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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 40)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan
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    “Can you build a circle of protection around the body before you touch it?” Skyler asked. “At least then, while you’re doing whatever needs to be done, you can’t be attacked from outside the circle.”

    Branislava inclined her head with a small smile. “I think that’s a good idea, little sister-kin. Wish us luck.” She turned and hugged her sister fiercely.

    “I’ll be waiting for you,” Tatijana whispered. “Right here. I’ll be waiting.”

    Zev stepped through the doorway first. She knew he would. Of course he would. He wasn’t about to allow Branislava to go into danger without checking it out himself. She followed him, one hand fisted in his shirt as she stepped into that demonic room. Her breath left her lungs in a rush of fear. It was a gut reaction she couldn’t stop, and Zev instantly flooded her mind with warmth and assurance.

    “I can feel him, Zev, that’s all. I’m all right,” she declared. “His presence is strong in this room. It just threw me for a minute, that’s all.”

    Zev crouched beside the body, hands reluctantly keeping away from Arno, even though she felt his need to touch the man in a kind of salute. He looked at her over his shoulder. “I’ve got this one, Branka. I’m your detail man, remember?”

    She nodded. Zev knew Arno far better than she did. If there was something out of place he would spot it. “Take your time,” she cautioned. They couldn’t afford a mistake.

    “The stake isn’t right,” he said. “The cord holding his medallion of the Sacred Circle isn’t the one he normally wears.” Without touching the fallen council member, Zev peered closer, studying the small intricate tattoo on Arno’s wrist. “This isn’t right, either, Branislava. Can you look at this for me? I’ll show you what it should look like and you tell me what’s different and why.”

    In his mind, Zev produced an exact replica of the Sacred Circle tattoo worn on the wrist by every member. He felt Branislava look it over carefully before she studied the one on Arno. He heard her suck in her breath sharply.

    “He’s woven in a death spell. See the black runes between the double rows of the scrolls? Don’t touch the body. Don’t move it. Not yet. And don’t let his blood get on you.”

    Zev sank back on his heels, avoiding any contact with Arno.

    She passed her hand over the stake, careful not to get too close. “Yes, he’s added some kind of spell to the stake. The cord is definitely rigged as well and looks as if I’ll have the most trouble with it.”

    She took a deep breath and stood up, glancing over her shoulder at the three women watching. They nodded to her, prepared to help her.

    “What happens if I sever the head and we just walk away from this?” Zev asked. “That’s what you wanted in the first place. I can see your reasoning.”

    “I have no doubt that he made that impossible as well. He’s driving us toward Arno’s brain and his memories.”

    “We already know his intent now, Branka. Why continue? We can burn the body.”

    A small sound escaped from Branislava’s sister. Clearly burning the body wasn’t a good idea. There were few things that made him lose his temper, but feeling helpless was one of them. He couldn’t stand in front of his lifemate and protect her when he didn’t know how. This kind of mage magic was out of his realm of experience.

    “Just do what you have to do, Branka, and let’s get this over with.”

    Branislava cast her protection circle and then stood for a long moment gathering her courage. Facing Xaviero was becoming easier. She had been so terrified of him, but each time she was successful in destroying his work, she realized how much she really did know. Her education had been complete.

    The three brothers had all worked in the laboratory, learning and perfecting skills over and over. There hadn’t been a spell, from the smallest to the most dangerous, that she hadn’t seen and committed to memory. She had nothing else to keep her mind occupied in those long years of captivity. The three High Mages didn’t know more than she knew.

    She concentrated on the tattoo first. The dark death spell was woven carefully within the tattoo itself. She knew Xaviero well enough to know he would find it amusing to weave such a deviant spell into what was considered a sacred symbol. Had Zev not recognized that there was that tiny difference, the High Mage would have had his entertainment for the evening.

    That which is marked, drawn in black,

    I call forth your energy to send you back,

    Twist and turn, swirl that burn,

    I draw forth your power, which now I return.

    Branislava watched the runes slowly disappear from the tattoo. She took a deep, cleansing breath and let it out. “Really study the tattoo, Zev, make certain there isn’t anything else hidden.”

    Zev took his time, looking at the tattoo he’d seen a thousand times on various people. The pool of blood prevented him from getting too close, but eventually he nodded. “It looks like it’s supposed to, Branka.”

    “The stake is filled with power. I can feel it, much like an explosive. It’s a simple enough spell designed to kill as many people as possible.” The memory of Xavier placing the spell in objects and then sending in his apprentice to retrieve the article for him rose like a nightmare. Both Tatijana and she had tried to warn the various unsuspecting young mages. They had never succeeded and had watched the apprentices die when the spell was triggered.

    That which is silver, born of fire,

    I call back your essence, drawing back your power.

    As fire burns, so water cools,

    I call to water, release evil’s hold.

    She passed her hand over the part of the stake protruding from Arno’s chest. The sensation of dark power was no longer there. She nodded slowly. Her mouth had gone dry. The cord was an altogether different proposition. She was certain there was a spell on the woven strands, but she wasn’t yet certain how to counteract it. She needed to reveal it first.

    That which is woven,

    Reveal to me,

    That which is evil,

    So I may see.

    At once she could see that the cord held life. One wrong movement and the cord would attack. She swallowed hard and once again traced symbols in the air while she murmured her counterspell.

    That which would do harm,

    I dispel your power.

    I take what was woven, so these threads have no power,

    As you were woven, so now I unweave,

    Each particle I harvest so no death may there be.

    Branislava dropped her arms to her sides and forced air through her lungs. She spent the next few minutes making certain there were no more traps hidden around or under Arno’s body. She cleansed the blood and then sank down to the floor beside Zev.

    “I believe we actually did it,” she said, relief in her voice. She brushed her cheek against his shoulder. “I think we can look at his last memories.”

    “I’ll do it,” Zev said. There was distaste in his voice. The idea of desecrating the council member by invading his private thoughts didn’t sit well. Still, it had to be done.

    “You can see his memories that way,” Branislava agreed, “but it’s dangerous. We can go into his mind and see them the Carpathian way and perhaps, if we’re lucky, we’ll see more of Xaviero than Arno remembers. People pick up details without knowing it. We can find them when he wasn’t aware. The circle will protect our bodies, and the others can watch over us. It’s safe for them to enter now.”

    Zev wasn’t as used to the Carpathian ways, but he was willing to follow Branislava’s lead when it came to mage magic. He nodded.

    Branislava didn’t wait, afraid she might lose her newfound courage and confidence. She shed her body and became pure spirit, entering the council member’s mind. The moment she did, she knew she had made a terrible mistake. Xaviero’s splinter shadow waited, crouched like a dark demon in the night. He attacked triumphantly, catching at her spirit with claws and teeth, and dragging her through the portal to the other realm.

    17

    Zev! Branislava reached for her lifemate as she was drawn into that icy cold realm of the half-life.

    Zev recognized the tree. He’d been there before with Branislava when he’d nearly died. She had held him to her. Now it was an altogether different fight. This was his kind of fight.

    They need me alive. They won’t kill me. They’re counting on the fact that no one will find me.

    My spirit is woven to yours. We travel together. He used his calmest voice, steadying her. More than anything, Branislava hated the cold. She felt alone and isolated, that child forced into a dragon’s form and placed behind a wall of ice.

    Focus on the thing holding you prisoner. He’s obviously taking you to Xavier. We have to stop him. What is it? He suspected it was nothing more than a small sliver of Xaviero, a shadow that he’d left behind to capture Branislava or him.

    He felt her shiver, and then the woman he knew so well came forth, a warrior of old. She stopped shivering and he felt the steel running through her.

    Xaviero left a tiny piece of himself behind.

    He could see that the shadow was delighting in ripping at her spirit, tiny holes, to wear her out and make her more vulnerable to Xavier’s possession. There was no doubt in either of their minds that Xaviero’s shadow was taking her spirit to his brother.

    Xaviero had no idea that Branislava wasn’t alone. He hadn’t yet detected the weave binding Zev’s spirit to Branislava’s.

    If he can gleefully tear holes into your spirit, this shadow thing can be destroyed, right?

    The sliver of Xaviero is far too small to do more than what it was programmed to do—give Xavier the spirit he needs to return to the land of the living. Xaviero wasn’t about to give away too much of himself even to get Xavier back, she replied.

    Zev could hear and feel pain creeping into her. The capacity for cruelty in Xaviero amazed him. Even the little sliver of Xaviero had to torment.

    Zev studied the shadow from every direction. The claws dug into Branislava and the demon fought with her, attempting to drag her down the tree trunk to the icy cold below. He could feel greedy eyes on them. He heard teeth gnashing. Moans. Wailing. Branislava refused to go easily, pitting her strength against the demon—and her spirit was strong.

    Fen, Dimitri, I need a massive storm. Lightning that is supercharged. Build it for me fast and let me know when the lightning is forming its peak.

    Neither man questioned him, nor did they respond verbally, but he felt their immediate acquiescence.

    Catch the next branch, Branka. Hang yourself up on it.

    She did as he said, reaching with her light to wrap firmly around the branch. Below, he heard an ominous rustle as something began to drag itself up the tree trunk out of the icy dark. Xavier was coming to claim his prize.

    Zev was both Carpathian and Lycan—mixed blood—impossible to detect, even for a mage. His energy was completely muted. Neither Xavier or the splinter of Xaviero knew Branislava wasn’t alone, and that was their advantage. Before Xavier reached them, something had to be done fast.

    Zev felt the storm even deep as he was in the other realm. The air above and below him suddenly charged with a current of pure electricity. Xavier seemed to know something wasn’t right, redoubling his efforts to get to the spirit trapped in the other realm.

    The storm is massive and lightning is directly overhead, Fen informed Zev.

    Zev held tighter to Branislava as she fought to stay on the branch. Say the words we need. Words of war. My kind of war. Physical. Now, Branka. Xavier was close, too close. He could feel him now, the slime of evil that reached them before Xavier’s malevolent spirit.

    Branislava gasped in his mind. She hadn’t considered that they might reveal a physical particle, but once Zev gave her the idea, she caught on quickly.

    That which was shadow,

    Now must take on form.

    From gray existence,

    A body be born.

    Branislava delivered the words in her most powerful voice, projecting through the light to the dark slice of the mage. The splinter demon stiffened, clearly suspicious of her audacity. His dark shadow wavered and suddenly shifted from wraithlike to substance.

    Zev struck hard, calling down the lightning so that it ran down the tree fast, seeking a target. He wrapped himself around Branislava to protect her. It was his first time calling down the lightning, but he was a warrior through and through and his aim was absolutely accurate. The bolt hit the sliver of Xaviero squarely through the center of the particle. The particle turned black, curled and then turned to ash. It floated away, while the odor of rotten eggs lingered in the air behind it.

    Zev redirected the lightning down the trunk of the tree in the hopes of destroying Xavier once and for all. He heard a scream of pain, of anger, of absolute hatred. The sound vibrated through their spirits, jarring them both. Zev kept his spirit wrapped tightly around Branislava’s, fairly certain Xavier would retaliate if at all possible.

    The bolt must have scored a hit, although he’d directed it blindly, by sound alone. The voice continued to screech. It took a moment to realize Xavier was incoherent, but trying to hit back with a spell.

    Zev drew Branislava up the tree to the thicker branches closer to the top, moving fast, whipping around to the other side of the trunk. The blast shook the tree, but hit branches a good distance from them. The branches exploded, splintering, and then coming back together. The tree trembled and then began to shake.

    It’s angry. It wants us to leave now, Branislava whispered into his mind. The only reason it isn’t punishing us is because Mother Earth has claimed us as her own. But it will discipline Xavier harshly. The mage is used to being the one giving orders and it’s humiliating for him to subjugate himself to the tree. He thinks to destroy it somehow, but he cannot.

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