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A Blaze of Sun(A Shade Of Vampire Series Book 5)(1) by Bella Forrest

I pulled the thick coat, lined with fur, over my body as I took the final step on the long winding stairway that led up to the Elder's castle - The Blood Keep, he liked to call it. I shuddered at the thought of entering the castle, carrying upon my shoulders the weight of my failure.

Before I could reach out and open the thick steel doors, they swung open and I found myself standing face to face with my older brother, Kiev. He had a triumphant smirk on his face as he eyed me from head to foot.

"You reek of failure, little sis." He tilted his head to the side. "Aren't you supposed to be here with Sofia Claremont?"

Annoyed, I tried to side-step him and rush to my chambers. I wanted to try to recuperate before having to face the wrath of our master, our father, the one who sired me; the very first vampire this world has known. Of course, I should've expected that my sibling wasn't going to make it that easy for me.

"Get out of my way, Kiev," I snapped at him, "or I swear I'm going to cast a spell on you."

"Really, now?" He narrowed his eyes at me. "Do you remember the last time you tried something like that, Emilia?"

I shuddered at the memory of the punishment I had to endure under my father's hands, but I shrugged it off, attempting to bluff confidence as I stared Kiev down. "It will be worth the pain... to see you croaking around the castle like the frog that you are."

At that, Kiev backed down. I might've been the youngest among those that the Elder had sired, but that didn't mean that I couldn't intimidate my other siblings.

I walked past him and began to head for my bedroom only to bump into my sister, Clara, just before I was about to reach my door. The beautiful brunette chuckled at the sight of me, her purple eyes sparkling as she did.

"You are in so much trouble." She grinned.

I grunted, hating the fact that they were finding so much entertainment at my expense. All six of us were always fighting with each other, jostling one another to get ahead and get into our father's good graces. I think the Elder liked it that way. He enjoyed seeing his children compete with one another to gain his favor.

This time, I was certain that I wasn't about to get any favors from him. He had sent me to The Shade, an island occupied by one of the most powerful covens on earth, and led by the man the Elder had promised would become mine - Derek Novak. I was sent there on a mission to steal Sofia Claremont away from him.

Sofia Claremont was an immune, a young woman who had somehow conquered the vampire curse. Several vampires had already tried to turn her - Derek Novak included - but she didn't turn. The Elder was obsessed with gathering all immunes and keeping them in his Keep. In fact, I wasn't sure if there was a single human in his territory who wasn't immune.

Upon reaching my bedroom, I found one of the human slaves inside, tidying the place up for my expected arrival. The moment I laid eyes on him, I attacked, pushing him toward the four-poster bed in the middle of the room and biting into his neck. I grinned even as I felt the immune's sweet blood coursing through my body, giving me an immense sense of power as I preyed on the weakling beneath me.

Images of Sofia Claremont and how she clung to Derek flashed through my mind. I anticipated the day she would take the place of the young man beneath me, the day when I could treat her as nothing more than what she really was - sustenance for my kind.

I opened my eyes and stared at the boy beneath me. He was growing pale and I knew that if I didn't stop soon, I would end his life. I didn't care. I wanted his blood and the power that came with it. I didn't want to feel powerless at the time I had to come face to face with the Elder. I simply couldn't afford that. I drank deep and by the time I was done, all life had seeped away from the human slave.

Finally satiated, I sat up and got off the corpse. I rolled it off my bed and onto the floor before heaving a deep sigh. I stretched my neck and headed for the closet to change my clothes.

I had just stripped into my underwear when a cold breeze swept through the room. I shuddered as I felt a deep sense of fear. That fear always crept into my bones whenever I was standing in the presence of darkness.

"Emilia, Emilia, Emilia..." the familiar deep voice spoke from behind me.

I swallowed hard. It was never a good sign when he said my name three times in a row.

"I was expecting you to go straight into the Grand Hall and present to me the body of Sofia Claremont - dead or alive. And yet, here you are, feeding on one of my humans and hiding out in your room."

"I apologize, Master." He never wanted us to refer to him as our father, even though he referred to us as his children. He was our lord and we were to refer to him with reverence. "I merely wanted to get myself prepared before presenting myself before you."

I felt his cold hand grip the back of my neck. With it came that strange and familiar feeling - as if liquid was dripping from his fingers and penetrating through my skin, almost as if I was absorbing his very essence, his wicked darkness.

"What happened, Emilia? Why did you fail?"

It was Borys Maslen's fault. We should've just gone in there, taken Sofia and left, but no... He was a weakling who died in the hands of two women. I still couldn't believe that Sofia and Derek's sister were able to end Borys' life, even after the Elder gave him all that newfound power. I stood there, hating Borys and the two girls who killed him. I knew full well that the Elder would not like it if I started playing the blame game.

"I didn't realize what a powerful force we were up against, Master." I once again recalled Sofia and the way Derek looked at her. What I would've given to have him look at me that way. "She oozes with light and she's gotten to him."

"Would he have been able to kill you?"

"I think he was powerful enough, yes. When it comes to brute strength, even I don't stand a chance against him."

"You don't stand a chance against him, not because of brute strength, Emilia, and we both know it." At that point, I could sense the Elder running his hand against my hair, his breath cold against the back of my neck. I was shaking. His closeness always terrified me. "You don't stand a chance against Derek Novak, because you can't stand the idea of seeing him die. He was and will always be your greatest weakness."

To that, I couldn't respond, because it was true. I was deeply in love with the vampire, something he didn't seem to give a damn about, and yet... I hung on, allowing myself to be at the losing end of an unrequited love. I ground the back of my teeth with determination. That's about to change.

"Did he see you, Emilia?"

Despite the terror the Elder's presence brought about, I couldn't help but steal a smile at the recollection of how Derek's deep blue eyes flickered with attraction and interest when he first laid eyes on me back in The Shade. "Yes, Master. He did."

"Did he like what he saw?"

I slightly bowed my head as I felt the Elder's hand fall on my waist and climb up my back. "How could he not? With what you've done to me, I couldn't be anything but irresistible to him." After being given knowledge of everything that Derek found physically attractive in a woman, the Elder gave me those features. I no longer looked the way I did when Derek broke my heart so long ago. I was irresistible to him now, and I intended to play up that advantage as much as I could.

I was still mulling over my obsession with the king of The Shade when the Elder painfully grabbed a fistful of my hair. I gasped, shocked by the sheer agony it brought about.

"I don't like failure, Emilia," he hissed. "Next time, you mustn't fail."

"Yes... Of course, Master..." I rasped out. "I won't fail."

"You are to return to The Shade, Emilia. I don't want you staying up here, stinking up my castle with your failure. This little spitfire of a human has Derek Novak too wrapped up in her pretty little fingers. We can't have that. He is too powerful a force to let the light have him. We have you to thank for that, don't we, Emilia? Well, you need to fix this. We need to pull him right back into the dark. You're going to do that."

"What exactly do you want me to do, Master?"

His fist tightened against my hairline. "Bring on the attack of the covens. Lead it."

The Elder managed to get all of the other vampire covens to go against Derek and The Shade. They had no idea he was behind all of it, of course, working behind the scenes, pulling at just the right strings. They'd long been threatening to attack the island and destroy it - something Derek had been desperate to prevent. The idea of attacking and destroying The Shade wasn't one I was all too fond of, but there was no defying the Elder. "Consider this victory ours, Master. We will win."

"No, Emilia. You won't. I want you to lose this battle and I want you to be taken prisoner by Derek Novak. That's how you're going to get back in The Shade. Once you're there, you should know what to do next."

His plan took form in my mind and I nodded, as I then fully grasped what he was attempting to do. "I understand. And Sofia Claremont?"

He finally let go of my hair. "We will end her."

With that, his presence swept out of the room like a powerful, foreboding wind; exactly the same way he arrived. Once he was completely gone, I found myself shaking so badly, I fell to my knees. I was a fool to try to convince myself that he was gone. I'd given myself to him a long time ago and he was a part of me that I could never escape.

The Elder was always with me. His touch made sure of it. He was a substance I carried around with me wherever I went.

Known as the original vampire. My Master. My father. A creature I had never once laid eyes on.