|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 21)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
“Tatijana and I were held captive our entire lives up until two years ago,” Branislava said. “Most of that time, Xavier kept us inside the ice wall, in the form of dragons. We could see and hear everything that he did. It’s impossible to tell you how difficult it was to see him bring in victim after victim and systematically destroy them. We could see every spell he cast. Essentially, we were his students, although he certainly never considered that we might be learning as we watched.”
She glanced at her sister. Tatijana’s eyes were downcast. The memories of those endless, horrific years lay heavy on both of them. The dark time was too close, and both wanted to push the shadows away.
Immediately the candles in the sconces blazed into life, illuminating the room. Zev’s hand moved to her thigh in a gesture of comfort. His fingers splayed wide, wrapping halfway around her leg, as if gluing himself to her. His strength gave her added courage. She was grateful to him for providing added light. Evil sought darkness and shadow, slipping through those avenues to commit ugly deeds.
The sound of water seemed overly loud in the large chamber. The stalactites and stalagmites were ominously silent, so that the carved faces of the ancients appeared somber and staring. She shivered as her heart thundered in her ears.
“To think that one man could commit such evil over so many centuries is beyond comprehension,” Branislava said, her voice dropping lower. “While Xavier was the face of the mages, the man befriending Carpathians and betraying them, he was not alone in his plans to become immortal.”
Mikhail turned his head toward Gregori. They exchanged a long look, as if perhaps her revelation did not come as a huge surprise. Neither responded aloud, allowing her to give them information at her own pace.
Branislava wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. “Naming evil, uttering its name, can bring it to you. We learned that long ago.” She looked at her sister and there was fear in her eyes. “There were three of us born to our mother. Soren, Tatijana and me.”
Gregori’s head went up, as if scenting danger, his silver eyes slashing through her growing terror.
“There were three of you,” he hissed softly. “The bloodline of the High Mage.”
Branislava nodded her head slowly.
I call to thee with in mind the three,
I feed your life blood, three must be.
Children of air, earth, fire and sea,
I call you into our world to be.
She whispered the words. “Xavier manipulated the birth of triplets, ensuring Rhiannon, my mother, would continue the bloodline of the High Mage. But we were not the first triplets born into the mage line.”
“So Xavier is one of three,” Mikhail said, letting out his breath. “Triplets.”
Branislava nodded again. “That secret was kept beyond all others. They were identical in every way. They moved alike and talked in the same voice. They were rarely seen together and never where others might discover the secret. It allowed them to be in more than one place at a time, or provide an alibi should someone accuse Xavier of evildoing.”
“Which is why no one discovered he was the one who had killed Rhiannon’s lifemate,” Fen said. “He was able to keep her prisoner for so long because so many Carpathians swore he was teaching them a class in safeguards when the murder and kidnapping took place.”
Mikhail leaned toward Branislava, his dark eyes on her face. “Why did you not tell us of this threat immediately? The moment you were rescued?”
Branislava couldn’t look away from those penetrating eyes. Her breath came out in a long rush. “Xavier killed them. Both of his brothers. He killed them like he killed Soren. He was obsessed with blood and the power of it.”
She turned to look at Zev, her voice dropping another octave, as if whispering would prevent evil from hearing. “All three were on a quest for Dark Blood. At that time we didn’t realize it was a bloodline. They believed that anyone possessing Dark Blood could build an army of soldiers that would be invincible. But they never found what they were looking for.”
“Perhaps they did,” Mikhail mused aloud. “Fen, you and Dimitri ran into more than one Sange rau you believed had been newly made. It is possible someone has or had access to Carpathian blood and is using it to create their own superior soldiers.”
“So one targets the Carpathian species to bring them down while another goes after the Lycan species,” Gregori said. “The third must have gone after the Jaguars.”
Branislava nodded slowly. “We believed them to be dead,” she reiterated. “We believed Xavier killed his brothers for his own purposes.”
“Did you see them actually die?” Fen asked.
Branislava nodded. “Xavier cast a spell with one of them, his brother, Xaviero. They were working on a dark spell to enslave the living. They took blood from us to fill the ceremonial chalice.”
She rubbed her arm where the faint slashes laced up and down her forearm and wrist as if the wounds were open and throbbing. Tatijana mirrored her actions.
Zev gently took her arm and rubbed his palm in long, caressing strokes over the faded marks in her soft skin.
Branislava touched her tongue to her dry lips. “They both drank from the chalice. Xaviero even saluted us with the jeweled cup.” She swallowed hard, a small shudder running through her body. “He had this way of smirking at us that was terrible. We knew when he looked like that, he was going to do what he loved best . . .” She trailed off.
Zev immediately surrounded her with warmth and wrapped her up in love. Deliberately, she allowed herself to look up at him. He was strong and comforting. Good. A decent and honorable man. The memories of Xavier, Xaviero and their brother Xayvion left her sick inside. Sometimes she felt she might never get the memories of true evil out of her mind, but being with Zev certainly allowed her to distance them.
“What was that?” Gregori prompted. “What did he love best?”
“Hurting others. He was very depraved. Much worse than Xavier or Xayvion.” Branislava pressed her lips together tightly. “He liked keeping his victims alive and toying with them for hours, even days. Man, woman or child, it didn’t matter. And like Xavier, he loved an audience.” She pressed her hand to her mouth, feeling sick. “I can’t talk about him anymore. I can’t think about this.”
“I’m sorry,” Gregori apologized immediately. “It isn’t necessary. I think, judging from your reaction, we don’t need or want the details.”
Immediately there was a current of soothing warmth swirling through the chamber. She took a deep breath and nodded gratefully at the prince’s protector.
“You said that Xavier and Xaviero drank your blood from a jeweled chalice,” Mikhail prompted. “What happened next?”
“While Xaviero gave us his horrible smirk, Xavier stood beside him with the ceremonial knife in his hand. There was no warning at all, he just turned and plunged it into Xaviero’s heart. We both saw him do it.”
“What happened to Xaviero?” Dimitri prompted when she fell silent. “What did Xavier do with the body?”
She rubbed her eyes, trying to recall every detail. “There was vapor rising from the floor, like a dense cloud. I remember it because it was beautiful, about four feet off the pristine ice, curling up in these little, intricate, almost lacy patterns.”
“Was that a natural phenomenon, or something they created during this ceremony?” Dimitri asked.
Tatijana and Branislava exchanged a frown. The incident had taken place centuries earlier. Both had tried to forget as much as possible. To deliberately recall memories of evil was daunting. Their minds retreated, trying to aid them.
“It was created,” Branislava decided. “It had to be. To be that beautiful and intricate, it couldn’t possibly be natural.”
Tatijana nodded in agreement. “I could hardly look away from it. The lace would divide and multiply, each pattern, like a snowflake, different from the others.”
“Go on,” Mikhail urged. “What happened next?”
“Xaviero was staring right at us when Xavier thrust the knife into him. His body just kind of collapsed. He fell like a rag doll beneath the veil of vapor.” Branislava related the details in a rush to get it over with.
“Did Xavier know you were watching?”
“We were always his audience, the only ones who ever saw him perform and lived through it. He wanted to show others what a genius he was, how clever and superior, but of course no one could know about his plans to become immortal and hold ultimate dominion over the world.”
Tatijana nodded. “He played to us. He knew we were watching. The more complicated the spell, the more he wanted us to acknowledge his superiority. He loathed every Carpathian ever born and vowed to wipe them out.”
“What of Lycans?” Zev asked.
“There were no species immune from his distain. Xavier couldn’t understand why animals like the Jaguar or Lycan races had so many gifts. In his opinion, they were an utter waste of space on the planet, but he reserved his absolute hatred for the Carpathians.”
Branislava allowed herself to lean against Zev. He was solid like a rock, and right then, she needed his strength. The cave was comforting, deep beneath the earth, in the heat where a mage would never survive. They were able to withstand the cold, even preferring the world of ice and snow, but they disliked the intolerable heat.
The temperature and humidity of the sacred cave of warriors would have left them gasping for air. Eyes and lungs would scorch. Skin would be burned, boiled in the 90 percent humidity. Eventually a mage would succumb, much like a human would to that world of heat. Branislava found solace in the thought.
“And Xavier’s brothers?” Mikhail prompted gently. “Did they hold the same view of other species?”
Branislava frowned. “It was impossible to distinguish the three of them from one another unless they were casting—then each had a very distinctive signature. It was rare to see all three together, but the joint plan was to rid the world of Carpathians, Lycans and Jaguars.”
“Not humans?” Skyler asked.
“They had to have someone to dominate,” Branislava pointed out.
“What happened after Xavier stabbed Xaviero?” Zev asked. “We never actually established that.”
“He dragged the body out of the laboratory.” Branislava looked to her sister for confirmation. “He was dead, right? Xaviero was dead.”
“We both saw his body fall,” Tatijana confirmed. “Xavier picked up his feet as if he were trash and dragged him out of the lab.”
There was a small silence. Fen looked across the circle to his brother. “We both studied a bit under Xavier. Did he ever once perform a menial chore manually? He had assistants who lived to serve him. If he looked at them they rushed to do his bidding.”
Dimitri shook his head. “I’ll admit, I can’t recall a single moment when I saw him lift a finger. He instructed everyone else to do the work.”
Fen arched his eyebrow at Branislava. “Was it his usual practice to drag dead bodies out of his lab? He tortured and killed on a regular basis. He must have had some kind of routine.”
Branislava’s heart jumped and then began to pound. Xavier had killed so many over the centuries, far too many for her to count. No species was left out of his circle of torture, he preyed on all of them. He worked out his dark spells alone . . . She bit her lip hard and once more raised her eyes to meet Tatijana’s gaze. Her own horror was reflected there.
They had been young when all three brothers had been alive. It had been difficult to tell which one was performing an experiment, or which sliced their body with a knife and drank deeply. The three brothers looked and sounded alike. They all preferred to work their spells alone, but they didn’t clean up after themselves. Not ever.
Why had Xavier dragged Xaviero’s body out of the laboratory? Why hadn’t he called one of his assistants?
“Would he have taken care of the body because he didn’t want any of his assistants to see that there had been a look-alike?” Gregori asked.
Branislava wanted to answer in the affirmative, but she found herself shaking her head. Xavier had no compunction about using his assistants for a task he wanted kept confidential and as soon as it was completed, murdering them on the spot. Those disposing of the bodies would have no idea why Xavier had killed the mage interns, but they accepted it because dead bodies were common where they worked.
She began to rock back and forth. “Why would they stage Xaviero’s death? Xavier didn’t believe we could escape. None of them believed it. No, Xaviero’s definitely dead.” Even to her own ears, she sounded doubtful.
“What of the other brother?” Mikhail asked. “The one you called Xayvion? You said Xavier murdered both of his brothers. How did he die?”
Branislava wanted to crawl inside Zev’s mind for protection. How could she have been so gullible? She had wanted to believe Xaviero was dead. All three brothers were cruel, true psychopaths without a hint of remorse or feeling for anyone. Xaviero just seemed to take his torture further than either of his brothers, as if he did it out of pure enjoyment rather than purely for experiment. She didn’t doubt that Xavier and Xayvion were just as bad, but Xaviero always sent a horrifying chill through her when he looked at them encased behind the wall of ice. It was the one time Branislava was grateful for the protection of the ice.
“The same exact way. Time passed. I don’t know how much, because time meant nothing. But it was a while. Xavier and Xayvion performed the same ceremony, and Xavier stabbed Xayvion and dragged him out of the lab by his feet. I never saw the actual body after it fell, only the feet and legs,” she admitted. “But we never saw them again.”