|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 25)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
She shook her head. “I’m stating a truth. A fact. Gregori doesn’t know the way Xaviero sets his patterns. I was there in the same room with him. I might have been locked behind ice, but I could see everything he did and I learned. I need to pass as much information as possible to Gregori so he has a chance of making it out alive.”
He swore and drove his fist deep into the wall. She winced, knowing he felt helpless. She kept silent, waiting for him to come to the only real conclusion possible on his own. She didn’t like it any more than he did, but in the end, the risk to Gregori was far worse than to her.
He turned around to face her, resting one hip against the entrance to the small chamber. “I’ll go in with you. I can stay back out of your way, but if things get dicey, I might find a way to protect you.”
She opened her mouth to protest.
Zev shook his head. “I’m not negotiating here. If you go after that shadow, I go with you to guard you. Take it or leave it.”
Branislava nodded slowly. “We’re better together than apart. You give me courage and strength, and he’s my worst nightmare. Having you close might be just the thing that gives me the edge.” Her nod grew firm. “I think that will work much better for both of us.”
He held out his hand to her. “Let’s get it done then. We’ll let Mikhail know.”
“We’ll need to prepare,” she murmured, talking to herself more than to him as they made their way back through several passageways toward the sacred cave of warriors. “Skyler and Tatijana can help me with a circle of protection. Both are very strong and I’ll need them.”
No one said anything as they entered the lit chamber, hand in hand. Zev sank down onto the smooth rock seat with Branislava beside him.
“I’ll need a large open space,” Branislava announced, “so if Xaviero becomes aware of my presence, he can’t see anything or anyone that might betray our movements to him. He’ll know when I remove the shadow that someone knows about him and he’ll retaliate in some way. He’ll strike at the Lycan council or at Mikhail. If anyone else is mage-shadowed, he can use them, and he will. I know him. He’s going to be very angry that anyone would dare thwart his plan.”
“Then we’ll have to check each one of them,” Gregori said. “Every single one, before you try to remove the shadow. We don’t have to try to figure out who is doing it, you’ve already identified him. It’s a matter of just looking and not touching.”
“There are a lot of Lycans here,” Fen pointed out.
“We can start with the key people, those in positions of power. The council members and then their guards,” Gregori said.
“How long will it take to go through that many people?” Fen said.
“We’ve got a lot of help. Tatijana is capable,” Gregori reminded him. “Skyler certainly is. Darius will help us. Certainly you and your brother can look into a skull and find a mark on a brain without disturbing anything. You’re just looking, not touching anything, if you trip a safeguard, if anyone does that, the mage will know.”
Mikhail nodded. “I can help as well and there are a few others we can ask.”
“No,” Gregori and Fen said firmly, simultaneously.
Dimitri added his opinion as well. “You can’t, Mikhail. Xaviero is specifically targeting you. If he brings you down, he has a much better chance of defeating the entire Carpathian race, wiping out our species. Now, more than ever, you have to be safe.”
Mikhail pushed both hands through his hair, the first real sign of agitation Zev had ever seen him make. Zev couldn’t blame him. The man reeked of power. He couldn’t open his mouth or take a step without anyone close feeling that power, yet at every turn, his own warriors stepped in front of him, blocking him from helping in times of need. Zev never wanted to be in that position.
He glanced at Branislava. Her eyes met his. He felt the impact like a punch to the gut, low and mean. Am I doing that to you?
She smiled at him. Yes. She was bluntly honest. But like Mikhail, I allow it and I’m fully aware I allow it. He has choices, just as I do. Someday there may come a time when it’s too important to him—or to me—and we’ll both go against those trying to stop us. But right now, this all makes sense.
Zev sent Mikhail a small, apologetic smile. “Your job isn’t easy, Mikhail. No one believes it is and none of us wants to be in your shoes. We’ll get this done as quickly and quietly as possible and report the numbers back to you.”
“In the meantime,” Mikhail said, “I can hide in my house while all of you take the risks.”
Gregori’s head snapped around, a frown crossing his face. Mikhail, te ul3 sív és ul3 siel Karpatiikuntanak—Mikhail, you are the very heart and soul of all Carpathians. Te agba kont és te ekäm—A true warrior and my brother. ainaakä han ku olenasz Karpatiikuntahoz—Never forget who you are to all of us.
Mikhail nodded his head and sent a small smile Gregori’s way, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Zev could see the visual interchange, but he hadn’t been privy to the private discourse between the two men, he only knew it had taken place. Gregori didn’t look especially happy, and the prince didn’t, either.
“Let’s get this done,” Fen said. “We don’t have all night. We have to make certain Bronnie has enough time to remove the shadow from Damon.”
“One last thing,” Zev said. “What happens if there are a number of Lycans with these mage-shadows? Are you expecting Branka to get rid of them all?”
Gregori shrugged his shoulders. “Zev, we’ve learned to take one thing at a time. If we find more shadows, we’ll discuss what to do before we take any other steps.”
Mikhail shoved his hands through his hair once again. “I understand completely, Zev. If Raven or Savannah were pushed into putting their lives—or sanity—on the line, I would certainly object.”
He sent Gregori a quelling glance when the healer made a move to speak. “We came of age in an era where our women were gone, and there was little possibility of ever finding a lifemate. We forget they are every bit as strong as we are. Our every instinct is to protect them from any possible harm. I make no apologies for that and neither does Gregori, nor should you.”
There was greatness in Mikhail, Zev realized. He was quiet, much like Rolf, the real alpha on the council, but when he spoke his every thought carried weight. He was intelligent and compassionate. He didn’t want others to serve him or fight his battles. His struggle, Zev decided, was fighting his own nature, the fierce predator that preferred action to waiting.
Branislava was Dragonseeker, a born warrior. Just as he was. She had a warrior’s heart, and if he truly was the last descendent in the line of Dark Blood, those famous for their skills in battle, she was a true lifemate for one of that lineage.
I should have been more understanding. You were only answering your calling. There was regret in his voice.
Sadly, he knew himself. A man at the helm of an elite pack, the alpha who moved from pack to pack as an acknowledged leader dispensing justice and stopping problems before they got out of hand, had to have the fierce nature he had. There was no changing his wolf, nor did he want to.
I may have been answering my calling, she agreed, but my first duty is to my lifemate. I made the choice to be bound to you. That was my choice and I stand by our vows. Your needs became mine. I trust that you feel the same toward me.
The knots in his belly settled a bit. He wanted to scoop her up, drag her out of the cave like the men of old, declaring to the world she belonged to him.
Silly wolf. Of course I belong to you. And it just occurred to me. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before. Our souls are tied together, but so are our spirits. I wove them together when you were so mortally wounded. They remain woven together.
How is that going to help this situation? He leaned toward her, recognizing her sudden excitement.
All you have to do is let go of your physical body. The moment you do, your spirit will travel with mine. If you allow me to lead, you will be right there with me, inside Damon, while I work on unraveling safeguards and removing the mage-shadow.
Clever girl. He let his admiration show.
And, Zev . . .
Her voice dropped low, a lyrical tone, one of sheer intimacy, one that penetrated deep into his every cell, wrapping itself around bundles of nerve endings and starting a smoldering fire deep in his belly. He gave her his full attention, focusing wholly on her.
I’m madly in love with your wolf. He can never be too wild for me. He makes me . . .
She broke off her words, but without warning he felt scorching hot silk wrap his cock in a tight, fiery fist, squeezing and gripping erotically. The sensation rushed over him, taking his breath away, leaving him gasping and hungry.
He sent her one warning look, his eyes taking on the glow of the wolf. Her soft laughter teased at him. That was another huge trait he loved in her—the unexpected sense of fun she had. He hadn’t really known laughter until she had come into his life.
You’re such a gift, he said.
Around them, the others were standing. Stretching. Ready to leave to go check the Lycans. He couldn’t move. Didn’t dare move. She wasn’t finished with him, not by a long shot.
She sat beside him, so close that he knew she wore clothing, but the illusion of skin to skin was perfect. She threaded her fingers through his and gave a little wave toward her sister and Skyler as they went out of the spacious chamber.
You have no idea what a gift I truly am, she said, her laughter mischievous.
Now he felt the hot, moist lap of her tongue on his shaft, the close of her mouth over him, the dance of her fingers on his heavy sac. She was killing him without actually touching him.
She started to rise to follow the others, but he caught her arm and jerked her back down beside him. At once he saw the flare of heat in her eyes.
“We’re right behind you,” he called to his brother, and waited until he knew all of them were gone. With one hand, he undid his trousers, with the other, he bunched her hair in his hand and forced her head down into his lap. Zev let his head fall back as she enveloped him in the warmth and love of her mouth.
She never failed to astonish him with teasing, with her heat and the way she was ready and willing to meet his every desire.
“Hello, my wolf,” she murmured softly, licking at him like the fierce kitten he named her. “You do look good enough for a dragon to eat.”
A blast of heat accompanied her soft declaration. He eyed her warily.
Her laughter vibrated through his shaft, and he forgot all about that little warning, giving himself up to her clever mouth and hands.
The three Dragonseeker women took their time building the circle of protection. Branislava and Gregori had consulted numerous times, choosing and then discarding several locations before settling on this one. The clearing was a good distance from the village and far from the home of the prince. There were no farms nearby and no real landmarks should Xaviero surface unexpectedly or detect her as she attempted to remove the mage-shadow.
Mikhail explained the theory to the Lycan council members and Rolf insisted all of them be inspected, although both Arno and Lyall, influential counsel members, protested adamantly, maintaining they didn’t want a Carpathian invading their minds. An argument had ensued that had eaten into their time. In the end, Gregori had shrugged and given them an ultimatum. He wasn’t going to risk the prince or any of their people. If they didn’t want to be inspected, he told them to pack up and leave immediately.
It had taken a good half of the night, with ten Carpathians working to discover if any of the other Lycans were mage-shadowed. No council member was, but three more of the guards were. Daciana and Makoce were fine, as were the other two members of Zev’s elite hunting pack, Lykaon and Arnau, Arnos’s son.
The three guards, Borya, Pavlo and Igor, reacted as Damon had, horrified that someone else was inside their minds, possibly using them as puppets against their own council members, the members they’d sworn to protect. Zev realized it was possible that the guards who had attacked Rolf and Arno could have been mage-shadowed as well.
The three Dragonseeker women cleansed the meadow, using long wands of sage, cedar, sweet grass, lavender and copal, walking clockwise. White-hot light burst from their fingertips, creating a sacred space in the form of a sphere in the exact center of the meadow. It was important to separate their chosen circle of power from the rest of the space around it. Starting in the eastern corner, they walked counterclockwise, calling forth their four elements to guide and protect them. As they walked together they lifted their voices in unison.
We call to the powers of the East, Air.
We call to the powers of the West, Water.
We call to the powers of the North, Earth.
We call to the powers of the South, Fire.
Skyler took up her position in the northern corner first. She was of the Earth, close to the mother of all living things. She called on Mother Earth to protect and aid them with their task.
Hear our prayers, Great Mother,
We call upon you to protect us in our hour of need.
Thrice around this circle bound,
All evil sink into the ground.
Branislava took up her position in the southernmost corner. She was of the element of fire. She lived it. Breathed it. Understood it. She called upon her element to aid and protect them during their most difficult task.
I call upon that which is fire.
I bid you to build a wall a spire.
Breathe forth your breath,
Make it burn so that none may enter and away must turn.
Ivory took up her position in the eastern corner. She was a force to be reckoned with, a woman who lived her life on the outside of their society. She was lifemate to Razvan, Xavier’s grandson and keeper of the wolves who hunted with her. The wind whispered to her at all times, sharing information and protecting her on every hunt. She called to her element of air to protect and aid them with their task.