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As a rogue, I had been to more vampire covens than any other vampire out there. I was the ultimate diplomat. I had the trust of every coven and that was something I'd valued for the past five hundred years. I'd never had any reason to fear entering a coven. I would be treated with the respect that was due a rogue.
This time, however, I was terrified. I would have been a fool to think that I still had diplomatic immunity. Not with all the rumors running amok. Apparently, Derek and Sofia Novak, joint rulers of The Shade, had actually done it—they had found a cure to vampirism. I couldn't wrap my mind around it, but if it was true, Derek and Sofia had just opened a Pandora's Box of disaster. I doubted they were aware of the magnitude of trouble they'd caused.
I took a deep breath as I made my way toward the staircase leading down to the basement floor of an old building in Amsterdam. Of all the vampire covens, The Underground was my least favorite. The coven inhabited a series of bunkers beneath the city, connected by old sewers and tunnels.
The Underground was a testament to how unsafe the world had become for vampires. The hunters were always on our trail and it was becoming more and more difficult to hide from them. The Shade had long been heralded as a haven for vampires, but now there were rumors that hunters had overtaken the island. That rumor, however, I had trouble believing. I know Derek Novak. He would never compromise his own people by working with the hunters. I would soon visit The Shade again. Times are calling for it, but right now, I have to deal with The Underground.
When I arrived at the basement, I immediately made my way toward the wall that concealed the secret passage leading to the main hall.
"Well, if it isn't Natalie Borgia."
I winced. "Kiev." I turned around to find the tall, broad-shouldered man with dark hair and blood-red eyes standing right beside me. A smirk was on his handsome face as he looked me over from head to foot.
"It's been a while since I last saw you, Natalie. How's my gorgeous Italian rogue?"
My entire body shuddered at the recollection of my last encounter with him. It was one of my darkest memories. Kiev was a man who knew what he wanted and took it whether one was willing or not. He was the son of the Elder, the very first vampire.
I fought to regain composure. Men like Kiev gained power from fear. I refused to give him that, not again… so, ignoring my quickening heartbeat, I stood to my full height, kept a poker face and tried to look him straight in the eye.
"Why are you here?"
Before he could open his mouth to respond, a chilling wind passed by me, and his sister, Clara, appeared. "Hello, Natalie. I think the question is why are you here? The Underground is no place for a diplomat like you."
She began brushing her fingers over my hair, her mouth so close to my ear I could hear her every breath.
"I was asked to deliver a message," I explained. "That's my job as a rogue, lest you forget."
Kiev gave me an accusing glare. "How come you never come to give me messages, Natalie?"
"I don't know where you live."
Clara chuckled. "We're going to fix that soon."
They were the Elder's children and the home of the Elder—if he even truly existed—was a huge secret. I was about to ask her to clarify, but Kiev stepped forward and towered over me. I shuddered at their closeness as I was sandwiched between the siblings, Clara behind me and Kiev in front of me.
"Get out of here, Natalie," Kiev hissed, before pushing his lips against mine. I trembled at the memories his kiss brought about. "Remain as you are. Neutral. Just like Switzerland." He snapped his fingers and I knew then that I wasn't going to be able to meet with The Underground's leader. One thing was clear: blood was going to be shed that night.
As the Elder's vampire warriors stormed through the secret passage down to the bunkers, I ran after them, shouting, "Why?"
Kiev shrugged and I thought I saw a flicker of remorse in his expression. I wondered if there was any trace left in him of the man he used to be before the Elder possessed him; of the man I'd once fallen in love with. But I was fooling myself. If there was anything about the Elder that I knew, it was that he was pure evil. And so were his children.
When Kiev looked at me, his red eyes gleamed with pleasure. "They chose the wrong side," he grinned. "Now, I'm going to enjoy seeing them suffer. Just like you suffered the last time you made the mistake of choosing Derek Novak's side. But with them, I won't be as merciful."
Chills ran down my spine. My last encounter with him had been the farthest thing from merciful and he knew it.
"Make sure everyone finds out about what happened here tonight, Natalie," Clara whispered.
They both chuckled before rushing through the entrance of the main hall.
Like father, like children. Their very presence left me feeling dark and dirty. I wanted to leave the place, but for reasons I couldn't fathom, I didn't. I stood rooted to that spot for what felt like hours. My heightened sense of hearing made it impossible for me to not hear the screams of all the vampires they murdered that night. That was the price that had to be paid, because Kiev had already made it crystal clear.
Choose Derek Novak's side and you will suffer the same fate as the vampires of The Underground.
Those screams were going to haunt me in my dreams. I wanted to do something—anything—but I couldn't. I'd become the rogue because I was a coward. I never chose sides, and the one time that I had chosen, I'd paid a heavy price for it. I had a better chance of survival if I did what I always did best. Stay neutral. This time, however, staying neutral felt like I was siding with the Elder, and that was selling my soul.
Are you willing to pay that price, Natalie?