READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Of Blood and Magic by Shayne Leighton
Charlotte Ruzikova returns to her home in the Bohemian countryside, accompanied by her Vampire and their newfound family. By day, everything seems peaceful. But when night falls, more monsters descend upon our loveable coven of misfits and rogues.
A mysterious organization toils one thousand meters under Prague, threatening to unearth some deadly secrets about Valek’s past. All the while, a strange illness threatens Charlotte’s mortality.
Which monsters can be trusted, and which will eat her alive? Will love conquer death ...or will Charlotte drown in her own, toxic blood?
Shayne Leighton’s riveting sequel to Of Light and Darkness, OF BLOOD AND MAGIC, is out Tuesday, December 8th! Preorder your copy today:
Death was an unexpected visitor that came knocking at my door the moment I needed it the most.
Death was surprisingly dependable. Death was what my life had been missing….
I will never forget those final moments as I was ushered into hell—into becoming the thing I was never supposed to be—
Valek, the vile leech, clung to me for support while the severe light of early morning tore through his stony flesh. I watched it rupture his wretched heart, burning him from the inside. We were killing each other. Light and dark. At last entwined in battle. But I was winning. I had to be winning. I almost laughed as he suckled the life from me like nothing more than larva starving for sustenance.
Death, in that moment, felt so undeniably good. I opened my arms wide and welcomed it.
Even now, it feels as though my enthronement ceremony was only yesterday—standing with the rest of my Regime brothers at dawn in front of hundreds of our subjects, about to embrace a life of love and servitude with the one I desired most. With Charlotte.
Minutes away from taking the throne. A new day. A new reign. A new dawn. Just like Vladislov promised me. Just like they all promised me.
The sun stretched over the wicked spires of the Tyn Church, eager to commandeer its rightful place at the very top of the atmosphere, where the light belonged. Night died a slow death beneath the morning’s violent yellow onslaught. It set a wicked gleam in my father’s eye as he looked upon me, at last, with pride. Finally, I’d done something worthy of his affection.
Charlotte trembled. I noted the strain in her face, the jewels of sweat glistening at the base of her throat, the faint shudder of her eyelashes as she fought back tears. She didn’t realize it, but all I was trying to do was good—to rescue her from her miserable life of shadow with those blood mongers.
The high priest’s words melded together as I went on fantasizing about how satisfying my wedding night would be, exactly the fusion of passion and revenge I’d been craving for so long. I was about to have my turn with the entire Occult society, with Charlotte, and if all went well, the entire world.
However, the fates had much different expectations for me.
At first, I hadn’t noticed them enter the throne hall—those heathens. My back was turned to the doors as I headed up the gilded steps to the royal chair. All eyes were on me…until chaos ensued.
The next thing I heard was the slam of heavy doors on ancient, rusty hinges. Gasps and screams chorused behind me. He stormed my celebration. The bane of my existence. The leech. The dark hero, or so, that was the picture Charlotte painted of him. I burned with rage when I saw the relentlessness in his eyes. The determination. The hell-bent fury. She cried his name in I way I knew she would never utter mine.
Enough was enough.
I launched myself into the riot, fighting with everything I had until his icy teeth buried into the flesh at my throat. I shoved him hard enough to knock one of his shoulders out of its socket. The room went blurry. An impossibly strong vacuuming sensation pulled at my insides, all the fluid in my body feeling like it was being suctioned out. The empty half of myself fell completely to numbness as I continued to fight him with all my might. My mouth opened, but my throat was ravaged like I’d swallowed handfuls of sand.
There was no sound but my own dying heartbeat. In spite of my life being ripped from me, I could still hear my stubborn pulse hammering, a reminder to hold tight for what was to come.
My fists slammed over his spine over a dozen times, it seemed. I could have sworn I’d even cracked a few ribs, though he refused to break in my arms—too cursed by the evil inside of him to yield against my power. I continued to fight. It was all I could do. It was instinct—my last will to survive at the clutches of darkness.
Those in the crowd raced for any exit they could find in fear one of Valek’s parasites would hunt them down. I recall loud crashing, as if the Regime palace was falling to ruin around me. I could hear Charlotte’s distant wails, muddled beneath the screaming, the bone crunching, and the magic being wielded…powerful fire blasts and the roars of the undead.
While she had been so at ease before this day with her monster guardian, hiding from me in the decrepit bowels of the Golden City, I’d been searching for her. No building had I left unchecked. I overturned every last hole in Prague in the endeavor to make her mine—foolishly believing she was the love of my life—
Charlotte is nothing more than a mere street snipe who led me on for years, squeezing my heart until it bled in her hands before throwing it to the rats and refuse and left it there to rot.
It is where my heart remains.
As I lied slain on the marble floors of my ransacked palace, I could feel something drip onto my lips, seeping into my mouth. I was too weak to see what it was. It tasted metallic. Salty. Rotten. And as my world began to blacken, my mother weeping over me, I, at last, gave in to the forceful tide.
Death was seductive. It beckoned me under and hugged me close. It took hold of what was left of my soul. I could hear a new heartbeat—wet and gushing in my ears. It aroused a feeling within me I could not define. Something I needed to satisfy, though I didn’t quite know how.
At last, I allowed myself to be at peace among the clouded light. My body went limp, turning in the warm soft waves. All of the screaming and crying faded in the distance until there was nothing but my arms and legs floating out around my body, unfeeling, as I swam through the beauty of all the nothingness. Memories of the life I had only just departed from began to muddy and fade.
Charlotte’s emerald eyes were the last of those images to dissolve before me. They did not anger me. They did not sadden me, nor throw me into an envious fit, as they once had. They merely shimmered before my consciousness as a reminder of what my mission would be once I woke again.
And I would wake again.
It might have been days of floating in that infinite abyss. Not breathing. Not moving. Not being. It might have been weeks or months. I was unsure. It was impossible to determine how much time had gone by, or what the fate of the rest of my family was, or of my palace or friends. But the funny thing was…I didn’t care about any of that. There was only one thing I desired. Revenge. I could only wait.
Until, the fire set in.
At once, it turned my calm and cloudy ocean sanctuary to ash as my body lay chained, incinerating. Flames ate through my flesh. I tried to swim through the scorching sea, but no matter how I kicked or pushed, I could not resurface. I remember howling, yet the hopelessness of the nothing drowned out any noise I might have made.
No one was there to save me. I thought that would be my eternal prison— surely in hell, and I knew who put me there.
Until, at last, there was that fateful moment when everything diminished into cooling winter snow. My body was whole and alive with a complete, new power.
I opened my eyes and began my search for her once more.
This time…in the dark….
He heard his name being called from the front of the house.
Thud, thud, thud, thud. Frantic steps came whizzing down the hall.
Stopping his work with a splint and a roll of bandage in his hands, Valek sighed, albeit, happily.
“You’ll excuse me, won’t you?” He said to a Forest Sprite sitting on the edge of the gurney in the stark office at the back of the large baroque house.
“Of course.” Ludo smiled, nursing his broken arm dangling at the elbow—a snapped tree branch.
Charlotte burst through the office door, her eyes bright and big, her smile wide over cheeks rosy and freckled. “Valek! Would you look outside? It’s snowing!”
He chuckled at her, setting down the instruments he’d been using to bind up Ludo’s arm.
“Lottie...Now, haven’t I told you I’d be working for a bit, today?”
“I know. But—” She stopped short, craning up on her toes and sideways to peer around where he stood, giving a short wave at the other fellow in the room. “Hi, Ludo! Sorry, Valek, but it’s the first snow and you haven’t seen it in ages, and I don’t want you to miss it. It’s so pretty in the sun, and everyone’s outside, and—”
Valek’s barking chortle rolled over her prattling. She spoke so fast each of her words melded together into one long one. “Very good. Go join the others. I’ll be out in a moment.”
“Come, now, Valek. She’s right,” Ludo added with a nod of his leafy head. “Go, on. My arm isn’t gonna sprout back in the next minute.”
Poor Ludo. Guards of the Central European Magic Regime had more than tortured the inhabitants of the Bohemian Occult City during their relentless search for Charlotte and Valek just several weeks ago. The tyrannical leaders of Europe’s magic kind sought them out, bent on capturing Charlotte and slaughtering Valek for what he was. Dark. A blood-feeder. Heathen, they called them. Leaches. Scoundrels.
For decades the Regime deprived the Vampire kind of their usual human-hunting pursuits, which brought about the beginning of a revolution between the Light and Dark kind. Anyone who refused to relinquish information regarding the whereabouts of Valek and Charlotte was physically punished . . . or worse.
Ludo was one of the lucky ones, his arm being only the least of his injuries.
“But, you are surely in pain,” Valek pressed, wincing as half of Ludo’s branchy arm dangled by one green tendril.
He shrugged. “Not too much. What you’ve given me seems to be working.” His daft grin resulted in a new giggle from Charlotte.