|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 22)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
Mikhail rubbed his temples. Gregori flicked him a quick look. Branislava felt a surge of soothing heat circulating throughout the cavern. Mikhail sent Gregori a small smile as if thanking him.
“You said you couldn’t tell them apart,” the prince said. “Is it possible they were alive but because you believed them dead, you always thought it was Xavier performing experiments and spells? Could they still have been switching places?”
Again she wanted to say no. She would have recognized Xaviero’s smirk. She was certain she would have. She’d been a terrified child, and he loved to torment her. He knew Tatijana was far more comfortable in the ice than her sister and he would deliberately make the ice colder and colder around Branislava until it was impossible for her to control her body temperature to keep warm enough. She shivered and shook for days, sometimes weeks and months, her very insides so cold she thought she would freeze from the inside out.
“Bronnie?” Fen prompted.
She shook her head. “I don’t believe Xaviero ever returned, not where I could see him. I don’t think he could have resisted tormenting me.”
“You asked us to meet you in this sacred place,” Mikhail said, making it a statement, waiting for her to finish.
“No mage, not even a powerful one like Xavier or his brothers, could penetrate the safeguards of this chamber,” Branislava said. “I’m Dragonseeker and I sensed that the moment I set foot on the ancient stone. I didn’t want to chance being overheard, or speaking the name of evil aloud where it could find me. Xaviero is wholly evil, every bit as evil as Xavier. Although I would have sworn upon my very life that he was dead, I saw his very distinctive signature last night.”
Mikhail let out his breath slowly and turned to look at Gregori. “I don’t know why I’m not more surprised that this mess we’re in began long ago with Xavier.”
“Where did you see this mark?” Gregori asked.
“Damon, Daciana’s brother, acted against his moral beliefs. Each time he was questioned, I could see that something kept him from remembering. His head hurt. His nose bled.”
“Mage-shadowed,” Gregori said. “You’re describing someone mage-shadowed.”
Branislava nodded slowly. “There’s only a handful of mages who were good at it, but only three that I know of that might be able to mass-produce mage-shadows on unsuspecting victims. Damon recalled going to a meeting of the Sacred Circle, but he couldn’t remember who was there encouraging him to join with the assassins targeting Skyler and Dimitri.”
“His orders,” Zev added, “were to wound wolves and leave them as bait in the forest. Dimitri has a certain reputation. His mission has always been to save the wolves in the wild.”
“I thought Lycans had that same mission,” Mikhail said.
“I thought they did as well,” Zev said, a hard edge to his voice. “Fortunately, Damon didn’t take the shot he had and I didn’t kill him. If I had, we never would have had a chance to discover that he’d been manipulated. I questioned him, and Branka spotted the signs.”
Gregori’s silver eyes bore into Branislava, making her want to squirm, but she stayed very still, determined to keep her composure.
“You knew he was mage-shadowed yet you checked for a signature without anyone to aid you if you got into trouble, didn’t you?” His tone was low. Accusing.
She nodded, clutching Zev’s hand in a death grip.
“You knew how dangerous it was, but you still did it—why?”
Gregori’s voice lashed her like a whip. She even winced under the stroke. Beside her, Zev’s head went up, his eyes going entirely wolf. Immediately a feral, wild scent enveloped her. She felt him coil.
“I would prefer, Gregori, that you watch how you talk to my woman,” Zev said, his voice nearly hoarse with the effort it took to keep from growling. “Otherwise, you and I will be going outside to have a private discussion.”
Shock showed on Gregori’s face.
Mikhail coughed into his hand, clearly trying not to laugh. Gregori, just in case you have never met yourself, that’s you sitting over there.
Gregori sent the prince a sour look. Your amusement at my expense never fails to amaze me.
The way you make friends everywhere you go never fails to amaze—or amuse me.
“O jelä peje terád—sun scorch you, Mikhail,” Gregori said irreverently to his father-in-law, the prince of the entire Carpathian race.
Mikhail’s expression never changed, but his laughter was contagious. Gregori clearly tried to hide his own amusement, glaring at Mikhail, but in the end he knew Mikhail knew him far too well not to feel his laughter at his own expense.
“Please excuse me, Bronnie,” he said aloud. “I know the dangers of trying to remove a mage-shadow and the thought of you attempting such a thing without protection was such a shock I spoke without thinking. I have removed splinters, but not a mage-shadow. I tried, but wasn’t successful. It was . . . vile.”
Branislava heard the sincerity in his voice and knew it had nothing to do with fearing Zev. Gregori didn’t like bullying women.
“If it makes you feel any better, I would never have tried such a thing. That’s why I asked you and Mikhail to meet us here, to decide what to do,” she said. “I needed to know if my suspicions were true. Damon was adamant that the only place he’d gone was to a Sacred Circle meeting. There was someone there he couldn’t name, a person he’d met many times, and yet each time he tried to recall him, he became quite ill.”
Gregori nodded in understanding. “You suspect a mass shadowing?”
She pressed her lips together hard, her heart stuttering again, reliving that moment when she was quite certain who had placed the shadow in Damon’s brain. She nodded slowly, frowning a little. “Who else, Gregori? Who could do such a thing? If not Xavier, then one or both brothers have to still be alive.” Her voice quivered. She couldn’t help it.
“And when you checked?” Gregori gentled his voice.
“It was as I feared. Xaviero.”
Tatijana gasped and covered her mouth. She shook her head.
Branislava nodded. “It was, Tatijana. There is no mistaking his signature. He’s alive, and he’s infiltrated the ranks of the Lycans. Like Xavier, he is working to destroy anyone who might oppose his power.”
Zev swore softly. “How could he manage it and none of us know?”
“I lived among the packs for centuries,” Fen pointed out. “And I have mixed blood. I simply went to ground during the time of the full moon to avoid detection.”
“He would be old and very respected,” Branislava said. “He would demand devotion. Admiration. There is no way that he has stopped killing. He’s addicted to it and enjoys it far too much, but he has discipline. He would torture and kill far from where he operates.”
Zev shook his head. “There’s no one like that.”
“Yes there is,” she insisted. “He’s out in the open, living and moving among you. Don’t look for a killer. He’ll appear kind and benevolent. He’ll blend in seamlessly with Lycans. He will have followers and they’ll love him, almost to the point of worshipping him.”
Zev frowned and rubbed his hand down his face as if wiping away the first image in order to try to replace it with the second. “You’re describing half the leaders of the Sacred Circle as well as a few council members. It could be anyone, Branka.”
“He’ll need a laboratory for making his soldiers. And he has access to Carpathian blood.” Branislava’s breath caught in her throat and she closed her mouth abruptly before her next thought could spill out.
What is it? Tell me.
Zev’s voice turned her heart over. So gentle and caring. She would break his heart if what she suspected was true. She shook her head.
Mon chaton féroce. If what you suspect is the truth, it will come out eventually. Better to get it over with now.
When Zev spoke in that French accent, his voice smooth, like velvet, she couldn’t help but react to it.
Someone discovered your grandmother was mixed blood. They had to know she was Carpathian born. If Xaviero knew, he could have ordered her death. He would have access to her blood, the very blood all three brothers had searched for.
“Tell us,” Mikhail said gently. “We need to know everything, including what you only suspect. Without all information, we can’t make an intelligent decision.”
Branislava’s gaze clung to Zev’s. Her logic was reasonable, though, and she knew it. Xaviero was alive. No one else would leave that same shadow behind. His signature had always been distinct. He had to have lived among the Lycans, infiltrating and becoming someone of importance. He would use his position to set up a network of spies. Those spies would keep him informed of every detail.
“Zev’s grandmother was the child of the Dark Bloods. The last lifemated pair. They ran across the trail of the Sange rau destroying the Lycan packs systematically and of course they tried to help. When they were killed, Lycan survivors coming across their bodies and finding an infant believed she was Lycan. They took her with them to raise her.”
“And Xaviero found out,” Mikhail finished.
Branislava nodded. She held her hands out in front of her as if she could protect herself from the truth. “I believe that’s what happened. It makes sense. Xavier wanted Dark Blood more than anything else, but he never found what he was looking for. Tatijana and I thought it was a type of blood that could harm others, not a lineage.”
“Could Xaviero have had anything to do with the first Sange rau?” Zev asked. “The one responsible for killing so many?”
“I doubt it,” Mikhail said. “But certainly Xaviero would have thought he’d stumbled across a gold mine. The very thing he needed to bring down Carpathians and Lycans alike. His problem was the sacred code was written by the council, and Lycans avoided Carpathians. He didn’t have an opportunity to access Carpathian blood.”
“Until my grandmother grew up and someone reported to him something they found suspicious about her,” Zev ventured.
Branislava nodded. “They were so good at gathering information. They used animals, humans, every species available, and they got results. If she made a mistake, believe me when I say Xaviero would have been informed.”
“She was raised Lycan,” Gregori pointed out. “She probably didn’t even know she was Carpathian. When others shifted, she did as well, not realizing she wasn’t shifting the same way. She was a Dark Blood and she would have hunted and fought alongside her husband. She probably was given Lycan blood when she was wounded, and eventually she became a mixed blood.”
“So he watched her.” Mikhail pieced more of the puzzle together. “Xaviero watched her closely and he realized what she had to be. He wanted her blood and he couldn’t chance that she was faster, stronger, and more intelligent and would defeat him. He whipped up a mob against her, probably to have her brought before the council, but they murdered her. He must have taken her blood to his lab and kept it to experiment with.”
“Her husband took their child and ran,” Zev said. “He would have gone far away and joined a different pack, probably in another country. He would have changed his name. That’s what I would have done to protect my daughter.”
“Did you meet your grandfather? Know him at all?” Mikhail asked.
Zev nodded. “He was very quiet and he spent most of his time hunting. I was pretty young. My mother died in childbirth, and my father said her father rarely came around after that. I saw him a couple of times and then one day he never came back.”
“When you say ‘hunting,’” Fen asked, “who or what was he hunting?”
Zev shrugged. “My father said he hunted down the men who killed his wife, one by one, at least that’s what he thought my grandfather was doing.” I would understand if he did, he added to Branislava.
Because it’s something you would have done.
Branislava made certain she used the past tense. Zev was mixed blood, both Lycan and Carpathian. He might still think like a Lycan, but if his lifemate was to be killed, he would be a danger to everyone if he was caught in the deadly Carpathian madness—the thrall that took hold of males if they didn’t immediately follow their lifemates.
His eyes met hers and her heart leapt. There was love there. Possession. Belonging. No matter what happened, she had this time, this unexpected passionate love that transcended her.
Once I knew my child was gone, I would have moved heaven and earth to find her mother’s killers. Now, I go where you go. Always.
Branislava swallowed hard to clear the choking lump in her throat that had arisen from nowhere. I think I’m quite mad about you, Wolfie.
You’re quite mad. And don’t even whisper that name in these caves. We’re surrounded by ancient warriors and Wolfie just isn’t manly enough.
In spite of the fact that her worst fears had come true, Zev could make her laugh. Feeling her sister’s gaze on her, she looked up, and Tatijana smiled at her. They were so close. This is what Tatijana had with Fen—this wonderful feeling of belonging, of being loved. She returned her sister’s smile and found Skyler with her gaze.
Young Skyler, whose soul seemed older than all of them, wielded power so easily without even recognizing how extraordinary she was. Dimitri sat close to her, partially shielding her body from the others. It was clear she, too, was wrapped in love. They were lucky, the Dragonseeker women. All three had been very lucky.
“Would the bond between Zev’s grandmother and Zev’s grandfather be that strong? So strong that long after she was dead, he needed to find her killers?” Branislava asked. “She was Carpathian, and then mixed blood, but he was . . .” She trailed off. “Wouldn’t he have been mixed blood as well? And the blood he had in his system would be Dark Blood.”