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

    Current of air that breathes,

    Great goddess Hera, let your gales now blow.

    Bring forth your winds, let them howl and sing,

    Protecting your daughters and all within this ring.

    Tatijana was last, gliding over to the western corner, taking up her position. She embodied the element of water. Cool, fluid, and at home in any form of water, she called out, asking for aid and protection for the coming task.

    I call to water, blood of life,

    Fix your gaze upon this sight.

    Let water drop and lightning strike,

    Keep evil out, protecting those inside.

    Gregori stepped into the center of the sphere created by the women, looking more than impressive. Fen, Dimitri, Razvan, Zev and Darius formed a second circle of protection, ringing the first one of power. Inside that circle, the other three mage-shadowed Lycans lay sleeping.

    “We’re ready for Damon,” Gregori announced.

    Zev stepped inside the circle of protection the women had created, and the earth rippled beneath his feet. He sank down in the place he’d been assigned, knowing his spirit would follow Branislava’s and leave his body unattended. He was still unused to the Carpathian way of shedding one’s body and becoming pure spirit, and he wished he’d practiced some of their gifts more. He needed to be an expert in all things Carpathian as well as those Lycan.

    “Zev, stay absolutely quiet and still,” Gregori cautioned. “You have a strong personality and your instinct to protect Branislava is very fierce, but in this instance, you would do her more harm than good if you interfere. Have a word that you use between you. Something only you two would know. If she utters that word, she needs your aid. Feed her every bit of power you possess.”

    Zev nodded his understanding. Branislava was his—everything. He certainly would follow instructions to the letter in order to keep her safe. He was much happier knowing Gregori would be close as well. Gregori wanted to join them in order to learn Xaviero’s signature shadow so that he could recognize it in the future. More importantly, he wanted to see the weave of safeguards, the hidden traps Branislava was certain she could uncover so he could aid her in ridding the other three guards of their shadows as well.

    “I understand, Gregori. Consider it done.”

    “The three women present are a force of nature,” Gregori continued. “They’ll feed Bronnie their energy as she needs it, give her blood when needed. You have to remain absolutely still. You’re her safeguard. Her guardian. Xaviero can’t suspect she’s removing the shadow, so her work will be slow and delicate. You’re her last resort.”

    Zev nodded again. He had never been one to stay in the background in a fight, but in this case, it made sense to him. He might have been born with a small strain of Dark Blood, but he was wolf all the way, and he had no experience in this type of battle. Even his mixed blood didn’t prepare him for a war of the mages.

    “The men in the second circle will protect us from any outside harm,” Gregori added. “Rely on them to have your back. They will stand in the face of any enemy. Your single job is to guard Bronnie and give her that power if she asks for it. No matter what happens around us, stay with Bronnie.”

    Gregori couldn’t have gotten the point across any better. Without a doubt, what they were attempting was extremely dangerous.

    Zev let out his breath as Daciana and Makoce led Damon to the sphere. He was blindfolded.

    “Go to the edge of the trees and remain there,” Gregori instructed the two elite hunters. “Do not set one foot on the meadow. It will be extremely dangerous to you.”

    Both were clearly already uneasy inside the circle of power. Daciana’s hair had risen as an electrical charge had shot through her body. She nodded, squeezed her brother’s arm and both Lycans trotted to the edge of the forest to join with Lykaon and Arnau.

    Gregori waited until they were far enough away before turning to Damon. “This is your desire, to have the shadow removed from your brain?” Gregori asked.

    Zev noticed the women remained absolutely silent. Should Xaviero pick this precise moment to enter his shadow puppet, there was no evidence to betray the identity of the women. Damon would hear only Gregori’s voice. He couldn’t see anything at all.

    “Yes. Thank you. I’d very much appreciate you getting this thing the hell out of my head,” Damon said, his voice coming in low growls.

    His wolf was close, desperate to protect him. Branislava glanced fearfully at Zev. Should Damon’s wolf take over, he would be extremely dangerous. They were threading the needle between the mage and the wolf.

    “Damon,” Zev said softly. “I am here, watching over you.”

    The tension seemed to ease in Damon at once. “If I go mad, Zev, I don’t want to harm anyone, especially a woman.” He inhaled, drawing the scent of each of the women into his lungs. One could blindfold a wolf, but you couldn’t deaden his acute sense of smell very easily.

    “I know, Damon,” Zev assured.

    “Promise me. You’re my pack leader. It’s your duty.”

    Technically, Zev wasn’t really his pack leader. Damon wasn’t a member of his elite hunters, but to Zev he was family, and that meant he was part of Zev’s pack, elite or not. “You have my word. Just relax and let them do their work. Your wolf knows I’ll keep everyone safe.”

    “We’re going to put you to sleep, Damon,” Gregori said. “It’s much safer for all of us. Should the one who mage-shadowed you attempt to see through your eyes, he will find you in a deep sleep. It is night, he’ll think nothing of your being asleep and leave again.”

    That was their hope. Whether or not their plan worked was something altogether different.

    Damon nodded. “One way or another, just please get rid of it. If you can’t, don’t let me wake up. I’m not going to let him use me to assassinate a council member or kill a woman.”

    “Your heart is accelerating,” Gregori said soothingly. “Remain calm. We’re going to remove the mage-shadow.”

    Zev didn’t want to think about what would happen if they couldn’t. He wished Daciana was back with the council members, but they’d unwisely allowed her to stay near her brother.

    Gregori held his arms up to the sky, palms facing the drifting clouds. Zev felt the swift buildup of energy inside the circle. The hairs on his body stood out as an electrical charge built up around them. Gregori chanted in a low carrying voice.

    I command thee sky, darken Earth.

    Clouds rushed overhead, boiling and churning, great dark cauldrons blotting out every star and bit of moon to be found.

    Earth below now quake and tremble. Gregori’s voice swelled with power.

    The ground shifted, rising and falling around the outer circle, but didn’t cross that line of protection. The clearing rippled with waves, as if the field was alive, a guardian keeping those within the circle protected.

    Let flood waters take all who would enter.

    Water bubbled from below, the hidden river rising at his command. Around the outer circle the ground sank, forming a deep trench. Water filled the ditch, developing a moat.

    Gregori, arms raised to the boiling clouds, moved his hands in a graceful, but deadly pattern. The towering dark clouds lit from within, long forks of orange-red flames.

    Mage fire, burn forth in rage, he commanded.

    Thunder shook the forest, and lightning slammed from ground to sky and back again, five or six bolts sizzling through the sky to strike the meadow around the circle.

    Entrapping shadow within your cage, he finished.

    Gregori stepped up beside Damon and drew him into the middle of the circle. He started to wave his hand to send Damon into a sleep, but Branislava and Tatijana both shook their heads.

    Xaviero will sense your presence. Your touch as a Carpathian is too strong, too individual, Branislava explained, using the common Carpathian path for communication so all of them could hear. We need a mage spell that will feel like a real sleep.

    Wouldn’t Xaviero spot a mage spell before a Carpathian one? Zev asked.

    Carpathians were taught the spells from mages, Gregori said.

    Branislava nodded. True, and they were slightly different for Carpathians so a mage could always tell who had actually cast the spell or woven a safeguard.

    That still means Xaviero would recognize a mage spell, Zev insisted.

    Branislava and Tatijana exchanged a small smile. Branislava shook her head. Not if we changed the spell yet again. We had little to do behind those walls of ice but learn. We are every bit as adept as the three of them.

    Branka, I love your confidence. Zev had faith in her, but he knew how terrified she was of Xaviero. She hadn’t wanted to face the mage and had only committed to erasing the shadow because she feared no one else could do it without harming themselves.

    It’s the simple truth, Zev, but we don’t practice the dark arts like they do. We might know each spell—we felt it necessary to learn in order to reverse them—but we refused to use our gifts for anything other than good.

    Or mischief, he teased, wanting to see her smile. Her complexion was stark white, her eyes enormous, looking like two emeralds pressed into her face.

    She turned her head to look at him and gave him a smile that was worth more than all the gold in the world to him. His heart gave a little stutter and he placed his palm over his chest in a small tribute to her.

    For a long moment, Branislava’s gaze clung to Zev’s. They stared into each another’s eyes, hers questioning. He nodded slowly and then she answered his nod with one of her own, showing him they were in perfect accord.

    Branislava closed her eyes and sent her own prayer to the universe, calling on all things good and right for aid.

    Valerian, Lemon Balm, German Chamomile,

    I call forth your essence to calm and wile.

    Lavender, Catnip, heed my call,

    Bring peaceful sleep so evil may not call.

    Damon’s eyes closed obediently under the blindfold, his face peaceful, not showing any of the stress that had been stamped there just minutes before.

    Gregori unexpectedly reached out and took both of Branislava’s hands. “You have great courage, Dragonseeker courage. This time you are not alone in your fight to save this man. We’re with you and will aid you in every possible way. More, you are tied, spirit and soul to your lifemate. He is Dark Blood—from our strongest line of warriors. I have no doubt that you can do this and triumph.”

    In those strange liquid silver eyes that had always given her pause, as they were so much like those of the High Mage, Xavier, and that of his brothers, she saw the fire reflected there—her fire. She was the manipulator of fire.

    She nodded her head again, and then glanced around the circle to each one of her sister-kin—the Dragonseeker women. Tatijana, so beloved, so close she would always be a part of Branislava. Young Skyler, so powerful and intelligent, a young sister full of life. Ivory, elusive and a skilled warrior, loyal and poetic. They surrounded her, ready to fight with her.

    And Zev. Her wolf. Her everything. When had it gotten to be that way? She didn’t even know, but he was her other half. She loved everything about him, and her faith in him would never waiver. He was her protector and he stood ready.

    Branislava let go of her own body with confidence, becoming pure healing energy. It was always a bit of a wrench going from physical to astral, but once she shed her physical form, there was a sense of freedom unlike any she’d ever experienced.

    She moved into Damon. He was calm, but she felt the watchful presence of his wolf. She sent the animal side of the Lycan both friendship and reassurance, grateful that Zev’s aura was so strong. The wolf recognized him and settled without protest. She knew where the shadow had adhered to the brain, forming a lesion for Xaviero to use as an entry point. He could take control of Damon through the small stain and direct his activities. It was an abomination of life and free will and it wasn’t tolerated by any society, yet Xaviero had managed to infect many of the Lycans without anyone’s knowledge.

    Branislava thought of this moment as her first real strike back at the High Mage. No one had ever managed to oppose him, not and lived to tell about it. She studied the area around the shadow. The ridges and valleys around the darker spot appeared to be untouched. She wasn’t fooled. Xaviero’s traps were clever and strong. He twisted light and bent it, weaving it into his spells so his most deadly traps always appeared to be the safest path to take.

    Scattered throughout the grayish matter were those white cells—the filaments carrying commands. She saw the clever spots Xaviero had left around his shadow, those marks meant to trick an enemy into believing those were the places to avoid while the real danger was the very innocent-looking white filaments the mage used to send his commands throughout Damon’s body.

    She moved around the hot spots checking for the current of dark magic energy the mage couldn’t help but leave behind. The moment she encountered it, she stayed perfectly still in her form as well as in her mind. Absolute calm was called for as she tested a strand of the weave like a delicate spider, her touch light, almost nonexistent. Had she still been inside her body her heart would have accelerated and her mouth would have gone dry. She felt the adrenaline and buildup of stress, with no real way to rid herself of it.

    Your great advantage is that you have seen his work a million times, yet he has never once seen yours.

    Zev. Her protector. He was to stay silent, waiting for his moment to feed her his strength, but there was so much more to their partnership. He had given her truth. He was so right. Xaviero had dismissed Tatijana and Branislava so easily, using them for his audience just as Xavier had done, but he had never credited them with brains or the ability to learn from him and his brothers.

    You learned from all three. Doesn’t that give you more knowledge?