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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 27)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan

    Sadly, she’d learned all of it, both white and black magic.

    Not sadly. You have knowledge that will help defeat a mage bent on destroying three species and ruling another. Don’t you think there is a higher purpose for your skills? No one else can stop this mage.

    Zev had a way of cutting through the emotion to get to the very heart of the truth. Again she examined those telling white filaments. Tiny microscopic hairs, so delicate she would have missed them had she not known what to look for. They were so thin, those weaves, one layer on top of the next so that a web of protection surrounded the shadow. Looking closer, she saw the weave formed a snare over the mark, but the hairs were darker, blending with the shadow.

    I know this one. His classic blend of light and dark. He starts with white magic, using elements that are good, goes to those that are neutral and then calls upon darkness to hide within the weave he’s made. He spins those strands over and over, a seven-point weave that is strong. But I can go backward and carefully remove the seven strands.

    Branislava expanded her mind, calling on the power within, that smoldering fire always present in her deepest depth, running through her veins like molten lava.

    Spirits I call you, twist and unbind,

    That which was born of gray magic,

    To entrap and entwine.

    Dark is to light as light is to gray,

    Each strand I unwrap,

    To send darkness away.

    Future to present, present to past,

    Unwrap that which was woven,

    So no more shall it cast.

    One by one, those strands fell away, the tiny hairs pulling back to allow her to see the actual shadow she had to remove. Just to be certain she was safe, because she didn’t trust Xaviero would not have a fail-safe, she took another careful look around the entire vicinity near the mage-shadow. There was no visual evidence of another trap, but she felt uneasy each time she got a little closer to the shadow and she kept her energy as low and as dim as possible, not wanting to accidentally spill across that shadow when she was certain there was another safeguard.

    She studied the mark from every direction, first moving above it. She thought she caught a little glimmer, but it was gone before she could actually know for certain. She approached from the left side and saw nothing at all. From below, she caught the same flicker of movement, but it was gone as quickly as she noted it. From the right, a brief little shimmer told her for certain there was another weave.

    She’d seen Xaviero use the technique many times. The safeguard continually moved position, several times in seconds so that it was nearly impossible to detect. Had she not known what she was looking for, she would have tripped his fail-safe.

    Stopping this one was a little more difficult, but certainly not impossible. She had watched him, eye open and pressed to the wall of thick ice, so that the distortion, although present, hadn’t prevented her from seeing the intricate motions he had performed, the dance of his hands, so graceful, almost beautiful when he was conjuring a deadly trap. She had been fascinated by the movement, almost mesmerized.

    She followed that dance pattern so completely engraved in her mind with the flowing light of her spirit, although she started at the end of his pattern and traced her way to the beginning.

    Seven points you have woven,

    Seven points I unwind.

    With each flash of light,

    I unravel, I unbind.

    The glimmer shone bright and then dissolved as if it had never been. Branislava took an imaginary breath. She had no idea of time passing, but she could tell what she was doing was draining. An out-of-body experience could drain one’s energy on its own; working at mind games and unraveling deadly traps while fearing the High Mage would come calling left her a little tired.

    Almost before she could acknowledge she was growing weary, she felt Tatijana pour strength into her. At once she was revitalized. Once again she moved toward the shadow. She had to do this in careful steps. She couldn’t just take the mage-shadow away without alerting Xaviero. Should he suddenly check on Damon—and she was certain he would—he had to believe all was well and Damon merely slept the normal sleep of Lycans and humans. It was nighttime there and would be believable.

    Why would he check on Damon? Zev asked.

    He is High Mage, extraordinary and wholly sensitive to any disturbance in his web of evil. He won’t know what is bothering him, but it will be there, like a nagging toothache. He’ll need to check those puppets he sent to this area in order to see if something has happened. He’ll want to rule out those closest to the Carpathians first.

    How do you stop him from knowing you’re working at removing his shadow?

    By creating his safeguards over me.

    She could tell by Zev’s silence he didn’t like the idea at all, but to his credit, he didn’t say anything. She was the expert in this field, and he had no choice but to trust her judgment. This was her most telling moment. She had to move into place above the shadow, very close without touching it, and above and around her put both safeguards back.

    Once Xaviero’s safeguards are in place, no one else can give me energy but you, she said to Zev. Only you can supply me through the spirit weave we have. That’s our advantage because it is impossible for Xaviero to detect it. Any of my sister-kin can give you strength, but only you must feed me.

    It was almost as if fate or destiny had provided the necessary steps for them, creating a situation where she could fight Xaviero without all the advantages on his side. Keeping her spirit dim, she first wove the outer guard, wincing as she added the darker magic into the white and neutral elements.

    She felt ill uttering the foul words, but she used her best version of Xaviero. Mimicking the three brothers had become a skill she and Tatijana had learned as children. Both practiced all the time as they grew up. She had never imagined their game of mocking the triplets would ever be a skill she needed, but she was grateful she was good enough at casting. She believed he wouldn’t recognize her weave wasn’t actually his.

    When she was certain the top layer of his safeguard was in place and appeared just as she remembered it, she began to weave the glimmer directly overhead and so close there was barely room for even her spirit to maneuver. She knew she took too long. She had wanted to ensure she didn’t make a mistake and she told herself not to hurry, but the longer her presence remained, along with the use of energy, she knew she would draw Xaviero like a magnet straight to her. He would come oozing out of his darkest hellhole, pouring himself into Damon, a giant venomous snake ready to strike.

    She waited, lying low, staying huddled as small as possible, willing Zev to do the same. She should have warned him of the feeling one could get when confronted with pure evil. She didn’t dare reach into his mind, not when she felt the first dark stirrings. How did one describe evil?

    The feeling of dread came first, that tingle of awareness creeping with cold fingers down her spine. She felt the physical reaction as if her spirit was still inside her human form. The hair of her body reacted next, standing up. She had been encased in thick ice, entombed there for centuries, and always, she felt any of the three brothers long before they entered the room.

    Next came the slimy sensation, as if green sticky oil spread over her skin, coating her, clogging pores and inhibiting her ability to breathe, so that she had to draw in air in short, shallow, ragged gasps, and only when it was absolutely necessary to do so or pass out.

    Then the stenches came, a foul odor of complete corruption and decay that once in her lungs refused to leave for a long, long time. She woke in the middle of her slumber at times and still smelled him, so close, as if his bony fingers reached for her, to wrap around her throat, squeezing her last breath, laughing while he did so.

    Her heart pounded. Her blood thundered in her ears. He was coming for her. It was really Xaviero. He was alive and he would find her. At once Zev was there, wrapping his spirit around hers, holding her close to him, sheltering her from the terror of such a nightmarish remembrance.

    The moment she felt Zev’s strength, the moment his love pushed against those terrifying memories, he drove away the evil smile and foul breath as Xaviero stuck his face so close against hers, watching her face go blue and her eyes go wide as she struggled to breathe. If she could have she would have touched her throat. She hadn’t thought about those times in a long while. So close to him, knowing he was pouring himself into Damon’s mage-shadow in order to see and hear what Damon could might have paralyzed her without Zev so close.

    All at once, she felt him. His actual presence was far worse than the heralding of evil. Damon’s mind filled with malevolent, revolting thoughts. She knew instantly why Damon had panicked and wanted the mage-shadow gone. He was a moral man with high values and standards. Xaviero delighted in corrupting anyone good. He pushed immoral and malicious thoughts into Damon’s mind, choosing the vilest, nasty and criminal acts he felt he could lead Damon to do.

    She settled low, near the very base of the shadow-mark, praying he wouldn’t find her. He studied his handiwork, his suspicion evident in his close perusal, although he obviously didn’t really expect to find anything. She couldn’t imagine he would ever believe—after having his way for so long—that an opponent would actually find him, let alone challenge him.

    The only possible person would be his brother Xayvion, and she didn’t even know if Xayvion was alive. Still, Xaviero had stayed alive and hidden because he was extremely careful. He took his time, looking over his handiwork before he decided he was safe to use his puppet.

    She felt the swelling of his power and he commanded Damon to look around him. Damon didn’t respond, but lay as still as death. She felt the swell of anger, bordering on rage. No one, least of all his puppets, could ever defy him. She felt the retaliation in the form of pain, as if a thousand needles pierced Damon’s skull to stick into his brain.

    Her spell held. She realized if Xaviero had tried to test the other five Lycans who had been sent to assassinate Skyler and Dimitri in the forest, he would have found nothing at all. He would have known they were dead. It might appear to him that Damon was unconscious, not sleeping. That suited her just fine. Xaviero would abandon Damon and go after one of the other remaining puppets. They had been given powerful sedatives to keep the High Mage from accessing their brains and memories while Branislava tried to remove the first mage-shadow.

    Xaviero didn’t give up easily. He wanted to know what had happened to his servants. He poked and prodded over and over, sending hot needles through the skull to try to wake Damon from whatever state he was in. When that failed he maliciously planted more disturbing thoughts, this time of wanting to kill his sister and Zev. He repeated the order over and over, driving it deep into Damon’s subconscious through the portal he had made in Damon’s brain.

    She couldn’t imagine how Damon would feel if he used any of the medieval ways of killing his sister Xaviero had ordered him to use and afterward returned to himself and had to live with his deed. She had no doubt now that Xaviero had been behind the sentence of death by silver passed on Dimitri, that horrible Machiavellian torture supposedly ordered by the council. She didn’t doubt for one moment that he controlled at least one council member and perhaps more, and not necessarily through a mage-shadow.

    Xaviero retreated. She didn’t move or make a sound. Zev followed her lead. She was grateful he was so patient. As a hunter he had learned the value of patience and he didn’t move or try to ask her why she waited. Time passed. It could have been ten minutes or an hour, she didn’t know or care. Xaviero would return. He trusted nothing to chance and he’d been more than a little suspicious when he checked his handiwork.

    Evil poured into Damon’s mind like sludge. Thick and oily, the muck was foul. Xaviero rushed in fast, his murky light spinning one way and then the next, but no one had dared disturb his creation. He sent another spate of hot needles driving through Damon’s skull, hoping to shock him awake. When it didn’t happen, he left a second time, this time abruptly like a spoiled child angry with a broken toy.

    The moment he was gone, Branislava moved out of hiding and began to unweave the two safeguards above her. She didn’t want to remain trapped within that web of danger he had created should he return a third time. Again, she used patience, careful to make certain she didn’t disturb one single fiber as she dismantled Xaviero’s protections, piece by piece. She thought of him as a deadly, poisonous spider sitting in the middle of his giant web, just waiting for an unsuspecting victim to happen by. She refused to be his victim ever again.

    The moment both defenses were down, she went to work, circling the darker shadow blending with the grayish matter in the ridges and valleys of Damon’s brain. The portal wasn’t raised at all; it just appeared as a smudge, nothing more, a small oval, elongated smear of charcoal that could easily be overlooked if one went searching. Right on the very tip of each side was a particular loop, a small flaw in the perfect oval—Xaviero’s signature.

    Xavier and Xayvion had argued endlessly with him, but Xaviero held firm. He thought each of them should have a distinctive signature no one else would recognize. Perhaps he had a precog episode where he “saw” Xavier killing him. But she doubted if that was real. After all, it was quite clear to her that they had faked the deaths, but to what purpose, she didn’t know.

    Had the triplets known that Tatijana and she would escape some day? That seemed very doubtful. They couldn’t have known, and if they had, their solution wouldn’t be to fake their deaths. It would be to murder her and her sister.

    She sent up a silent prayer that when Xaviero replayed the entire event back in his head—and he would—he’d find she hadn’t left behind a single telling signature. She was lucky in that while Xaviero knew his brothers’ work and probably every one of the mages who had trained under Xavier, he had never actually seen her capabilities. Most likely none of the triplets believed that she or Tatijana might be able to cast. It hadn’t occurred to the brothers that they had nothing to do to keep their minds active but learn—and that was such a distinct advantage.