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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 13)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan
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    “Turning a wolf to Carpathian could be creating a killing machine. Ivory had spent time with the pups prior to converting them,” he cautioned. “But the practice is dangerous.”

    Branislava nodded and allowed him to help her to her feet. “I’m well aware of that. Still, it was a struggle not to try. I recognized that he was far too gone, but the temptation was there.”

    “Are you saying we’ll probably end up with wolf tattoos?” he asked, slipping his arm around her and pulling her close to comfort her.

    “Yours will say ‘Wolfie.’” She leaned into him, allowing her body to shelter against his for just a moment while she steadied herself. “I’ll have all the wolves riding on my skin.”

    “Wolf-master,” he corrected solemnly. “I’ll be the master of the wolves and the wolf keeper.”

    That bought him a faint smile and a quick eye roll.

    She turned her attention to the two bodies. “We can’t incinerate them without the other Lycans knowing we’re in the forest as well.”

    “They aren’t going anywhere,” Zev decreed. “It isn’t as if they’re going to rise as zombies.”

    “It could happen,” Branislava said. “Tatijana told me all about the zombie apocalypse.”

    He laughed softly. “She’s been watching movies, hasn’t she?”

    Branislava had to admit the truth of that. Nodding, but she raised her eyebrow at him. “If Lycans and Carpathians are real, zombies could be as well.”

    He brushed a kiss along the top of her head. “Vampires make puppets. Fen refers to them as ghouls but we’ll call them zombies just for you.”

    “Let’s go hunt the assassins. They’ve got Dimitri and Skyler pinned down.”

    “Dimitri doesn’t strike me as the type of man to ever be pinned down,” Branislava replied with a little sniff of disdain. “By the time we get there, he’ll have taken care of business.”

    They hurried through the forest toward the coordinates Dimitri sent them. As they approached the area, they slowed. Zev was pleased that Branislava did so entirely on her own, not waiting to take her cue from him. More and more, he found he was comfortable with her hunting with him.

    He signaled her to go low. He went high, making his way into the canopy of the trees like a large lizard clinging to the bark. His body took on the coloration of everything around him so that he blended perfectly with his surroundings. Smelling blood, he wasn’t at all surprised to find the first body lying at the base of a wide tree trunk. The head sat on the chest and a silver stake stuck straight up through the chest. The arm of the dead Lycan was turned up, exposing the small intricate circle on the inner wrist. This man had been a member of the Sacred Circle, a religious-like sect many of the Lycans believed in.

    Nice work. Have you located his partner?

    Not yet. I’m working on that.

    I’ll move clockwise. Branka’s on the ground searching in the same direction, using a grid pattern.

    Skyler will take the opposite way to Bronnie, Dimitri said, reluctance in his voice.

    Zev!

    Branislava broke in, her voice wavering with distress, but she kept their path shrouded from the Lycans and he couldn’t help but be proud of her.

    The wolf pack is returning. The alpha almost stepped on me. I tried to send him away, but he smelled blood.

    Zev cursed under his breath. The last thing they needed was to mix in a healthy, territorial wolf pack that could be used against them.

    Do your best to warn them of the danger. That was all they could do. If the wolf pack didn’t listen, it was on their alpha, not Branislava, although he knew she would blame herself if something happened to the other wolves. He mentally braced himself for the event that she would want to save them and he would have to tell her to let them go.

    Zev moved to the next tree via the long, sweeping branches touching the tree he was in. He took a careful look around. His breath caught in his throat. His heart gave a wild leap of fear. Skyler was a good distance away, lying prone in the vegetation, a few bushes covering her, but she was exposed and a good sniper could easily kill her.

    Skyler, take cover, he warned abruptly, fear skittering down his spine, everything in him straining to protect her, but even his incredible speed, leaping from branch to branch was not going to get him there in time.

    A shot rang out and her body jerked. A small red geyser went up in the middle of the back of her head.

    6

    Zev expected to feel her death, just as all Carpathians had the first time she had been killed by the Lycans, but there was nothing at all, only emptiness.

    Another shot rang out and then a third, both bullets going into the body on the ground. Clearly she was already dead, but the sniper wanted to make certain. Even as Zev watched in a kind of horror, Skyler’s body jerked, the arms stretching out stiffly, the feet drumming the ground. She rose with multiple twitches and lurches, coming upright eventually, her raised arms stiffly out in front of her.

    Her body turned as if it were a compass pointing the way to her killer. She lurched forward. Blood ran down her face through the exit wound in her right cheek. More blood stained the front of her vest. Each step she took was laborious, her body shaking with spasms and twitches. Her eyes went wide and round.

    Zev’s churning gut settled and he passed a hand down his face, scrubbing away the fear of losing Skyler to replace that intense emotion with sheer laughter. Skyler watched movies with Tatijana, didn’t she?

    It was nearly impossible to tear his gaze away from the spectacle of horror as Skyler continued her arduous journey through the forest toward the tree where the sniper had lain in wait for her. Another bullet hit her in her left eye. Her head jerked backward and stayed in the position for a few seconds while her feet stumbled back rapidly in an effort to regain her balance.

    The brush to Skyler’s left parted, and Branislava emerged, her face slack, mouth drooping, arms raised in front of her. She had the same jerky steps as Skyler had, as she reeled forward. Part of her arm fell to the ground and some of the flesh on her face sloughed off. She didn’t look right or left but wobbled in the direction Skyler had been pointing out.

    Skyler righted herself, although her head tilted at an alarming angle as she began her slow, stumbling progress toward the Lycan’s chosen tree. Zev could see him now, raising his head in alarm, putting his eye to his scope, only to raise his head again as if uncertain whether or not he should make a run for it.

    The sniper settled behind his rifle and squeezed the trigger, this time aiming for Branislava. Looking at her as her flesh began dropping off, Zev couldn’t blame the Lycan. The bullet hit her chest, slamming her backward as if she was a paper doll. She stumbled as black blood welled around the entry point right over her heart, but she recovered, swaying and twitching before beginning her forward progress once more.

    As they began to converge onto the tree, another bush opened and out stumbled a third zombie. Tatijana looked worse than Branislava, with her hair falling out, leaving a trail of clumps of red behind her. One foot appeared gone so that she tottered unevenly but steadily toward the tree.

    The Lycan chose to retreat, gathering up his weapon hastily. He stood, reluctant to take his gaze off the improbable but very real vision of three dead women coming for him. He turned to make his leap from the tree.

    The real Branislava slammed the silver stake home, driving it hard through his chest with her Carpathian strength. Tatijana wielded the silver sword, slicing cleanly through the sniper’s neck, severing his head so that it fell almost at the three zombies’ feet. Immediately the apparitions were gone, mere illusions Skyler had created to keep the sniper’s attention away from the two women who stalked him.

    Zev shook his head. Nice job, Skyler. A little theatrical, but it worked.

    My tribute to Josef and a little payback in his name to these murderers. There was no remorse in her voice. Josef was her best friend and the Lycans had shot him. Skyler was known to hold a grudge and take revenge. Josef would like my style. This time her tone was a little smug.

    Dimitri, there’s no keeping these Dragonseeker women under control, and yours could be the ringleader, Zev informed him.

    Four dead assassins and at least two more to go. The one Branislava and Tatijana had killed hadn’t been a partner to the Lycan Dimitri had killed. He hadn’t been in a position to cover the Lycan in the tree. Dimitri was working his way toward that man’s partner.

    Zev needed to concentrate on the sniper high up in the trees, with his bird’s-eye view. He was certain he knew where to look for the dead assassin’s partner. There was usually a pattern to the way the Lycans hunted, even from the safety of distance.

    Skyler is a little wild, Dimitri admitted, laughter in his voice. Who knew?

    You knew, Skyler chimed in. You’re the only one. And now I’ve got my aunts and my wolves. Remember that, Zev, the next time you decide to cross me.

    Zev heard the faint laughter of the other two women as Skyler shared her empty threat with them. He was already moving, once again using the tree branches to backtrack and find the second sniper.

    Branka, check his wrist or arm to see if he has one of those circle tattoos.

    He does, I can see it from here. It’s the same one the other two men had.

    Could this be religious fervor? He doubted it. He’d been to a few of the meetings. While Arno, the council leader he’d protected at nearly the cost of his own life, was an amazing, passionate motivational speaker, he wasn’t overzealous. He held rank in the hierarchy of the Sacred Circle, believing in their tenets, but tempering those beliefs with logical thinking.

    Zev spotted the sniper in the crook of a fir tree, higher up in the branches than his partner had been. He had climbed to try to get a better look at what his buddy had been shooting at. More than likely, Skyler had created the illusion only for the man she was concentrating on. This Lycan had seen an empty forest floor. He couldn’t tell what, if anything, his partner had shot at.

    The lizard moved along the branch with slow, deliberate steps, careful not to draw the eye as he slowly made his way to the branch that bridged the gap between the tree he was in and the one the sniper was in. He recognized the scent and his heart sank.

    Damon Declaw was Daciana’s older brother. They had eaten together a thousand times over the last century. They’d laughed together. Hunted together, and had even given each other blood when battle wounds had forced them to do so.

    Daciana loved this man with all her heart. She looked up to him. Admired him. She shared stories with him of her hunting expeditions against rogue packs. He’d always supported her. Hard-core members of the Sacred Circle didn’t believe in women carrying weapons. Damon had never once acted anything but proud of his sister.

    Zev shook his head. He had no idea what he was going to do. Damon was lying in wait for a member of the local wolf pack, and that went against everything they were as a species. They protected wildlife, not used it as bait. Would he murder Dimitri? Or Skyler? Perhaps Branislava?

    Swearing savagely under his breath, Zev began to make his way up the tree trunk. He moved slowly, keeping to a deliberate pace that wouldn’t draw attention to him. He blended in with the tree bark and as he moved out onto the branch to get into position behind Damon, he realized he needed proof that his friend, Daciana’s brother, was that far gone.

    Skyler, can you cast the illusion of a wolf curious enough to walk out of the brush investigating one of the bodies? Don’t bring it in too close to the body. He didn’t want Damon’s reaction to be protective, keeping the wolf away from a fallen friend, but rather to know if Damon would actually shoot the wolf to draw Skyler and Dimitri out into the open.

    No problem. She was all business now, all hint of laughter gone as if she sensed he was pulled in two directions and she felt sympathy for him.

    Zev knew Skyler was an empath, whether she knew it or not, but in this instance, it was far more likely that his Branka remained merged with him and easily read his dilemma.

    I am with you whatever the outcome, Branislava whispered in his mind. He was flooded with warmth, with the promise of a future. She might not be ready to commit that moment, but she knew she would eventually and she wanted him to know it as well.

    This man is a friend. If I kill him, how will I ever face Daciana?

    If he had family in the Lycan world, it was Makoce, Lykaon and Daciana. She would never forgive him if he killed her brother. Never. And he wouldn’t blame her. Still, if Damon was willing to break the rules of their society, what choice did he have?

    Perhaps you will not have to, Branislava said. Perhaps he will give you a reason to keep him alive.

    She always managed to say the right thing. He positioned the lizard above Damon’s head and waited. A few moments later, Damon slid his weapon slowly forward and leaned over to place his eye at the scope. Zev saw the wolf as it cautiously broke through the brush with its muzzle. The animal waited patiently for a length of time before moving into the open, nose to the air, seeking the scent of blood and death.

    She was a beautiful female, strong and muscular with a tricolored fur coat. Shades of black, silver and charcoal shimmered as the moon hit her.

    She’s not mine, Skyler exclaimed. She’s real.

    Damon hesitated, clearly warring with himself. Zev willed him not to pull the trigger.

    Another wolf stepped out, this one also a female. She bared her teeth at the first one. The silvery female whirled around to face the threat.

    Coming your way, Dimitri warned. Sniper on the move.

    Four more wolves stepped into the open, snarling at the females. Neither paid attention.

    Don’t get caught up in the drama, Zev warned Branislava. The alpha female wants the younger female to leave the pack and she’s pushing her to get out. We’ve still got two Lycans out there hunting Dimitri and Skyler. If you get in their way, they could try to kill you.

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