|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 30)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
Zev signaled to his elite hunters. They turned and melted into the forest, spreading out as they went. He could always count on them. Daciana with her steady hand and fast reactions. Makoce, handy with sword and short knife. Lykaon, who couldn’t be matched with his ability to throw any object with deadly accuracy. Arnau, who seemed to have eyes in the back of his head and a steadfast nature, loyal to a fault. That was his pack and he believed in each of their abilities.
They knew one another very well, how they thought, where they would be in any given fight at any given time. They believed in one another and counted on each other. Now his pack was extended to Dimitri and Skyler and Fen and Tatijana. And his lifemate, Branislava. Somehow just knowing she was going to be in the sky in her fiery dragon form filled him with a kind of joy—or maybe the Lycan in him was so strong he just looked forward to battle.
Zev knew the way rogue packs operated. They should have gone for the outlying farms, killing livestock and overrunning the houses to kill as many people as they could. This pack was very focused, driving through the forest toward a single destination. The council members had been secreted to a protected cave while the Lycan guards they trusted were helping to guard the circle as Branislava and the others had attempted to remove the shadow.
No other Lycans had been told where the council members had been taken. The other Lycans had been deliberately kept away from the council. Since only three of those wearing the tattoo of the Sacred Circle were mage-shadowed, Zev was certain there were others opposing the current council members and their decisions. Xaviero had managed to turn many of those within the organization against the ruling body for the Lycans.
Still, if none of them had followed the Carpathians secreting the council members away, how could the rogue pack make a dead set right for their cave? He signaled Daciana, signing to her, making her aware of the rogue pack’s target, knowing she would spread the word to the others in his pack.
He led Fen and Dimitri through the forest up into the higher mountains, outdistancing the elite Lycan hunters, knowing they had to get in place to protect the cave from the marauding wolves. They didn’t hide the fact that they were Hän ku pesäk kaikak. There was no need anymore. If the council of Lycans didn’t accept mixed bloods, there would be a rift between Carpathian and Lycan. If they did, Lycans would turn against Lycans, driven by someone in power within the Sacred Circle—someone who joined with a High Mage believing he would rule the Lycan world without interference from the council.
He sold his soul to the devil, he told Branislava.
Who is it? Who has betrayed the Lycans and aligned with Xaviero of his own free will? There were no more mage-shadows. If any council member was marked, we would have seen it. Branislava paused. It is one of the council members, isn’t it? It has to be.
I believe it is. I think he has a way of communicating with Xaviero and he’s given out their hidden location. Are you in the sky? Can you see the rogues?
Branislava was already in dragon form. The moment she had taken on the appearance of her fire dragon she felt confident and comfortable. She soared through the sky, the great wings flapping, lifting her up high into the dark, spinning clouds. Tatijana was at her side, a beautiful blue, her scales taking on a metallic shade each time lightning forked in the clouds, lighting the sky even a little bit.
They’re directly below me, spread out in the way they hunt. I’ve counted twenty-seven of them. It’s a fairly good-sized pack, although nowhere near the one that first came after Mikhail.
You’re staying high?
I’m too far for them to notice. So is Tatijana, but if they get too close to the cave, we’ll drive them back with dragon fire.
Of course she would. Fear or no fear, it didn’t matter, Branislava and her sister would get the job done. He paused just long enough to place his hand on the ground. Ivory, Razvan and Skyler had come up behind the pack and were already at work, hunting strays. He felt their footsteps along with those of real wolves. Blood seeped into the ground from two different spots, so at least two of the rogues were down.
He was up and running in one smooth move, catching Fen and Dimitri. We’re ahead of them. Tatijana and Branislava are in the sky. My Lycan hunters are fanning out to come up on either side of the pack. Ivory, Razvan and Skyler are in the rear, separating and killing strays.
Bronnie, Tatijana, can either of you see anyone actually directing the pack? Fen asked.
I’ll circle around and see if I can spot anyone, Branislava said.
Zev’s heart jerked hard in his chest. Dread filled him. No, no, don’t do that, he ordered sharply. Which direction were you planning on turning?
To my left.
She didn’t argue with him and his heart returned to a normal beat. She trusted him, had complete faith in his leadership and that spared him a whole lot of heartache.
Fen, I think we’ve got a Sange rau hidden in the rocks close to the cave. The rogue pack is the distraction and the killer will use the fighting to enter the cave and kill the council members. He had committed the terrain to memory, just as he always did if the council were anywhere they might be in danger and the task to guard them was given to him.
When the rogue pack breaks into the clearing, I’ll run with them. Branka and Tatijana can drive them back with dragon fire and I’ll make for the cave entrance. I can protect the council members in that narrow opening. Dimitri and you have the most experience with a Sange rau and if you both go after him, you’ll have a better chance of destroying him.
Fen gave him a small salute and the brothers veered off to circle around, shifting into vapor to streak through the air. Fen spotted the killer crouched in the rocks, blending into the formations, although not very well, indicating, as with the others he’d run into, that this one wasn’t very old. Xaviero didn’t seem to understand that it was a slow process, the mixed blood mutating them into stronger, more intelligent beings over years, not weeks. He signaled his brother to come up in front of the creature carefully. They both held their positions, waiting for rogues to make their appearance.
Zev waited for one of the rogues to rush past him, noting his colors and the way he looked. He immediately used his Carpathian gifts to give the illusion of looking the same as he fell into step. I’m fond of my hair, Branka. Don’t singe it just for fun.
Be more worried about Tatijana.
In spite of the teasing note, he heard her worry and knew neither took the skirmish lightly. As the pack members burst from the forest and rushed the cave, he was swept along. At the last moment, as the dragons dove from the sky, he shifted, going invisible to leap out in front of the pack with his mixed blood speed. The moment he was inside the relative safety of the cave, the dragons let loose, breathing fire down like rain.
The flames poured down steady and strong, roaring over the half wolf, half human creatures bent on killing the council of Lycans, setting many of them on fire. The dragons used their wings to build a wind tunnel, fanning the flames so that they jumped from one rogue to the next. At least twelve went down in a fiery conflagration. The others halted abruptly, even retreating back into the forest. Two bolder ones swept through the clearing right through the flames, running for the cave.
In the forest, his elite hunters took on the remaining rogues. Skyler, Razvan and Ivory aided them, finding and destroying any who tried to get past them. Gregori used his silver sword, mopping up as fast as possible. Eventually, Zev’s pack aided the Carpathian, making certain every rogue had been staked and their head severed.
Zev waited in silence as the two bold rogues entered the cave and began to make their way down the narrow passage, seeking targets. The first one ran right into him, never seeing the silver stake aimed directly at his heart. The wolf’s eyes widened. His muzzle yawned wide, but no sound emerged. Behind him, the second wolf ran into him and cursed, shoving at his partner to move him along.
Zev stepped back, allowing the first wolf to fall to the ground, clutching at his chest and the protruding silver stake. The second rogue stared in disbelief, scowling, uncomprehending of what he was actually seeing. He actually bent down to look at his fallen companion. When he looked back up, Zev stepped into him, slamming the silver stake home.
The stake went through the first layer of skin and muscle and hit something hard, stopping abruptly, the silver snapping off in Zev’s hand. Shocked, he leapt back just as a full set of teeth rushed toward his head.
Zev, some of the rogues have a protection against the silver stakes, Razvan cautioned, his voice grim. We get them down, but the stakes shatter and don’t go beyond about an inch and half into their bodies.
It isn’t all of them, Ivory continued. Maybe a third of them, at least it’s about one out of three that we’ve found when we kill them.
Fen and Dimitri heard the warning as well. Razvan had used the more common Carpathian path of communication. They watched the Sange rau closely to see if he picked up the warning, but he remained quite still, hiding in the rocks, believing his camouflage would protect him from sight.
This one was not Carpathian first, Dimitri pointed out. He was Lycan and created in a lab rather than naturally. Do you think he volunteered for the assignment, or Xaviero chose him, using a mage-shadow to force him into compliance?
Fen shook his head, shrugging broad shoulders. You can’t ask yourself those questions, Dimitri. This man is dangerous to us and everyone else, no matter the start he had. He’ll kill you the moment he sees you.
He hasn’t made a move toward the cave, Dimitri said, puzzled. He should have rushed in there as soon as the first wave of rogues attacked.
You’ve got a point, Fen said, and turned his attention from the Sange rau hidden so cleverly as a decoy. Stay down, he must have a friend.
Dimitri muttered a curse beneath his breath. Like before, back in the village, Fen. They’re hunting us in pairs now.
Because they aren’t ready to face us. Fen abandoned his more familiar path of communication with his brother and reached for the one forged with Zev. There’s a second Sange rau. He’ll be coming for you. You’re standing between him and his goal.
Zev’s heart dropped as he twisted to one side, only his speed saving him from the teeth rushing at him in the way a velociraptor might attack. The razor-sharp teeth skimmed along his arm, opening his skin, but it was the silver stake in his fist that did the most damage. Zev felt the burn as the Sange rau slammed it deep into his thigh.
“Hello, Zev,” the Sange rau greeted as his hands settled around Zev’s throat and he began to squeeze. “I’ve been waiting for a chance to meet you again.”
Zev vaguely recalled the man. He’d been at the elite hunter’s school and shown signs of murderous behavior. The school officials had called in Zev to work with him, wanting to make certain they were right in their assessment. Two council members had been on hand as well. It wasn’t often an elite was turned down and not given a pack. Fredec was one of the few.
Zev didn’t fight the stranglehold, but rather reached for the knife in his belt. He slashed up the right inner thigh of his opponent, continuing the flow of his strike to include the left inner thigh. He kept the movement continuous, slashing across the belly and moving his strike upward in a figure eight to hit as many arteries as possible.
Fredec let go of his throat and stumbled back away from him. Zev dragged air into his burning lungs, assessing just how bad the wounds on Fredec were. He hadn’t been able to see where he was slashing, not with the hold the Sange rau had on his throat, but he’d managed to get two fairly deep wounds.
Fredec’s lips peeled back in a snarl, his eyes going red. He leapt at Zev, tackling him, taking him to the ground. He was slippery with blood and Zev couldn’t get a decent grip on him. The stake in his thigh hit Fredec’s leg, shooting pain right through his body, the intensity shocking.
Zev fought past the nausea and sudden weakness, locking down on the grip of his knife. He kept the blade up so that when Fredec landed on him, his own knife in his hand, Zev could shove the blade deep into Fredec’s chest. Once again, he hit some type of armor. The blade actually snapped off.
Cursing, Zev rolled, throwing Fredec off him, preventing himself from getting disemboweled but driving the stake in his thigh deeper. He yanked it out and slapped a large patch over the wound almost in one motion, sending up a silent prayer of thanks to Gary for the invention. The patch adhered instantly, rushing the mixture of compounds to his skin and deeper, to stop the bleeding and begin the healing process.
Fredec laughed as he regained his feet. He wiped his muzzle with the back of his hand, his claws growing, the nails curved and sharp. “You shouldn’t have told them I wasn’t elite. I’m superior to you. I always have been.”
He wanted acknowledgment. He wanted to brag. Zev circled with him, wanting to give him the opportunity. “Someone must have seen something in you I didn’t. One of the council members? They argued that day, and one of them advocated for you.”
Fredec inclined his head. “You and the school board threw me out, but I got revenge. I killed every single member of that board. Now I’m going to kill you and then I’ll have the pleasure of showing Randall that he should have listened to Lyall.”
Zev’s heart sank. Lyall was a trusted member of the council. He was there with them all in the chamber, secreted away from the guards in case any were members of the Secret Circle army.
The traitor in the council is Lyall. There was no keeping that information to himself, not when he was in a fight to the death with a Sange rau. The red eyes focused on him, gleaming with hatred and murderous intent.
Fredec was fast and intelligent, and if Lyall had recruited him as far back as when Fredec had entered the elite hunter school, that was half a century earlier. Fredec should have been much further along in the mutation of the Sange rau.