|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 28)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
She realized she was afraid of Xaviero, but was no longer completely and utterly terrified of him. Somehow, in confronting her worst nightmare, she had gained confidence in herself. She took a deep cleansing breath, or at least, thought that she did so. She pushed aside all doubt and concentrated on the fight to save Damon.
Hail grandmother, spirit of the North,
I call upon thee to defend me this night.
Hail grandmother, spirit of the South,
I call upon thee to attend this rite.
Without a body, she turned her own spirit both north and south in a salute of respect and gratitude, taking nothing at all for granted, but sending her plea out to universe.
Hail grandmother spirit of the East,
I call upon your forces to protect me with might.
Hail grandmother spirit of the West,
I seek your wisdom and guidance this night.
She turned her spirit both east and west, in a gesture of great reverence and admiration.
I call to thee Hecate, triple goddess above,
Maiden, mother, crone, see my plight.
Hecate, dark mother who heals the rights and wrongs,
I call forth your power so that I may remain strong.
She felt power running through her spirit. The white light began to glow a soft pink and then light red. Another breath and her spirit was dark red.
I seek the power to cast lightning’s blast,
So that shadow may burn, undoing that which has been cast.
Twist and turn, heal but burn,
Peeling shadow away, let life now return.
From her spirit, lightning forked and then settled into one steady stream as if the fine tip was a laser. Slowly, with great care, making certain to remove the stain of Xaviero’s shadow, she burned the layers away. It seemed to take forever, and all the while she feared he would suddenly realize and return. The moment the shadow was gone, she began the work of healing, sending rejuvenating cells to cover the damaged layer.
Branislava had never been so exhausted in her life, but now wasn’t the time to rest on her laurels. Xaviero had just lost his first battle and he wasn’t going to be happy. When he was unhappy, others paid the price. He would go after the remaining three Lycans there in the Carpathian stronghold, and if he couldn’t use them to strike at those he considered his enemies, he would send others very quickly.
She found herself back in her body, but she didn’t have the strength to push herself off the ground. She sent up a silent prayer that she hadn’t left any trace of herself Xaviero could find when he replayed the scene of his shadow over and over in his head, looking for the tiniest detail to ascertain his enemy.
She knew what his first thought would be, and that would buy them time. The three brothers had always enjoyed their ability to hide each other from the rest of the world. It gave them the freedom to do whatever they wanted in absolute secret, knowing they couldn’t get caught. They always had a firm alibi. They felt superior to all others.
Branislava knew Xaviero would think one of his brothers had purposely opposed him. Who else could possibly manage to outmaneuver him? No one else was that brilliant. He would be raging, throwing one of his infamous fits. How many times had she seen him turn his anger on others?
“We don’t have much time,” she managed to gasp out. “Get the others into the circle. Gregori, did you see how to take down his safeguards? There’s no need to rebuild them. Take them down and remove the shadow as fast as possible.” Urgency was in her voice, desperation in her eyes. “We have only minutes to save them if we’re going to.”
Ivory crouched beside her, pressing her wrist to Branislava’s mouth. Branislava couldn’t help but almost gulp at the nutrients Ivory provided. Her body felt starved and thin. She was aware of Skyler providing blood for Zev. He held out his hand to her and she grasped it like a drowning woman would a life preserver.
Her heart pounded and her mouth was dry. He was coming for the others and he would be in a particularly ugly mood. She met Tatijana’s gaze. She knew as well.
Gregori opened a pathway to the circle and this time it was Dimitri, Fen and Razvan who carried the sleeping Lycans into the protection of the sphere. They returned to the outside circle, ready to ward off any that might threaten those working to remove the shadows.
“Each of you choose one,” Branislava said. “Remember, he’ll come fast, pouring in like liquid, and he’ll strike at both you and his victim.”
She didn’t bother to wait for an answer, but shed her body quickly and chose the one called Igor. She didn’t know him, but Daciana had spoken highly of him. She knew where the shadow was and she didn’t waste time looking around. If Xaviero had mass-shadowed these men without their knowledge, he couldn’t take the time to vary each position. He would use that most advantageous to him, a region of the brain where he could command the thoughts and actions.
She found the shadow right where she knew it would be and began unraveling the safeguards, using the exact method she’d used on Damon. Layer upon layer of webbing disappeared and she reached the glimmer. Again, she took it down, going for speed rather than delicacy. Removing and repairing that mage-shadow required time whether she liked it or not, and she knew any of the three working on the Lycans could draw the attention of Xaviero.
She didn’t want him going after Tatijana. In the ice caves, she had always stepped in front of her sister to redirect the attention of Xavier and his brothers away from her. Tatijana’s health had always been just that little bit more fragile than hers and she never wanted any of the brothers to notice it. They were so wrapped up in their experiments and plans to become immortal and rule the world that they hadn’t bothered with the sisters unless they needed blood.
As terrified as she was of Xaviero, perhaps she still deliberately drew his attention away from Tatijana. She knew her instinct for protecting her sister was extremely strong, but for whatever reasons, even as she worked feverishly to draw the lightning to the shadow, she had disturbed his traps enough to draw him to his victim.
She felt evil pouring into Igor’s brain through the dark portal. Xaviero came fast, just as she had predicted he would. He’d already been seeking his three remaining Lycans, wanting news and to get as much damage as possible from his puppets before they, too, were cleansed or killed.
I know you’re here.
His voice alone made her shiver, those cold fingers, like death, wrapping around her throat, ready to squeeze the life out of her while he smiled down into her eyes.
He doesn’t know it is you, Zev whispered into her mind. He’s fishing. Don’t take the bait. Keep working. You might trap some part of him here.
Branislava pushed aside centuries of terror and called on the fire. She lived for that heat. The red-orange flames and white-hot energy. Always inside of her, she felt the magma smoldering, waiting for a chance to erupt in whatever form possible, whether intense passion, her mage spells or soaring through the sky, the fire was always close. She nearly forgot to control the energy leaping to her, ready to do her bidding.
She directed the fine point of a laser at the mark and began burning it away. She made certain she took the matter around the shadow as well, giving Xaviero no place to hide. It took time, time she didn’t know if she had, but there was Zev and she had to trust him to watch out for her while she worked.
What are you doing, Xayvion? This was done for both of us. Your work with the Jaguars was beyond compare. Xaviero added the flattery in his most admiring tone. We are so close to the completion of our plan. With Xavier gone, we have to be more innovative. Turn Lycan against Carpathian. I’ve waited for centuries for the perfect opportunity and I’ve found it.
Branislava felt a small surge of triumph. Xaviero was so certain only his brother Xayvion could oppose him, he hadn’t considered the lowly girls he’d tormented in the ice caves. They were beneath his notice other than for his amusement when he was bored.
She kept working, using the laser point of the lightning to move the burn along the outer edges of the portal, shrinking the area so that Xaviero could see that his choices were diminishing rapidly. If he wanted to escape, he would have to leave. Everything in him wanted a confrontation.
He struck hard and fast, the entire brain swelling, pressing into the outer edges of the skull so that the Lycan began to seize violently. Branislava had no choice but to stop her work and aid Igor or she would lose him. The moment she did, he would know his brother wasn’t his opponent.
Keep working. Shrink his escape route, Zev advised. If you begin to counter his every move, he will win this battle. Concentrate on removing that mark. I’ll do what I can to protect Igor each time Xaviero throws something at him.
Zev made sense. The longer the portal was open, the more damage Xaviero could do. But she didn’t want Zev in harm’s way. She kept working, forcing herself to be methodical and careful. Using the fine laser point of hot energy to burn away the shadow was difficult with Igor seizing.
Zev used his healing energy to move around the brain and take down the swelling, carefully avoiding moving fast, rather drifting through the fluid in an effort to keep from drawing the High Mage’s attention. The seizures slowed and then stopped without Xaviero being any closer to knowing the identity of his enemy.
There was a small stillness that boded ill. Branislava continued to work, burning away the mage-shadow from the outside to the inside, narrowing the portal as quickly as possible without permanently harming Igor.
Without warning, worms erupted through the brain matter, tiny wiggling white worms with teeth. They appeared starving, biting viciously at the brain as if they would devour it. This time, Branislava knew she had no choice. She had to rid Igor of the malevolent creatures, or he would die in spite of all she had done. With trepidation, she opened her mind to counter his spell.
Zev blocked that opening solidly, refusing to give Xaviero a point of entry. Use the laser to burn them away. Don’t let him draw you into a match of spells, or give him any clue to your identity.
Branislava did so immediately, skimming the laser over the brain much like a fire-breathing dragon. She had much skill in this kind of warfare and used her knowledge to rid the brain of the terrible worms feeding on it. They blackened and turned to ash even as she turned back and relentlessly continued closing the mage-shadow.
Xaviero shrieked his rage, erupting into a temper tantrum, something she remembered vividly from her centuries encased in ice. A thousand spears of ice pierced every conceivable spot of Igor’s brain, striking everywhere, countering the lightning spear. There was no way to avoid the dangerous icicles stabbing from every direction.
Zev countered with heat, melting them, but not before both of their spirits were pierced with the mage’s weapons.
How bad are you hurt? he asked anxiously. He was pierced through and through and felt as if his body was bleeding from dozens of wounds.
I can do this.
There was a hitch in her voice that caused him concern, but he had to trust her. Keep working, he advised. I’ll do my best to work on Igor’s wounds.
Some of them are deep. You have to repair them or we’ll lose him anyway.
Branislava bit down hard on the need to hurry. She was so close and she didn’t dare make a mistake, but her spirit felt ragged, torn, so thin, her strength waning. She couldn’t get a boost from Zev, he was using everything he had in his attempt to save Igor and counter Xaviero’s attacks.
She kept the laser in continuous motion, slowly squeezing the portal until it was almost nothing. She dared not feel triumphant yet. Now was the moment Xaviero had to make a decision. Did he try another attack and risk a part of him being trapped? A good mage could use that small part against him. Or did he flee without knowing the identity of his opponent?
Xaviero poured himself into the portal, but as he did so, he sent one last command to Igor. The Lycan’s heart reacted as the stimuli raced through the pathways, laden with chemicals. Zev was fighting to repair the damage to the brain and Branislava was busy closing the portal to prevent Xaviero from returning. The heart seized.
The attack was massive. There was no way to stop the brain from shutting down. Branislava tried, refusing to give in, desperate to keep from losing the man she and Zev fought so hard for. No matter what they did, Igor didn’t respond, Xaviero making certain he had thwarted them in the end.
Branislava’s breath caught in her throat. He’ll go after the other two and do the same thing. Can you aid Gregori? Use a laser? With two of you it will be twice as fast.
Zev followed her spirit from the dead body of the Lycan, just as determined as she was to save the lives of the other two. He didn’t like the idea of splitting up, but he told himself they were tied together, spirit to spirit, and if needed, he could pull her out fast.
I’ll do my best. He refused to flinch at the idea of using lightning. He had a healthy respect for nature, but the way the Carpathians regularly wielded it without harming themselves was amazing to him and something he was determined to learn—just not when trying to save a fellow Lycan.
Branislava’s spirit entered Pavlo, the Lycan Tatijana was working on to remove the mage-shadow. Like all of them, Tatijana had never actually attempted to remove a shadow, certainly not one placed by a High Mage, and she worked slowly and methodically to make certain she didn’t make a mistake.
The safeguards were down and she was removing the shadow from the left side, slowly burning away the mark using a sweeping motion from side to side.
He’s coming Tatijana, Branislava warned, conveying her sense of urgency with her tone and the fact that she pulled lightning to her and began wielding the laser as fast as she safely could. He killed Igor and he’ll try for this one as well as the Lycan Gregori is working on. Pick up the pace. I’m going to try something new.