that he hadn’t felt as cold in decades. The sensation knocked the wind from even my own chest and I shook my head, attempting to calm myself so that I might continue to study what they were doing to him.

Valek’s eyes darted about the room, looking to each unfamiliar face as they all peered at him. He was looking for me. Looking for me to save him as I’d done so many times before. I could hear the desperation in his mind. But this time, I was barred. This had to happen. It was something he needed to endure if he wanted to avenge Charlotte in the way he imagined. And, if he wanted to win the war against the Regime once and for all, he needed to obtain the sort of power the Parliament planned to give him.

Cicero smiled and said, “It is my pleasure to welcome you to the Parliament coven, dear friend,” then injected something deep into Valek’s left forearm.

Valek wailed with the pain, his back arching as his head smashed against the impossible strength of the granite slab beneath him. The stone crunched with the ferocity of the impact from the back of his skull. I grit my teeth as his pain swelled through my own mind. It was all I could do not to collapse with it. As his eyes swelled with blood, I too felt the violent sting begin at the bridge of my nose, traveling up to my throbbing temples. My heart hammered in time with his as violent, temporary life sprung forth in my chest.

Burning!

Horrible burning sweltered from his arm, quickly to the center of his body, and through the rest of his limbs. And I was connected to every terrible moment of it. I could hear every thought over his garbling cries. Feel every ounce of terror, grinding my jaw as I looked on.

“This is for your betterment, Valek,” I heard Cicero say from somewhere in the space around him, his voice solid and satisfied. “And ours, too. You’ll be linked with us forever. An Elder with the same powers as we all possess. And with something more. Great responsibility.” His slanted gaze cast up to Lilith then, his grin spreading as he eyed the hourglass.

It had been one of the worst experiences Valek had ever endured, and in turn, myself as well. And I could not help but think, that it was somehow entirely my fault.

But there we were. It had been several evenings since Valek had been made the liege of the Parliament, and for the first time, my superior. It was not quite so lonely down there in Abelim with him, however miserable he was. Barred together again at last, because the fates had commanded it of us. Though I was forced to continue to admire him once again, from a distance. I was left with only my mere fantasies about how less lonely this eternal existence could be if he ever reciprocated what I felt for him. And the worst of it all, he heard these reveries play out in my mind because we all possessed the same, irritating access to each other’s thoughts. Like a scratched record, it repeated over and over and he was forced to listen to my pain nightly.

The torture was both his and mine. My only consolation was that I was made deaf to his vexations, because on the night of his initiation, he had changed. The others sank him even deeper into the darkness than I ever could. He became one of them. An Elder. In charge. More powerful than I could have ever dreamed of him becoming. His mind became a secret to me, just as the rest of theirs were—guarded by curious witchcraft—a bewitched pendant they all wore around their throats. Which was a good thing, because just seeing the pain painted on his face night after night was enough for me to have to endure.

Above all else, Valek was my friend. He had made mistakes. A lot of them. But I knew his heart, however dark and dead, was a good one.

I sat by the fire—the only bit of light and warmth in this slate society that thrived, an ancient, unopened vein hidden beneath the most beautiful city in the world. Hidden beneath Prague. The secret the Golden City concealed just below its surface was but a dismal, forgotten crypt. Not even Occult creatures knew where Abelim was or how to access it. It was a place of eternal shadows, just as Vladislov promised when he condemned me here. And dark it was, though there was something about what Vladislov did that did not seem a true punishment. Not entirely. Not quite. Though my surroundings were as depressing as ever, and the place could seriously have done with some redecorating, I had never felt safer from the impending danger we all knew was coming. Being down here meant security. Safety from the light and from the Regime.

Whatever was left of it.

In all three-hundred-and-a-half years of being what I was, I crossed countless humans as they clumsily hobbled in and out of my existence. For the short time I encountered each of them, I learned more about who they were than they probably even knew about themselves. It’s amazing what one might find in the behavior of another when that person knew they were about to die. I was responsible for each of their ends, watching their lives cut short before my eyes and under my lips. It allowed access to the deepest, darkest parts of each of them.

Pure, unadulterated bloodlust was what I lived for. The very smell of putrid, human fear excited me so. The salty ambrosia that washed down my throat and the sounds of pleading. One, after another, after another. Sometimes multiples in one evening. Men. Women. Children. I broke necks like humans broke bread at supper.

I lacked complete and total moral compassion for them and did not think twice about the nightly hunts. Ah, the wind on my skin as I seduced each of them and drew them in with my unstoppable charm, for I was the perfect predator, fashioned by the Devil himself to drink up mortality. And out of all of these lives I had taken, none of them haunted me thus.

None. Except one.

It is not that I have any conscience to speak of, or possess the capacity to feel guilt or empathy. I like to think that I lost those abilities the same evening I lost my own human life. It was so long ago, and I barely remember anything about my human self now.

Admitting that I listen to any sort of theoretical angel of reason perched on my shoulder would make me soft. Weak. So weak. I haven’t been weak in centuries. Guilt, sympathy, and empathy are all three very complicated women I’d never dance with.

The only reason this one, particular soul infected me so deeply was because he absolutely refused to break. Even against all odds, and as I was literally exhausting the life from him, there was a strength that lived on in his eyes and in the sound of his pulse that I knew would never fade. Even when his body ultimately went cold.

I never intended to make the choice for him, though it was almost as if he commanded it of me. Demanded that he become this way. It was simple fact. He was made to be a Vampire. Destined to be one with the dark gift and the divinely damned.

Born to die.

I will never forget the night I killed him. I will never forget the purity of that snowfall, the chill, numb and un-affecting to me, wrapped in its pure blanket, as I lay in the gutters of Prague. A city steeped in magic and intrigue, coddled with the cold and the darkness where I belonged. I was condemned to it and thrown out of the protective shelter of the Regime Palace walls.

Like Charlotte, I too was once a mortal adored by the magic, though when I chose to give up my mortality for a life among the damned, my lover decided that I had betrayed him in some personal way by joining the darkness.

The light turned its back on me, and I on the light. Without Vladislov, I was lost for nearly a century and a half.

Until that night.

I sat in those inky streets as they snaked through all the winter white. I waited for one of them—any of those mortals to stumble upon me and feel mercy. With that moonless sky, they wouldn’t have figured out what kind of monster I was until they drew nearer. And by that point, it would have been too late for them.

I eyed the people from my distance as they ambled aimlessly, and possibly drunken, along the cobblestone streets of Old Town. Mediocre bands played on, their instruments screeching on the wind made me wince, and paired with the clamor of some clumsy conversation happening too close to me, made me curl my claws around my ears. Sewage filtered up from the gutters, and paired with the roasting turkey legs and other greasy kiosk fare, it was enough to make anyone’s stomach turn. I was surrounded.

Loud. Obnoxious. Fat. Greedy. Selfish. To err is human, and that loathsome picture was exactly what was depicted before me. It was curious why it was their blood I craved. Interesting to me why our kind did not crave to consume the life of beings more divine even than us. But nothing like that existed. There were no archangels to attack in the streets, and even the blood of Christ was actually nothing more than cheap bottles of wine shelved in the cabinets of Catholic churches. To consume the power of something greater, so that we might become stronger—now that was an idea! What was it about the clumsy human that beckoned us so? What was it about their blood that called for us more than heroin called to an addict? I lay in the gutters for hours, pondering this during that long winter’s night.

I saw him, then, coming from meters away. Even in his clumsier, human form, he moved more stealthily than the others over the slick pavement that was dampened from the melted winter. Even then, he was still vastly different. Classier, leaner, and withholding a sort of charisma I had only very seldom seen in other mortals. I was enamored in that instant. My gaze locked on his slender form, which was silhouetted by the flickering streetlamps. His broad shoulders, his dark hair that dripped like jet rain down the severe angles of his face, as his leather boots advanced toward me. I recognized that moment to be one of the most detrimental to my usually controlled character. It was a moment when the ice that guarded and enclosed the very core inside of me melted. Frozen for hundreds of years, and then in one mere second of weakness, warmed entirely.

You might say that I fell in lust…because I will never admit it was love. I will never fall in love, because love always ultimately finds a way to fail against more powerful forces, like war and magic and greed. Ultimately, love always fails. And I would never admit to failure.

The doors opened behind me, their booming echo rippling down the marble floors as though they were the surface of a dark body of water. I peered around the back of my chair.

Once again, I studied Valek’s graceful movements as he entered the underground hall. His patent leather boots seemed to make absolutely no sound as he moved toward me. The fire cast jagged shadows across his vaulted cheekbones and his sharp jaw, making him look like something more sinister than I knew he was. The frosted color of his eyes pierced me so thoroughly, I thought I must be impaled by their very glance. They did not leave my face as he continued advancing toward me, and the breath stilled in my lungs.

For those months that I was alone in the Dark City, I longed to see Valek again. Before his mishap with Charlotte, I thought about him endlessly each of my evenings, down in that metropolis of death and secrecy.

Until I was ordered to go and fetch him.

I thought doing so would bring me some amount of happiness once again. I thought seeing his face down there every night would do something to make this place feel more like home. But instead, it only felt like I’d caged a free bird.

Everyone loved Valek. Everyone wanted a piece of him.

I couldn’t bear to look at him any longer. Instead, I turned to face forward in my chair again.

The flames of the fire, large in their marble hearth with its elaborate, gilded carvings flanked by intimidating columns did nothing to warm me, for I still missed my life the way it was before all the mess. I missed my home and the bustling noises of the city. I missed the fun of preying on young, human males in the underground discotheques. I missed the fresh air of midnight and the moonlight glittering over the baroque helmets of the various basilicas and monuments scattered among the modern bastions. The Vltava River. I missed the clamor of people. I missed the starlight. I even missed Sarah, my indentured house Witch.

Valek’s forlorn sigh slid through the staleness of the room and filtered into my chest, causing my stone heart to somehow constrict. He took a seat in one of the silver, throne-like chairs next to me. I could not hear his thoughts, but I felt his misery. Like chilling bands off a windstorm, they blew me over and took me down with this sinking ship.

But alas, I will surface. I am fine. I always have been and I always will be.

To err is human, and there is nothing more human than love. And though I would never admit to loving Valek, I did. So I guess I have erred. So what does that make me?

What am I?

What am I?

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Virtual Release Day Party – October 28th

Good morning Occult Citizens,

Francis here! I know what you are all thinking… what in holy hell am I doing up with the roosters and the mortals? Well, I’ll tell you. I had the most disgusting royal blood slither down my gullet last night in preparation to begin speaking with you all… That’s just how much I love you! No. Really.

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For the next twenty days or so…I am doing a FULL take over of the Of Light and Darkness websites and social media spaces in preparation for your return to the Occult City. We are VERY close now, and I am here to make sure you all have what you need to survive the monsters and the magic. We can be a malicious bunch, as you must know by now.

If you have any questions, you must direct them to me. Shayne has become far too preoccupied. I’ve locked her away for the time. ;) So now, I will get on to release day plans and festivities.

I will have Shayne return on October 28th so she can host a LIVE CHAT via USTREAM, just as orchestrated last year. This live chat will occur at sundown….7 pm sharp! Be there, or I WILL find you. Tune in because Shayne will be answering questions about The Vampire’s Hourglass, the rest of the series, doing exciting giveaways and more!

Yes! I said giveaways! This includes posters, signed paperbacks, bookmarks and other forms of this stuff called “SWAG” or what have you!

Leading up to our special release day party, I will be posting sneak peaks from the books. Photos of us in the Occult City. Answering your questions. Chatting with you. Whatever you’d like. If YOU have any ideas for the big release, feel free to direct them to ME, as I am in charge now! (Well…for the time being.)

That is all for now. Fangy kisses to each and every one of you! I eagerly await your messages. Also, don’t forget to stop by my guestbook on this site and sign it.

Yours eternally,

Francis

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdLb3aqjoLA

THE BEST OCTOBER MOVIE MUST-WATCH LIST

Hey Occult Citizens!

It’s the first day of October and we wanted to celebrate with a blog post and an open discussion. Obviously, we know you are all excited about the release of book 3!!! Have you checked out the book trailer released yesterday?

October is an all around magical month! How are you going to celebrate? Do you have a never ending list of movies to watch like we do?! Here’s our to-watch list…

1) Obviously Hocus Pocus!!! Duh!! We’ve been posting about this movie for weeks already on Facebook!

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2) A close second favorite is pretty clear… Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas!!! Get the candy corn and Christmas cookies ready…

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3) We’ve gotta keep rolling with the Tim Burton and go for another obvious favorite… Edward Scissorhands!!! Are we sick if we dreamed of someone like him more than Prince Charming while we were growing up…
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4) A surprising fourth is another Burton hit (in our opinion). We LOVED his adaptation of the classic pet-spook, Frankenweenie. It’s just too cute not to…

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5) And obviously, on some Saturday night when we’re all being grannies in our PJ’s with our snacks…a full Harry Potter movie marathon is a MUST!

tumblr_muo24lDOlY1risnpzo1_2506) Another October must-watch of ours is one particularly close to our hearts. It just reminds us too much of our Edwin. ;) Of course, we are referring to “Coraline”

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7) We are Team OLAD, after all. It’s pretty obvious that we need to add some sort of Vampire film to this list. Our choice would definitely be one of the best Of. All. Time. “Interview with the Vampire” is a sultry classic. Drink with a glass of wine and your significant other close by… ;)

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8) Let’s end on another awesome movie marathon. How about you get in your snuggies and watch the entire Hayao Miyazaki film collection from Studio Ghibli, staring with Spirited Away and ending with How’s Moving Castle…

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So what do you think of our Occult October must-watch movie list??? What are we missing??? Grab your candy corn and apple cider and let us know what movies are on YOUR list!! HAPPY OCTOBER!

~Team OLAD