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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 12)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan

    Lycans feel the energy of Carpathians when they use any of their gifts, he cautioned her.

    He was mixed blood and could contain his energy. Skyler was the only full Carpathian he had seen able to do it. Lycans couldn’t sense her presence, not even after her conversion, and she wasn’t yet a mixed blood like Dimitri.

    He studied the ground around the fern. The forest floor was uneven. Roots ran along the surface like veins. Downed tree trunks, rotted and hollow were scattered around as if flung by a capricious hand. Leaves and pine needles were inches deep, undisturbed for hundreds of years—until now.

    Zev spotted the twisted, bruised shoots at the root of the fern. Four large bushes intersected with the ferns springing up everywhere around them, nearly choking them. He could barely make out the sole of a heel of a boot, peeking out of the undergrowth. He touched Branislava’s shoulder and indicated the telltale sign. She nodded.

    Stay here. I’m going to move in on him, but be alert to any sound, any sway of a branch or ripple in the earth. If they know we’re hunting them, this could be a setup. I’m relying on you to watch my back.

    He turned his head to look into her brilliant eyes. She didn’t look afraid. In fact, she looked calmer than he’d ever seen her. She felt calmer. She was definitely confident in her abilities and that gave him confidence in her.

    He was just a little shocked at his reluctance to leave her. Many of the Lycan women fought off the rogues if their villages or homes were attacked. Many served in their countries’ military, no matter where their packs were located. In his own elite pack, Daciana hunted with him, and he’d never doubted her or felt hesitant to leave her alone.

    He didn’t like Branislava out of his sight. That was the truth of it. He loathed to leave her side when danger lurked so close. He was fairly certain his unwillingness was due to his being her lifemate and not at all that he was afraid she couldn’t handle whatever happened there in the forest.

    A wolf called and by the timbre of the voice, he knew it was an animal. He recognized the pitch of Shadow, Dimitri’s alpha. Another answered. That was the little female, Moonglow. Shadow howled a second time and Sonnet answered.

    What are they saying? Branislava asked. One note doesn’t mean anything.

    She had taken him at his word and her telepathy was on a very narrow path, each word spaced and thin so the energy was dispersed almost before he could catch the words pushed into his mind.

    It’s a count. They’ve spotted four assassins creeping around in our forest. They must be looking for someone, and I would have to guess it is Dimitri’s Skyler.

    They’ll get a shock if they get anywhere close to her. Satisfaction edged her tone.

    We’ve got one close to us, so my guess is, they’re hunting in pairs. There has to be at least one more.

    He dropped to his belly and crawled through the brush toward the Lycan positioned between three heavy berry bushes. Hundreds of ferns had pushed up all around the bushes so that the fronds intertwined with the leaves of the plants, forming a natural shelter. The Lycan—and Zev recognized him as Rollo—was in a pack subordinate to the council member Randall’s main pack. Randall’s main pack was one of the larger that Zev knew of. The larger pack commanded three other packs subordinate to it.

    Zev had often spoken to Rollo. He knew the man had a mate but no children, which wasn’t uncommon. Few Lycans were able to have children other than the alpha pair. This was another man he’d liked. He was a good hunter. He’d served in the United States Marine Corps. He often ran with another man by the name of Ivaylo. Zev would bet his life Ivaylo was somewhere close by protecting Rollo’s back.

    He smelled the Lycan assassin now, the aggression, the mixture of trepidation and excitement that often came with waiting for combat to actually start. Adrenaline always kicked in when lying in wait to ambush someone.

    Zev could hear Rollo’s heart pumping like mad, a pounding beat that beckoned to him. He heard the blood flowing like water through his veins. His Dark Blood lineage—and he recognized it for what it was—had been called to the forefront. Mixed with Lycan and Carpathian, his senses were so acute it was almost overwhelming. He lay still, inches from his prey, letting his senses fan outward, seeking Ivaylo, the Lycan he was certain was Rollo’s partner.

    He knew they had served in the military together. The two men were fond of saying they’d joined together, left together and married their wives on the same day in a double ceremony. He stayed very still, waiting for the sign he knew would come eventually, revealing the second Lycan’s position. Hunting was all about patience, and he had it in abundance. He hoped Branislava did as well.

    Tension coiled. A tiny shrew ran over his hand, stopped and started four times before disappearing into the small field of ferns. Rollo sighed, the sound muffled as if his mouth was covered by his arm.

    An owl dropped down fast, talons extended, making for the tiny shrew. The shrew made a high-pitched sound of distress. As the claws raked over it, the shrew dove into the crack between two small rocks. The owl missed its prey and with a small cry of disappointment, lifted itself back into the air with straining wings. The bird made for the tree several meters across from the ferns, flew toward a high branch and veered off sharply.

    Zev followed the owl’s line of sight. Sure enough, just as he expected, Ivaylo was lying up in the tree, covering his buddy.

    Do you see him?

    I was aware of him the moment the owl chose not to land. She was silent a moment, gave a soft sigh and then admitted the truth. I saw the owl dive for the shrew, but when it veered off, your conclusion was in your mind before I had the chance to actually get there myself. But I would have.

    If we’re going to make our way to Dimitri and Skyler to help them out, we can’t have these two alive and hunting behind us, you know that, don’t you?

    Hunting was not the same as killing. Branislava was no soldier.

    A wolf poked his head through the brush just a few meters from Rollo. Branislava inhaled sharply. This wasn’t one of Skyler and Dimitri’s pack, she could tell by the markings, but there were wolves local to the area and this one was too curious.

    Zev swore softly under his breath. He knew exactly what they were doing now. The Lycans were aware that Dimitri was fond of wolves. They knew his reputation. These two are lying in wait for the others to drive the wolves this way. In doing so, they plan on drawing out Dimitri and Skyler.

    A shot rang out. The wolf yipped and leapt into the air. Panting, eyes rolling in pain, it hit the ground hard. Several times it tried to rise, only to fall back again. When the wolf realized it was unable to walk, it tried to pull its body along the ground to the relative safety of the heavier brush.

    A cold anger formed into hard knots in his belly. That’s sacrilegious, Zev hissed. No Lycan deliberately wounds a wolf. They’re our brethren.

    These two don’t seem to mind in the least. Remember, they’re hunting Dimitri and Skyler, probably you and Fen as well. I think I can make my way to the wolf and try to stop the bleeding.

    Branislava sounded confident. He couldn’t fault her courage. She waited for him to decide. If she went to help the wolf, and that in itself was dangerous as the wolf was wild and now injured, he would have to take out Ivaylo in the tree to protect her. That would leave Rollo only a few meters from her, armed and eager to kill.

    I can do this, Zev. I want to do this, she insisted. Your great-grandmother hunted beside her lifemate and I intend to do the same. I have to start somewhere.

    He nodded his head slowly and signaled her to go. She didn’t make the mistake of using Carpathian skills to shift into something small in order to make her way across the ground to the brush where the wolf was hiding. She remembered the two Lycans would be able to feel that energy immediately. Instead, Branislava used her toes and elbows to push herself backward, deeper into cover, into a narrow rabbit’s trail.

    Not a single leaf, vine or branch moved as she made her way inch by inch through the tunnel toward the wolf. She was small, but he was shocked that she could use that passage without revealing herself to the enemy who was definitely poised and ready for anyone to show their face.

    Zev didn’t particularly give a damn whether or not Ivaylo saw him coming. The man had a rifle in his hands and Branislava was approaching a wounded wolf. She would come face-to-face with the animal any moment and all hell could break lose.

    Zev used his mixed blood speed, a blurring, impossible-to-see quickness, as he raced to the bottom of the tree and leapt high, his claws slashing the rifle out of the Lycan’s hands and tearing him out of the tree simultaneously.

    As they both fell toward the ground, Zev twisted in midair, using Ivaylo’s body as a shield to keep his buddy from shooting at him. He knew Rollo’s attention would be on the desperate fight between Zev and Ivaylo and not Branislava and the wolf. They hit the ground together, Zev landing on his feet in a crouch and Ivaylo on his back in the dirt.

    Zev used the enormous strength of his mixed blood to drive Ivaylo deep through several layers of vegetation and soil with one hand. The other held the silver dagger, a twister like a corkscrew in his fist. He slammed it deep through the chest, penetrating the heart and driving it all the way through, pinning Ivaylo to the ground itself. A shot rang out and then another. Rollo rapid fired, desperate to drive Zev away from his buddy. Bullets spit into the ground all around Zev. Bark splintered as the bullets tore into the tree trunk behind his head.

    Zev rolled away from Ivaylo’s body toward cover. He caught a glimpse of Branislava and his heart leapt into his throat. She rose up behind Rollo like a bird of legends—the fiery phoenix. Her hair, in that long braid, swept back from her face crackled with fiery sparks as bloodred as any sunset. Her eyes had gone from deep emerald to green with red-orange flames roaring in the very center.

    Rollo stood, the rifle to his shoulder, finger on the trigger, firing round after round. Behind him, Branislava’s diminutive figure took on a fiery glow, as if deep inside her was the fire dragon raging to emerge. She seemed to grow in stature, rising menacingly behind the Lycan. The moon caught the flash of silver in her hand.

    She didn’t plunge the stake into his body from the back as he expected her to do. She leapt into the air, right over the top of him, both legs kicking down hard on the gun, slamming it right out of his hands. As she dropped down, she plunged the dagger straight through his heart. Her feet hit the ground and he stood there a moment swaying, his eyes wide with shock, both hands coming up to cup the hilt of the stake, as if he might find the strength to pull it out.

    Branislava stepped back. Rollo toppled over at her feet, hands still clutching the silver blade through his heart. She raised her hand in the air and Zev tossed her his sword. She caught it in midair and came down in a slashing motion, using Carpathian strength to sever the head, all in one movement. Without stopping her swing, she continued to raise the sword and threw it back to him. Zev removed Ivaylo’s head as well.

    “I think that was showing off, mon chaton féroce.”

    She gave him an enigmatic smile. “Perhaps, but I got the job done. Will you let Dimitri and Skyler know while I try to save the wolf? I had to choose between the two of you, wolf or crazy lifemate, and since Mikhail and Gregori think you’re so important, I thought I’d better choose saving you.”

    He nodded, heat blossoming out of nowhere. With every step she took, even with her fluid glide over the vegetation, she crackled with fire. It was as if sparks leapt off her skin and hair into the air around her, although there was no real sound, only the illusion of flames burning from the inside out.

    Dimitri, two down here. Can you make a move toward us?

    We’re pinned down. They aren’t aware we’re here, but there are four of them and we’re caught in the middle. I can pick them off one by one, but I’m not certain I want to leave Skyler vulnerable.

    Zev could understand Dimitri’s dilemma. He didn’t like leaving Branislava, and she had the knowledge of hundreds of warriors over centuries. Skyler was nineteen and had been converted only recently.

    They’re using the local wolf pack to try to draw you out. We’ve got a wounded wolf here. Branka is attempting to save it.

    We’re keeping our wolves with us. I warned the local wolf pack to stay away, but eventually they’ll come back to investigate. This is their territory.

    Zev understood that as well. The Lycans would be patient. They had all night to hunt Skyler and Dimitri and the local wolf pack. They’d seek cover and just wait. Eventually the wolf pack would return. The wolves would scent rivals in their territory and want to drive them out. The moment they showed themselves, the Lycans would wound them, hoping to draw out Dimitri or his lifemate.

    I’m making my way to you. Don’t shoot me by mistake. I’ve noticed you can be a little bloodthirsty.

    I feel compelled to point out your humor is becoming less Lycan and more Carpathian by the moment.

    Zev found himself laughing. Life was good when you had family. He had forgotten these moments, small stolen moments together where one could find humor even in the midst of being hunted. He hadn’t had a family in a long time—unless one counted Daciana, Makoce and Lykaon, three members of his elite hunting pack. He had always counted on them to have his back—and they’d never failed him.

    He made his way over to Branislava. She crouched in the brush, one hand in the soft fur, head down. He sighed and put his hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, cheri, there was really nothing to do.” Sorrow welled up. Though an animal, the wolf was brethren, and a wild, majestic creature that didn’t deserve to be caught up in the war taking place.

    She looked over her shoulder at him, tears turning her eyes to emerald. “I understand how Ivory could be tempted to save them when we shouldn’t.”