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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 17)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan

    “It isn’t Xavier, Tatijana,” Branislava said aloud. “Fen’s right. Whoever did this has been slowly trying to gain control of the Lycans, just as Xavier wanted control of the Carpathians. Mages are not immortal, but some of them want to be.”

    “Neither are Lycans,” Zev said.

    “Technically, neither are Carpathians,” Dimitri said. “We can be killed.”

    “But both species have longevity,” Branislava said. “Much longer than a mage. Xavier wanted that for himself. It was the entire reason he kidnapped our mother and had us. He wanted our blood.”

    “You don’t know if it’s Xavier,” Tatijana said. She looked close to tears. “You don’t know. Who else if not him?”

    Branislava took a deep breath. “If Damon allows me, I can try to find the shadowing. I would recognize Xavier’s work anywhere.”

    Tatijana shook her head adamantly.

    “Sister,” Branislava said gently. “You know it is the only way for us to know for certain.”

    “No. Not you. Zev, don’t let her. Skyler, Dimitri, you can’t let her,” Tatijana pleaded.

    Damon dropped his face into his hands and sank down onto the stone floor, moaning. “I want it out of my head. Get it out.”

    Daciana and Makoce immediately dropped down beside him to comfort him, although Zev noticed that both kept at least one hand close to their weapons—the silver ones. They believed that he could be dangerous to them all.

    “You didn’t answer my question,” Zev persisted. “Could a mage mass-produce this effect without anyone knowing?”

    Branislava let out her breath. “Only a couple might be able to. Two. Maybe three. We were prisoners for centuries, Zev, and Xavier only had a couple of students who might have been that good . . .” She trailed off, her gaze once more jumping to Tatijana’s face.

    What is it, Branka?

    She pressed her lips together as if by not speaking whatever she had thought of wouldn’t be the truth. Her fingers curled involuntarily into his shirt, nails raking through the material.

    “Get it out of me. Get it out of me,” Damon yelled, his wolf surging to the surface, eyes glowing as he glared at Branislava.

    Zev could see both Daciana and Makoce brace themselves to protect his woman, and he was grateful. “Damon,” he spoke in a low, commanding tone. “You are a wolf. A Lycan. You’re strong and you will not embarrass our people by this display.”

    Damon sucked in his breath and began to pant. Clearly his wolf fought for supremacy but he was at least fighting to control the shift.

    “Man up and control your fear. Your wolf senses it and is rising to protect you. Get control right now.” Zev’s voice took on even more authority.

    Damon nodded his head several times, continuing to breathe deep. He looked ashamed and a little guilty, but mostly desperate to do as the alpha commanded.

    Zev gentled his tone. “All of these people are committed to help you in spite of your intention to kill them. I’m committed to helping you. You know me. I’ve never let a member of my pack down, and you’ve always been that to me. Family.”

    Damon looked up quickly, and this time determination was in his eyes, the red glow receding a bit.

    “Take a look at the two women you’re demanding things of when you don’t have an idea what it even entails. They’re terrified. Either could leave, but they haven’t. They’re right here with you. Pull yourself together and we’ll get through this. We just need a little time to sort things out.”

    How dangerous is it to you, Branka, and I expect the truth, to go in and take a look around at his brain to see if you can pinpoint where this shadow is and perhaps who actually made it.

    Branislava hesitated. She leaned close to him and in front of the others rubbed her face along his cheek. She seemed close to tears, although not on the outside. She was stoic, presenting a calm appearance to the others. He knew most of her performance was for Tatijana’s sake.

    This mage is highly skilled. If he really has the power and expertize to place shadows in a roomful of unsuspecting people, he is extraordinarily dangerous. He will have safeguards.

    Then we’ll talk to Mikhail . . .

    Branislava shook her head. Not yet. We know all of Xavier’s spells. Every last one of them, good and evil. We would have a better chance of removing the shadow than Gregori, who would most likely try.

    Gregori has removed shadows, Dimitri assured.

    Branislava sighed. He confronted and removed a sliver of a being, which is not the same. A shadow is a portal, not part of the mage. It is different, Dimitri, and rigged with traps.

    “I apologize once again,” Damon said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

    “Probably the thought of someone else having the ability to manipulate your movements and override the beliefs so ingrained in you,” Daciana replied.

    “I could still hurt someone, couldn’t I?” Damon asked.

    Zev shrugged, not wanting to lie, but Damon needed encouragement. “Whoever this mage is that planted that shadow in you, Damon, didn’t count on your strength. You didn’t follow his dictates. You’re much stronger than you know.”

    Damon managed a brief half smile. “I didn’t think of that.”

    “You’re armed to the teeth right now,” Zev pointed out. “Even through all the revelations, you didn’t go for your weapons.”

    He not only wanted to encourage Damon, but also remind Daciana and Makoce that the Lycan was well armed. Zev was fairly certain the Carpathians were well aware of the weapons and by now knew exactly where, on Damon’s body, each was located.

    If I go in and just take a look around, without touching anything, or attempting to remove the shadow, Branislava ventured, I think I’ll be safe enough.

    Thinking isn’t good enough for me, Zev declared. I’m not willing to risk you.

    He’ll die. Sooner or later the mage will return to his shadow and realize that Damon is not acting as he should—as one of his agents. He’ll kill him, or force him to do his bidding. Either way, Damon will die.

    Zev pressed her hand closer. We’ll find another way to save him.

    While I’ve sat here with you, you’ve gone over and over in your mind fifty ways to get to him and kill him if he makes one wrong move. I’m not even certain you know you’re doing it, Branislava told him gently. I feel your deep affection for Damon, Zev, and you’ll never get over it if you or Daciana has to kill him. But you would kill him. I know you would.

    Zev sighed. Branislava was right. He didn’t want Daciana to have to slay her own brother, not even in defense of all of them. She might hesitate, in which case, Damon, under the mage’s direction, might very well kill his own sister. Zev, as pack leader, had that duty, not Daciana.

    “Branislava wants to take a look at the shadow. She won’t remove it, not yet. She is just going in to look, Damon. Without knowing what or who we’re dealing with, she doesn’t have a chance of removing it. Do you understand? You can’t fight her. You can’t move or endanger her in any way. If you do, I will put a stake through your heart. If you prefer, we will shelve this and seek guidance from the council.”

    Bronnie, what are you doing? Tatijana asked. You know how dangerous a mage-shadow is. What are you thinking? A mage can use the shadow to spy. He can force the body he’s in to do anything he wants. You can’t reveal yourself to him.

    Do you really want to go the rest of our lives without knowing who has committed such an abomination? I know I don’t. Even if Gregori tries to remove the shadow, he won’t recognize the maker. Only you or I can do that.

    Tatijana pressed her fingers to her eyes and then turned her face into Fen’s chest. You’re going to do this, aren’t you, Bronnie?

    You know I have to. I’m just as frightened as you that it’s him. But we can’t be running scared the rest of our lives. We have to know.

    What if it’s . . .

    Don’t think that. He’s dead, too. All of them are. This has to be one of the students.

    Zev took a deep breath and let it out. Branislava was terrified. Surrounded by Fen, Dimitri and him, she was still terrified. He didn’t want her to take this chance. He wasn’t certain what the danger actually was, or how he could help her.

    “Fen, this is so far out of my territory,” he said. “Tell me what to do to make certain she’s safe.” Because Branislava was going to go inside Damon’s head and find the shadow on his brain. Zev felt her absolute determination. She needed to know who had put that mark on him. Truthfully, all of them needed to know, but he would much rather be the one to take the chance.

    “Mine as well. I know very little about mage marking and shadows. Razvan would certainly know more, but Tatijana and Branislava were there with Xavier for centuries, seeing everything he did. We’ll have to trust Bronnie that she knows what she’s doing.”

    Damon pushed both hands through his hair. He lifted his head and looked straight into Branislava’s eyes. “I want this thing out of my head more than anything, but not at the risk of your life. It sounds like just looking at it might be dangerous.”

    She shook her head. “If I don’t draw the mage’s attention by tripping his safeguard, I’ll be perfectly safe. I intend to be very careful. I’ve seen this done several times. It’s a matter of having patience. I learned that particular quality in the ice caves enduring my captivity.”

    “What do you need me to do?” Damon asked.

    “Have patience, too. Just sit there and let me see if I can do this. It may take a couple of tries.”

    She looked at Zev, and his heart turned over. I’m really scared, Zev. If I trip that safeguard, he’ll know we’re on to him. He can strike at all of us through Damon.

    I can take care of Damon. You just need to be safe.

    Branislava threaded her fingers together at the nape of Zev’s neck and stared into his eyes. He looked back just as steadily, willing her to know that he wouldn’t let her down, that he would be with her every step of the way.

    “You’re a very strong man.” She smiled at him. Wolfie.

    He managed an answering grin. Branislava turned to face Damon, sinking gracefully onto the stone floor to one side of Zev’s feet, giving him plenty of room to move if needed. There was no point in wasting any more time, but she needed a moment to steady herself.

    She looked out into the forest. The mist covered the trees like a gray blanket. She felt the tiny droplets on her skin. The wind teased her hair and kissed her face. This is freedom, Tatijana, she whispered to her sister.

    She closed her eyes and let go of her body, trusting Tatijana and Fen to watch over her as she made this journey. Zev had to watch Damon. Traveling as spirit only, she moved slowly into Damon’s open mind. He was just as terrified as she was, but for different reasons. She couldn’t blame him—realizing someone else had infiltrated his brain and directed his movements had to be abhorrent to him. Once inside his skull, she stayed very quiet, unmoving, keeping her light as dim as possible to keep from tripping any safeguard. Spirit traveled as light, moving easily where a body couldn’t go, but the High Mage knew that and had always prepared for such an invasion when he placed his shadow in someone.

    When she was absolutely certain her light was as dim as possible she began to move around Damon’s brain to find the shadow.

    “She’s not breathing,” Makoce said anxiously.

    Zev felt his own heart accelerate. Panic began to rise in spite of his determination to allow Branislava to ferret out the name of their enemy. Her body had slumped to one side, and Makoce was correct. Zev couldn’t detect a breathing pattern. He looked to Tatijana for reassurance.

    Tatijana’s face was stark white. Her eyes glittered like two huge gems, and color banded through her hair.

    “Tatijana?” he said softly, insistently.

    Tatijana’s body jerked as if she suffered a blow. Her gaze jumped to Zev’s face. She hunched her body, pressing closer to Fen. “She’s alive,” she said softly. “She’s making certain she doesn’t trip a safeguard.”

    Zev resisted the urge to merge with Branislava, knowing he couldn’t distract her, but the need was strong in him, his every protective instinct rebelling.

    Branislava drifted closer to the brain, studying it carefully. The brain was large, barely fitting inside the skull, with several folds. At first the surface appeared wrinkled with hills and valleys everywhere. The individual cells, neurons, were connected very closely, almost too closely for her microscopic study to actually see where the shadow might be located. The neurons were necessary for information to travel through, chemicals signals entering the cell and then traveling through the filament to carry out orders. The mage had to have burned his shadow into the millions of cells living outside the brain.

    Her spirit continued to move carefully. Her light was indistinct, making it difficult to see the ridges and valleys. Up close, the brain appeared quite gray when she inspected the densely packed cells, but the filaments, so closely bundled together appeared white. Mapping out his brain took time. There were millions of cells and the mage-shadow could be on any of them.

    She had no idea of time passing, only that using such a faint light made her work extremely difficult. Fear was ever present. Xavier had been invincible, a man who tortured and killed hundreds of people from every species. No one, in all those long centuries had come to rescue them. No one had ever managed to defeat him, and it was difficult to think that anyone ever could after so much time had passed.

    Evil endured. She knew it did, and Xavier was wholly evil. If anyone could ever find a way to come back from the dead . . . She couldn’t go there, couldn’t think like that. In any case, Fen was right, he couldn’t be in two places at one time. But that meant . . .