"Drop it now! Drop it now!" Victor's panicked voice spilled into my ear from the radio, shooting my adrenaline level to the stars.

Spotting the heart of the Fifth kingdom, I bit my tongue and released my death grip on the propane tank when instinct told me to. After all, your gut feeling was always correct—not your brain.

I watched with a strange fascination as the bomb plummeted to the roof of the king's headquarters.



The explosion lit the sky with power, viciously throwing my sister and I back with the force of the heat. I went airborne and barely managed to get a grip on one of the flying vehicles metal legs. Lissa's head poked out, an amused grin playing along her perfect bow lips. She stuck her arm out and quickly pulled me in.

"Thanks," I breathed out shakily, casting a quick downward glance at the sea of raging fire. A whole lot of holy-crap-that-was-really-close rushed through my veins, freezing the sweat dripping down my back. First Generation or Tenth Generation, that wasn't something you just walked away from.

Victor struggled to gain control of the helicopter. His fingerless, leather glove-clad hands were the main star in a circus act. One second they were tangoing with the steering wheel, the next they were playing Dance-dance Revolution with the control buttons. His movements were a blur, and it made me nauseous to look at them, so I focused on not falling out again for a change.

Once everything was straightened out, Victor pumped his fist in sweet victory. "Now that's what I'm talking about!" Though he wasn't related to me by blood, Lissa and I considered him our uncle for all intents and purposes. Victor had been a great friend of my fathers and a part of the family before my birth. He was amusing and comforting, like a giant teddy bear. Oh, and he was almost always hungry—I'm not kidding you. Matter of fact, he was currently chomping on a Laffy Taffy. Seriously, who the heck eats when they're on a life-risking mission to save the world? Or the ultimate fate of our kingdom, that is.

Victor and Lissa were my world, the only thing I lived for—to protect them. Mortality was something I could not defend Victor against, however. At sixty-seven years old, he was on a fast track to death, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it. If only he'd chosen to have gone through with his transition the day of his eighteenth birthday all those years ago, things would be so much different now.

As the night sky was painted with brilliant bursts of reds, oranges, yellows, purples, and deep blues, I looked over at Lissa on habit.

"You okay?" I asked.

"Fine. Smashing job, Big Sis." she raised her arm skyward. "Great aim you have, as always. That deserves some serious knuckles."

Rolling my eyes, I knocked fists with her.

"Hold on to your biscuits!" Victor shouted, then threw the empty candy wrapper to the floor and cranked the steering wheel back as far as it would give. "We're in for a bumpy landing, my darling nieces."

True to his word, the ride—drop—down wasn't the most pleasant experience. When we hopped out of the vehicle, I was lucky and grateful to still have a pulse. Glancing around, I found exactly what I had expected: fifteen identical helicopters. Ours, the Black Shark, as I liked to call it, was in the lead along side Christian's, thanks to our impeccable warrior bloodline that boot-kicked us into automatic leadership role. But we were the best for the job—even I could admit that. And I wasn't one to brag.

Okay, maybe just a little.

"Since I like to put long stories short, I will make no exception for my girls." Victor's soft face was incredibly kind, contrasting with blue eyes that were sharp from knowledge and years of brutal experience. "Get the heart. Kill whatever gets in your path. And please, please, please, please,"—he put his hands together in a pleading gesture—"try not to wake the dragon. I have to be home for dinner or my wife will serve my head on a platter for the main course. Plus, it's Tuesday. Suzy's letting me have one glass of red wine tonight. For the antioxidants, of course."

I contemplated what had to be done. "Easy a pie," I said matter-of-factly.

"I was going to say piece of cake," Lissa shrugged. "But I think you pretty much covered it."

After dropping a kiss to Victor's cheeks, we set off on our adventure, heading for the palace's main gates.

Christian was there, in all his bad boy glory. There stood an army of vampire alike behind him.

Dimples showed when he smiled. "What's the plan?" he asked.

Clearing my throat, I raised the volume of my voice, giving a brief description of the instructions Victor had assigned.

"Ah," hummed Christian, "piece of cake."

"Exactly what I thought," added Lissa. "No one believed me."

"Are all of you ready?" My voice rose to a solid yell. When there were roars of anticipation in response, my fangs elongated in delicious battle lust, and I nodded once. "Let's head in!"

At the main entrance of the gates, there had to be at least a dozen guards. Their impressive bodies were poise and ready to battle their enemy. Reaching back, I unsheathed my choice of weapon—samurai swords. The handles molded perfectly to my palms, the weight ideal. To add luck, they'd been hand carved for my mother when she was a child and had worked just fine for her entire life. The swords had a rich and ruthless history. They were old—ancient, actually—and had witnessed a fair amount of bloodshed, to put it lightly.

"You won't get to our lord." the Supervisor stepped forward, clad from head to toe in a one-piece black leather uniform. The material was shiny and clung to every inch of her perfect body. It looked more uncomfortable than an atomic wedgie. "The bomb didn't affect him as much as you hoped it would. He is still standing, protected by all the people of our kingdom. We will guard him at all costs and kill anyone who dares to cross us."

"As you should," I said, coming closer. I had a feeling she was fibbing. It had been confirmed that their king had been in the headquarters during the time of the explosion, and he was most definitely affected by it. Human or vampire, you didn't just walk away from something like that.

"Boy, is it hot out here or what?" Lissa's hand wiped across her forehead, swiping away the sweat blooming on her milk-white skin. "Those flames are barbequing my eyebrows. Do I even have any left?"

The Supervisor drew first blood. Her knife flew through the air and stuck into the right side of my chest. With a grunt, I yanked the blade out and let it fall to the ground.

"You're going to be hard to take down," I smiled. "Good thing I like challenges. And combat."

I charged her at maximum speed, throwing my full weight into the swing I threw. The samurai sword was beautiful in battle, an absolute masterpiece. The instant it glinted silver and hissed from the speed packed behind it, I knew I had struck gold. It connected with her shoulder, slicing through her skin and bones like they were butter. Startling crimson color spilled from her skin. A growl rose from her throat. Pure malicious, crystal-blue eyes snapped up with a decent amount of I'm-going-to-make-you-pay-for-that-one.

I was faintly aware of the battle going on around me. Punches were thrown. Kicks were laid out. Bones were broken. Titanium was shoved into hearts. One after one, bodies dropped to the ground. Blessedly, most of them were of our enemy. There was good reason our kingdom was the strongest out of the remaining five. We'd been kicking ass and taking names since the early fifteen-hundreds.

My attention was brought back to the Supervisor when a searing pain exploded in my cheek. I turned back just in time to see her arm lower. Instinctively and viciously, I went after her, going for the kill. The Supervisor knew it too, because she did everything possible to get away from me—including an awesome set of back flips in reverse as I pursued her and ruthlessly swung the samurai swords.

She skillfully managed to evade the hits. Time after time, the blade made a crisp noise as it struck the air and didn't meet flesh like it was supposed to, as if crying in protest. Miraculously, I received my break in battle when she failed to see the water fountain. The back of her legs hit the bricks, sending her flying backwards. She skidded across the stone path, destroying it with the back of her body.

I advanced on the Supervisor in the blink of an eye. I had only a few seconds left before she regained her health and was back on her feet and ready to fight me again. The strength she harnessed was incredible; thanks to the king's blood flowing through her veins. She also wasn't just any old vampire, she was an ancient.

And I was going to take her life.

It was considered humiliating and disgraceful by the people of your kingdom for a younger generation to commit such an act.

However, I would gain a great amount of admiration and respect.

A pang of sympathy hit me as I looked into her helpless, pleading gaze. The glint in them was innocent, like she'd seen a monster under her bed and was looking to her mother for comfort and protection.

Closing my lids, I raised my arm, brought the blade to her neck, and slid it across her pale skin effortlessly. There was a little gurgling sound and then a thump as her head hit the ground.

There was no room for sympathy when I was on a raid. It was either kill or be killed, and I favored having a heartbeat. Just for reassurance, I quickly unsheathed my titanium stake with the leather handle and plunged the sharp end into her chest.

The Supervisor's body made a low hissing sound, then burst into nothing but a pile of ashes.

Wasting no time, I made my way over to the gates and checked on the progress. Every vampire of the Fourth kingdom that remained standing was panting, covered in sweat, and grunting from pain

"Don't let exhaustion settle in yet," I called out. "This isn't over."

Lissa came to stand right next to me. It was such a relief to see her signature platinum-blonde hair and cocky smile. Her jade-green eyes were practically glowing from the fight. "You killed the Supervisor! Gnarly, dude."

Rolling my eyes at her usual choice of strange words, I did the only thing I could do. My arms snapped out and I yanked my younger sister to me, hugging her petite body with everything in me.

When I pulled back, I stared into her eyes, took a deep breath, nodded, and ran inside the gates with Christian.

After checking the perimeter, I drew my samurai swords out and signaled everyone in. The ground was cracked beneath my feet, and as we stepped closer to the grand doors, the heat and smoke from the flames inside the palace intensified until it was hard to breathe.

"Pour some water on your shirt and put the cloth over your mouth and nose," I directed Lissa, who was smart enough to quickly do as I said.

"I can't get in," Christian exhaled and stumbled back, sagging to his knees.

"What do you mean you can't get in?" I demanded, stalking up to him and crouching down.

"The doors are made of titanium," he held up his hands. "It's useless."

Resisting the urge to swear, I gazed around and grinned when my eyes locked on the ivory marble statue of King Elliot III of the Fifth kingdom.

"We're using that," I pointed, climbing to my feet and maneuvering over to the ancient sculpture.

Every vampire of my colony stepped up to the massive thing, crowding around it like pigeons on a French fry. All faces I recognized, but only remembered few of their names, such as my small group of friends—Mia, Mason, and Natalie.

"Okay. On a count of three. One…two…three!"

As one, we all lifted and the statue eased from the ground with a loud groan.

"Sweet Jesus," Christian puffed as the statue was hauled across the courtyard. "Who…knew a…stupid thing like this…could be so frickin' heavy."

"Stop here!" I yelled and the moving immediately came to a halt. "Go!"

Using the running start to our advantage, we plowed the ancient hand-carved statue into the grand doors. It left a huge dent.

"Again!" Lissa barked.

It took several more tries before one of the doors caved in and flew off its hinges.

The vampires spilled into the palace and immediately engaged in fight with the guards inside. Their job was to distract them while Lissa, Christian, and I headed up to the king's headquarters—

A roar cut through the air, so loud and powerful it rattled everything in the mansion as if an earthquake was in progress.

"Whoops." Lissa grinned like she was starving to shed more blood. "Looks like we woke the beast..."

A surge of panic hit me, but I forced myself to stay in control. "I'll head up. You guys handle the dragon."

"Got it."

I flew up three sets of staircases. As I glided across the corridor, I had to make several sharp turns and leaps to avoid blazing debris. Much like titanium, a vampire's rapid healing abilities didn't work very well for fire.

Allowing my senses to fully come alive, I listened in on anything and everything I could. The sounds of scorching flames and rubbish falling and crashing down roared in my ears, but as I pushed those aside and focused on quieter sounds, I found exactly what I was looking for—the beating of a heart.

I took off in the direction the thumping was coming from. In a flash, I was in front of the king's bedroom. The only problem: I wasn't alone.

Two royal guards flanked the ceiling high mahogany doors, fangs unsheathed, stakes drawn, kneeled in crouches.

It was a dirty deed, but necessary to finish the mission. Crawling into their subconscious minds, I lulled them into a hypnosis state. They dropped to the floor with a loud thud, instantly frozen. Snapping back to reality, I stared at both of them. Their faces were blank, eyes empty.

They were going to be in that comatose state for little time as possible. I couldn't stand to leave anyone, friend or foe, like that. So once I completed this mission, I'd pull the plug on the mind spell.

Unsurprisingly the doors were locked. Pulling my arm back, I struck the wood with my fist. It cracked down the middle, and I quietly and carefully pushed the splintered pieces apart and tip-toed inside. With some difficulty, I managed to control my ragged breathing.

Half of the king's private quarters were destroyed by the bomb that had been dropped, and the flames continued to eat and lick at the rest of the massive room. The smoke was so thick that I was unable to see, so I closed my eyes and plugged my nose, and found everything with sound and touch. It was amazing how powerful just two senses could be when they were all you had to rely on.

The king of the Fifth kingdom was lying in his bed, obviously having been asleep during the start of the raid. There wasn't much left of him, from what I could feel. Black ash. Bones. Teeth. Feeling my way up his catastrophically injured body, I made quick work of snapping open his ribcage, and curling my fingers around his beating heart, the indestructible organ of a vampire. I ripped it out of his ruined body with a great yank.

The king died instantaneously. I felt no remorse whatsoever; as he wouldn't have if given the opportunity to take my life. There were two kinds of people in the world: victims and victimizers.

I wasn't a victim.

The bloody organ cradled in my hand pumped power waves into me. Strength sung in my veins. Temptation danced in me, but I quickly squished the betraying thought.

I placed the ancient beating heart in the black lacquer box blessed by the Light Angel and left. I sliced through the air, flying from the headquarters and down the palace's seemingly endless stairs. Chaos ensued outside. The dragon spit fire from its mouth, nostrils and eyes. As my people scrambled to evade the fatal streams of orange and red, I spotted Mona and Abele climbing aboard the beast's body, stabbing its dark green skin in an attempt to slow it down. Both of their bodies combined were smaller than its ear. Their attempts only succeeded in pissing the beast off.

"Mia! Mason!" I whistled through my teeth. Their heads whipped around. I motioned them over. They dodged fighting bodies and remnants of the dragons rage on the ground.

"What...is...up." panted Mason, bending over and bracing his hands against his knees.

"You see that well over there?" I gestured.

They glanced over and nodded.

"One of you needs to get the chain while the other gets everyone out of the way. Understand?"

"Yes." Mia said, always the quiet and stoic one, only saying things when absolutely necessary.

"Yup." Mason nodded. "But what are you going to do?"

Drawing my samurai sword out, I gave a devilish grin. "My job is to distract the dragon. Duh."

Launching myself into the sky, I slid the blade down its throat.

The dragons roar shook the kingdom with such force every window shattered. The sounds coming from its blazing mouth were ones of distress and excruciating pain, and I felt the smallest shred of remorse. I'd always had more compassion for animals than anything else.

That's when all hell broke loose. The dragon reared back, shaking its head and everyone on it to the ground. As it retreated backwards, its gigantic feet pounded against the stone, crushing it to dust and threatening to kill everything in its path.

"Move out of the way!" I boomed in my ear piece, sliding my sword down its enormous chest. This continued, along with Lissa and Christian's help, until the dragons rubbery skin was covered in large gashes. A pool of blue, glowing blood spread underneath it. With a thunderous groan, the animal blinked heavily and fell to its side.

The force of the impact rattled everything and everyone, cracking down buildings and the splitting the earth down the middle. Cars and helicopters tipped off the edges and fell into darkness.

Ignoring the tragedy of that and praying Victor wasn't in one of the vehicles that had crashed, I made quick work of climbing up the dragons colossal body, unsheathing my samurai swords, and plunging both of the blades into its head.

With one last final growl, it went silent.

"The beast is dead!" Lissa roared in victory, raising a fist to the night sky.

"The beast is dead!" The crowd echoed, then broke into a chant. One by one, the soldiers grabbed the arms of another and danced. They formed the shape of a snake eye, their voices and feet smacking against the ground thunderous, and exactly what tradition called for.

I could only smile as I slipped my weapons back in their holsters. This is why I loved my colony and all of its people. They were respectful, honorable, trustworthy, and they all loved and protected each other. We were just one big family, and for the first time in my life, I was truly apart of something, no longer an outsider.

Tilting my head to the sky, bringing my arms down and arching my back, I squeezed my eyes shut and boomed, "To the king!"

Julian rose from the throne as I entered his headquarters. Two royal guards flanked him.

"You survived," his lips twisted into a tight smile. "I am not astonished."

A compliment from the king was not something to take lightly. I showed my gratitude and respect by dropping to my knees and lowering my gaze to the floor. Maintaining eye contact was a sign of aggressiveness, or challenge. "Thank you very much, your grace."

"Do you have what I eagerly wish for?"

"Yes, your grace." Careful not to lift my gaze, I reached in my bag, pulled out the black lacquer box, and lifted my arms. "I present this to you, as a promise of my devotion and loyalty to my kingdom."

"Good." Julian flicked his wrist. "Now open it."

I obliged.

There was sharp intake of breath from the king, and then he rushed forward in a blur, staring down at the beating organ with a fascination I could sense, not see.

"It is beautiful, your grace." The Supervisor's voice was breathless with captivation.

"Rise, my child." Julian said. "Watch as I feast upon this power and become stronger before your eyes."

As I climbed to my feet and was sandwiched between the two tanks of muscle that were the royal guards, I realized how chilling it was to be in Julian's presence. He was a complete sociopath, and you never knew what he might do next. He'd proved that in past. The way he chose to rule. How he'd ordered countless public executions. I'd seen him from a distance only once when I was little, and knew something was off about him.

He was extremely quiet and anti-social, but he was obviously lethal and deadly, walking like a lion hunting a gazelle. It didn't help that he was well over six-feet tall with spiky black hair and obsidian eyes. However, if you looked passed his disturbed atmosphere and air of creepiness, he was an amazing king for our race. Loved and respected, yet effective and brutal at the same time. And although he didn't look a day over eighteen, he'd been ruling for nearly three-hundred and fifty years. Immortality was necessary for eternal power.

Squaring my shoulders and kicking up my chin, I camouflaged my fear and disgust by thinking of a cute puppy frolicking through a field of flowers and watched as my king bit into the beating organ and swallowed with a groan.

It was a bloody show, but once Julian was finished, the power coming from him in heavy waves was nearly paralyzing. He'd devoured the power of the Fifth Kingdom, doubling his strength.

If you added up the numbers, that was a heck of a lot of potency for one vampire. Immortal before, he was now unbeatable. Practically indestructible.

"You have passed the first of three tests in The Seven Trials," Julian licked the blood around his mouth and off his fingers. He was still buzzing, breathless. He would be for awhile until he adjusted to his new found strength. "Well done. But it is not over yet. Your next test is in the morning. Go back to your room and get some blood and rest."

With that being said, the king dismissed me with a wave of his hand and the guards escorted me out of his headquarters.

Back in my room, the pain and exhaustion of tonight was finally settling in, and though the injuries were healing swiftly thanks to rapid cell reproduction, my whole body ached to the point where I felt like an old abused punching bag.

Still, I pushed passed all the moaning and groaning and got on with my responsibilities. Twisting the code in the Rappel's cage, Bertie flew out immediately, absolutely ecstatic to be free. As I went back and fourth from the bathroom and his cage to refresh his food and water bowl, Bertie followed behind me with each step I took. His little—what I liked to call—dinosaur feet pitter-pattered against the lush, teal carpet.

"Want some chocolate, buttface?" said Lissa, letting her arm hang down from her bed. There was a Snickers bar in her palm. "It'll put you in a deep slumber. And when you wake up, you'll feel extra refreshed. Or not wake up at all. I don't really care…"

Lissa, too preoccupied with a new copy of Vogue magazine, failed to notice Bertie running over to her with angry eyes. Opening his beak wide, his head snapped out and he bit her finger hard.

"Ouch. What the F, B?" My sister rubbed the sore spot. "I was just jostling you! Chill, man."

Lissa and Bertie's relationship always reminded me of that of a brother and sister. I laughed and headed for the small kitchen and began chopping up fresh veggies and fruits for my Rappel. He didn't favor the veggies so much, but he loved bananas and celery, so I made sure to put extra in his treat bowl. Maybe he wouldn't be so angry at me for not taking him out for a fly tonight.

Once I'd fed Bertie, I hopped in the shower and took the quickest one I'd ever had in my life. By the time I'd made it to bed, I was out like a light the instant my head hit the pillows.