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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 42)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan
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    She knew what it cost Zev not to close his eyes or look away from her. He was a man who always protected those he loved. He’d lost two, one lay on the floor in front of him. Now, he couldn’t stop this memory from consuming her once again. But he stayed with her, lived it with her. That moment she felt pain slicing through her.

    “Don’t you move, Tatijana. If you do, I’ll start jumping around. I mean it. Don’t you move.” I kept calling to her, over and over while they tortured us. All three of us. She knew I would, too. I tried to keep them from ever focusing on her. I didn’t think about trying to help Jules.

    Branka. Zev’s voice held pure love. You were a child fighting to survive. Trying to keep your sister alive. You did nothing wrong and your friend Jules would have been the first to say so.

    He screamed and the worm was on him, attaching itself to his leg and eating fast right through his flesh. It wrapped around his leg like a snake would, and each segment and strand seemed to have teeth, biting into him. His screams were horrible. Tatijana and I froze at first, watching as the thing ate him alive, just as they said it would. We couldn’t stand it. I grabbed the dagger and began stabbing it over and over. Tatijana hit it with the crystal ball, trying to smash it, but it wouldn’t stop and it wouldn’t die.

    Did it turn on you?

    It was so caught up in a feeding frenzy, it didn’t even look at us. I could hear the three brothers laughing as they watched us and watched poor Jules. He kicked and fought and nothing stopped that eating machine. Their laughter was maniacal, diabolical and so evil. She choked back a sob. Zev. She whispered his name, needing him.

    We’re past this. We know Jules dies. But the creature is still alive. How did they get rid of it?

    They called it to them. I remember the words. And then they commanded it to die. I think because they made it, they were able to stop it.

    You know how. You don’t need them. You can use any tone, speak any words of any language. You know Xaviero’s tone, his exact pitch. Even if Xayvion is alive, he wouldn’t have come with Xaviero. He would stay safe waiting to see if this trap worked to free Xavier. This creature was made by Xaviero, and you can use his spell and his tone to stop the thing.

    The blood on the floor was nearly gone and the creature had wrapped its bloated body around Arno’s leg. Branislava glanced at her sister, using just her eyes. Tatijana stared at the blood worm, horrified. Fen was the closest to the worm and she had to be terrified that he would be attacked.

    Branislava is going to try to kill this thing, Zev informed the others. No one move or speak. Give her the chance to do this.

    Branislava didn’t dare wait. She closed her eyes and found the voice and intonation of Xaviero. Zev was there with her, perfecting the pitch in her mind before she opened her mouth to speak.

    That born of blood and earth,

    I call your name.

    To me you must crawl,

    Hearing no others’ claim.

    Her voice was commanding, reverberating through the room. Tatijana flinched mentally, but stayed absolutely still, her eyes as round as saucers. Her hand, however, was on the knife strapped to her waist.

    The worm stiffened. Shook its head. Let out a high-pitched shriek that hurt her ears. She repeated the command, making certain that every inflection was exactly as it had been when the three mages had called the creature back to them.

    That born of blood and earth,

    I call your name.

    To me you must crawl,

    Hearing no others’ claim.

    Still the creature protested, thrashing, but still sucking at the flesh of the fallen man. Branislava pressed her lips together. Something’s wrong. He isn’t attacking me so I’ve got the correct tone and inflection, but he isn’t responding.

    That’s not true. He is listening, but he’s confused. Now that I think about it, Xaviero would have prepared that twine somewhere else. He just had to switch it with the cord Arno wore after Arno was dead. Xayvion could very well have been with him. I am able to listen to any tone or accent and speak languages nearly flawlessly. It is a gift I was born with. Share Xayvion’s tone and I’ll do my best to reproduce it.

    Branislava didn’t want to take the chance that he might accidentally draw the blood worm’s attack, but she had no choice. The confusion wouldn’t last long and the worm would be looking to kill. She repeated Xayvion’s voice and intonation, nearly a replica of Xaviero’s only a tiny bit deeper.

    She gave an almost imperceptible nod and together, their voices rang out through the room.

    That born of blood and earth,

    I call your name.

    To me you must crawl,

    Hearing no others’ claim.

    This time the worm reacted immediately, swinging around and slithering toward them like a trained dog might to his master. It stopped directly between them, almost touching Zev’s boots. She had no idea if blood called it and if it would detect the difference. She didn’t dare take the chance. She pushed the next spell into Zev’s mind, repeating it several times.

    I’m ready. Let’s kill this thing.

    He made her feel confident. That was the thing about Zev she loved the most—his belief in her abilities—in their ability when they were together.

    She took a deep breath and nodded to him. Once again their voices filled the room—not their voices—but the voices of the two mages combined.

    Of blood you were born,

    I call to your spoor.

    I see that which is hidden,

    May your path be no more.

    As you were made,

    So shall you die.

    That which was created,

    Shall now be untied.

    The blood worm lifted its head and shrieked even as it began to break apart. Blood spilled out of it in streams, the twine binding it together shredding to reveal an empty shell that was nothing but teeth and blood. The creature continued to make long, hideous noises until its head unraveled as well and it fell to the floor in the middle of the pool of blood, no more than regular twine.

    There was a long silence. Branislava let her breath out slowly and backed away from the innocent-looking string and the widening pool of blood. She pressed a hand to her heaving stomach. It was all too much for her, the memories, the sight of Arno’s body and the worm breaking apart.

    Zev was there immediately, enfolding her into his arms, turning her so that his body shielded her from the others. “Let’s get you outside, cheri,” he said softly. “You need to be in the fresh air.”

    “But you have things to do here,” she protested, although everything in her yearned to get out of that room and away from the smell of blood and death.

    “Arno can wait. It will take a little time to prepare the bodies for the funeral pyre. All Lycans present as well as the council members will want to pay their respects. A member from the Sacred Circle will want to say a few prayers over the bodies before they’re burned.” Zev brushed a kiss across the top of her head. “Right at this moment, Branislava, there is nothing more important than taking you out into the night where we can both breathe. We have a little bit of time before the ceremony must take place.”

    She was grateful that he included himself. She nodded and he wrapped his arm around her waist, tucking her under his shoulder and took her right out of the room, down the hall and out into the fading night. The moment she was outside, she drew in a deep lungful of air to try to counteract her protesting stomach.

    “That was so awful . . . that blood worm.”

    He nodded, holding her closer. “It was. It always amazes me what the mind of someone evil can conceive.”

    “Jules died, you know. He died hard.” She looked at him with stricken eyes. “We couldn’t save him, and they laughed. They enjoyed his pain and terror. He’d served them, admired and respected them. He had no idea what they were like until he realized they kept us prisoners inside the bodies of dragons and behind the wall of ice.”

    He ran his fingers through her silky hair. “I know, mon bébé, we’ll find him and destroy him. We won’t let him keep hurting people.”

    “Xavier was a monster. He really was, but while he enjoyed other’s pain, it was his experiments he was obsessed with. Don’t get me wrong, he loved hurting others, but not like Xaviero. Xaviero had to torture. It was the only thing that ever made him happy. Xavier despised Carpathians and he was determined to ruin them, to wipe them from the face of the earth. But he was somewhat dispassionate about his tortures as a rule.”

    “He sounds despicable.”

    She nodded, threading her fingers through his and walking a little faster as if she might outrun the conversation. “He was despicable. But Xaviero was worse. He needed to torture others, especially women and children. He thrived on it. Nothing made him happier. I could tell when it had been too long for him. He was moody and irritable even with his brothers, and Tatijana and I would stay as still and as quiet as possible. Eventually Xavier or Xayvion would tell him to go have fun and we knew what that meant. There is no possible way that he could have been in the Lycan world and not tortured others. He wouldn’t have been able to help himself.”

    “I believe you.” Zev ran his hand through his hair. “Bodies turned up in other packs and other countries. I know, I investigated. Most were women, some children. We put it down to vampires stalking the packs. Or rogues. It’s happened before. I even considered a serial killer, a human. We never found enough evidence. Sight, scent, it just wasn’t there, but I did suspect many of the killings were connected.”

    “Xaviero thought snatching children out from under their parent’s noses was such a thrilling feat. He got the pleasure of tormenting the child, torturing him or her and then allowing the parents to discover the body. He wanted to see their sorrow. He often spared them so they would have to live with guilt and turn their grief into anger at one another.”

    Zev was silent a moment. “Rannalufr counseled those who lost children. The suicide rate definitely rose sharply, but no one ever suspected soft-spoken, kind Rannalufr of pushing grieving parents to kill themselves.”

    “He would have enjoyed that power immensely.”

    “And Xayvion?” Zev asked, knowing she needed to talk.

    He kept her walking, away from the village, doubling back toward the forest where he knew she felt safer. Trees closed around them, branches reaching up to the night sky. A few stars had emerged from the strange, violent storm that had come out of nowhere earlier. The last of the dark clouds dissipated to allow the half-moon to reappear.

    Zev knew Fen had called in Daciana and Makoce, the two Lycans he trusted the most, to attend Arno and Arnau’s bodies. The Carpathians would have to go to ground soon. Branislava was worn out, and in truth, he was as well. Traveling outside one’s body took a toll, especially when fighting demons in another realm. Had someone told him he’d be doing such a thing a year earlier he would have laughed at them.

    “Xayvion was always quiet. He rarely said much, and Xavier always seemed in charge, but if Xaviero got out of hand, it was Xayvion who stopped him, usually with a look. It was eerie when it happened. Unbelievable almost. And it was rare. Xayvion conducted all the experiments with his brothers, but it was as if he was disconnected completely from everyone. He didn’t see us, or their victims as anything alive. When he laughed, it never seemed real to me. He sounded hollow. Dead. I don’t really know how to explain it, you’d have to see him in action.”

    Zev guided her toward their home. If they had time, he would have taken her back to their crater in the snowcapped mountains, but she needed to go to ground and he needed to be up as early as possible to help the Lycans prepare for the service. He wanted it done and over before the mage had a chance to know where or what they would be doing.

    “Zev, why did you insist on Arno and Arnau being burned at a service when you know what a risk it is to have everyone together in one place like that?”

    He winced. He should have known she was shrewd enough to figure out it was the last thing he would do if he wanted to keep the other council members safe. He had hoped she wouldn’t ask him that question.

    “They’re already in danger from Xaviero. If he can kill Arnau, one of my best men, and then kill Arno, who was already leery of everyone, he can get to anyone. Better to draw him out where all the Lycans and all the Carpathians will be waiting for him.”

    “They won’t get him,” she said.

    “No, they won’t,” he agreed. “But if he comes to the funeral pyre—and after you described him, I know he will for certain—he won’t be able to resist seeing everyone’s pain and guilt, and then I can track him. I’m mixed blood and elite. I know what to look for. I can track him back to his lair.”

    Branislava looked at him with wide, green eyes. “That’s what I thought,” she said softly.

    18

    Beneath the ground, Zev’s eyes snapped open and he was instantly alert. What had disturbed his sleep? Waving his hand, he opened the dirt above him so that he could see the basement floor like a ceiling over his head. It was intact. He lay quietly, listening to the sound of his own heartbeat. Nothing seemed out of place. No sound. No movement. He just had this odd feeling in his gut.

    Beside him, Branislava lay quietly, her head on his chest, one arm thrown around his waist while her leg was sprawled carelessly over his. She was like the fierce kitten he often called her, cuddly one moment and capable of lethal claws the next. He ran his palm over her strikingly beautiful face.

    Seeing her, he relaxed, the tension draining from his body. She looked like an angel to him, a being from a heavenly realm rather than one from earth, one caught up in blood and death. He rubbed his hand over her face again, and then he touched her reverently with the pads of his fingers, marveling at the contrast of her soft skin and his much rougher hands.

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