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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 44)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan

    “Paul thinks it’s a good idea to move everyone down below, to the safe room,” Travis said, trying to use his most matter-of-fact voice. “Just as a precaution. It’s probably nothing, but just in case.”

    Marie came to her feet immediately. “Chrissy, we’ll need those two bags right there. Hurry and do as your brother says.”

    Travis waited until Chrissy and Blythe had the bags Marie had indicated before turning to leave the room.

    “Trav, wait,” Blythe said. Her voice shook. “Are you coming, too?”

    “In a few minutes. I need to get the boys. Peter and Lucas will be with you until I get there. Jubal is coming. Paul and I are just going to look around outside.” Travis tried to reassure her, but her eyes had grown big and she looked about to cry.

    He walked back into the room and gave her a clumsy hug, not looking at Marie. He was always a little embarrassed showing his affection, but he loved his brothers and sisters, and Falcon had told him repeatedly that men showed those they loved their feelings and it wasn’t at all girlie. Blythe clung to him and then Chrissy joined in the hug.

    After a moment, Chrissy took Blythe by the hand. “Help me carry the bags for Marie. We don’t want the baby to wake up.”

    Travis left them to it and went to find his brothers. Peter and Lucas had tied Jase, their six-year-old brother, to a chair and were running around him yelling like banshees. It took a few minutes to get their attention. The only way he managed it was to stand in their path and let them run into him.

    “We’ve got real trouble,” he announced soberly.

    Peter immediately loosened the bonds so Jase could get up. Lucas put his arm around Jase, pulling him close.

    “What do you want us to do?” Peter asked.

    “I’ll be bringing Anya, Anastasia, Stefan and Alexandru down soon. Jennifer is with them and so is Angelina and Ginny. They’ll know something is wrong, but you still have to act like everything is going to be all right. Whatever Marie and Angelina say to do, just do it, keep the peace, no matter how long this takes. If something happens, Peter, you and Lucas have to stand between whatever the danger is and the younger ones.”

    Peter nodded. Travis gripped his brothers’ forearms in the traditional warrior’s greeting, making the ritual solemn, so they understood the danger coming. When he was certain they would get Jase to safety and take their mission seriously, he went to the last room to tell Angelina.

    Angelina, Ginny and Jennifer were playing games with the younger children. Laughter ceased the moment he entered. Stefan stood up, placing his body in front of Alexandru. The twins, Anya and Anastasia, moved up on either side of the prince’s son. They all faced Travis with somber faces.

    He forced a smile, but the dread in his stomach had grown and he knew something was definitely wrong. “Just as a precaution, everyone needs to move down to the safe room. Don’t give Marie or Angelina any trouble, even if it takes a long time. Remember the new baby. We don’t want her to be alarmed. Jubal is coming, and we’ll be all right, but we have to make certain everyone is in the safe room just in case.”

    Ginny picked up Alexandru and Angelina took the twins. Jennifer took Stefan’s hand. They immediately complied without asking questions.

    Travis went room by room, making certain all the children were safely down in the room Mikhail and Gregori had provided. He made his way back to the sitting room. Paul was outside on the verandah, pacing back and forth. He had gathered up weapons, slinging them over his shoulder and looping them through his belt. Travis’s mouth went dry but he did the same, slowly donning all the weapons one needed to fight off a vampire or his puppets. Rogue packs of werewolves required silver stakes and silver knives. He added those as well before joining Paul on the front porch.

    The feeling of impending doom grew in him, a dark dread that seemed to swallow him whole. He risked a quick glance at Paul, hoping he would see something there to help him shake off his anxiety, but Paul looked every bit as grim as he felt.

    “They’re all in the safe room,” he reported, managing to keep his voice steady.

    “Jubal is around the back. He feels it, too.”

    “A vampire?” Travis asked almost hopefully.

    “No vampire can be out at this time of day. Not even the Sange rau. Our own mixed bloods have managed every now and then, but it still takes a toll. To battle in the sun, I don’t know what that would do to one of them.” Paul shook his head. “We just have to hold out until the sun goes down.”

    “What are we facing? A rogue pack?” Lycans could be out during the day, and certainly a pack of werewolves could as well.

    The wind rushed toward them, carrying the scent of burning brimstone, a sulfuric stench much like burnt rotting eggs. Paul caught Travis by the arm. “Get inside now. Hurry. Don’t argue with me, just do it.”

    Travis wanted to protest. He needed to help protect the younger children, but the urgency in Paul’s voice alarmed him. He retreated indoors, going to the window, notching an arrow tipped in silver into his crossbow.

    “Jubal,” Paul called. “Do you smell that? What is that?”

    “Hellhounds,” Zev answered, striding into the yard, his long dark coat swirling around his boots. “Hounds of hell. Mage magic.”

    Jubal skidded to a halt when he caught sight of Zev, his eyes going wide in shock at the sight of a Carpathian walking boldly in the sun. Travis came out of the house as well, standing uncertainly on the porch.

    “It just made sense, after all the things Branislava told me about the High Mage, that he would come after the children,” Zev said. “I caught their scent in the wind and pushed it toward you, hoping you’d be prepared.”

    “How do we prepare?” Jubal asked.

    “This is not the first time I have encounterd them. We need oil. Hyssop oil.” Zev looked around, found an old cooking pot and quickly summoned the oil. “Dip your arrows in that. Coat every weapon you have. If necessary, pour it over yourself. The oil will continue to flow as needed.”

    “They’ll be faster than you can possibly imagine. When you fire at them, aim well ahead of them. Some will have more than one head. They’ll be huge and frightening. Their eyes will glow, some red and some a hideous yellow. Try not to look directly at them.”

    “Hounds of hell,” Paul muttered. “Heralders of death. Anyone who looks . . .”

    Zev shot him a look and Paul fell silent. “They are that only because the mage puts a spell on them and uses them to bring his plague to those he wants dead. Don’t let their saliva get on you, or their blood. They’ll carry the plague in teeth and claws. Shoot them through their eyes, and if you can’t hit that target, aim for the throat. It won’t kill them, but it will slow them down.”

    The ground vibrated. The pot of hyssop oil shook, the oil forming large rings.

    “Take cover,” Zev commanded. “Take your time with each shot. Place it ahead of the hound. Remember, if there’s more than one head, all three have to be hit in the eye.” He turned his attention to Travis. “Go for the throat, it will buy you the time you need to take a steady, true aim. Don’t panic, that will get you in trouble every time. I’ll be right here.” Zev used his calmest, most steady voice, low yet carrying the weight of his authority and knowledge.

    Travis nodded and dropped to one knee, sheltering behind a heavy column there on the porch. The scent of burning brimstone grew stronger and with it, the smell of fire, or rather burned grass and foliage, as if the traveling hounds were leaving behind a barren wasteland.

    Zev turned toward the west, his long coat swirling around him. He watched as the first of the hounds broke out of cover and into the open. He was massive—a huge black hound with burning coals for eyes and gigantic teeth and claws, running full out toward them. Behind him, several more burst into the open, looking like a galloping herd of wild beasts, monsters so foul they could only be conceived in hell—or by a fiendishly evil mind.

    With one hand, he picked up the cooking pot and poured the hyssop oil over his head so that it ran down his hair and over his face and shoulders. In one motion, he put it down, lifted his crossbow and fired the first arrow.

    The arrow went true, straight into the left eye of the lead hellhound. It leapt into the air, bellowing, snarling, snapping the air with its teeth. Black blood ran down its face as it landed hard, shook its head and kept coming.

    Zev heard Travis’s soft hiss of fear, but the boy didn’t run. “Steady. Don’t fire yet. I’ll take out their leader,” he cautioned softly, hoping his calm voice and matter-of-fact demeanor would give the boy courage.

    He lifted his crossbow again and fired off a second arrow dipped in the hyssop oil, scoring a direct hit to the right eye. The massive black-furred hound was nearly to the porch. He snarled, pulling back his lips to reveal his razor-sharp teeth and the long, almost saber-toothed tiger canines. His body shuddered and he slowed, took two more steps and seemed to skid, his back claws still digging in for purchase as his legs propelled him forward. His muzzle hit the ground hard almost at Zev’s feet. The hound thrashed around, howling and biting the air.

    “Pick one of them,” Zev instructed the others. “Hit the eyes. Make certain you’re covered in oil and if those teeth or claws get to you, yell out immediately. I’ll take care of the wound. Travis, if you’re uncertain . . .” He fired at the hound nearest to the house, once again scoring a hit directly in the left eye. The beast was running full out, its body nearly the size of a large pony. Its head was massive, the muzzle filled with giant teeth. “Aim for the throat. Take your time. You can do this.”

    Paul shot the hound to the right of the one Zev had hit. His arrow hit the hound squarely between the eyes and bounced off. Paul swore softly, took a breath and sent a second arrow, this one much truer, straight into the beast’s right eye. Both hounds were running flat out, deadly venom hanging in great long strings from their muzzles. His hound veered sideways and rammed the one Zev had struck. The two hellhounds tangled for a moment, tumbling over one another, snarling and snapping.

    Jubal and Travis both fired at a two-headed monster almost simultaneously. Travis’s arrow hit the hound in the throat, burying deep. Jubal’s arrow found one of the eyes. The two-headed hellhound leapt over the snarling, fighting beasts and hit the railing of the verandah, smashing the wood, landing almost on Travis.

    Travis stood up, crossbow in hand, staring into the malevolent yellow eyes of the two-headed hound. It stood glaring back at him, black blood running from one eye on its left head and its throat. The animal pulled back its lips in a deadly snarl, the strings of venom increasing tenfold. The boy let out his breath and as the animal took a slow, stalking step toward him, fired his crossbow straight into the other eye of the left head.

    Zev reached back with one hand, even as he let another arrow fly toward the hound, which had managed to get to its feet. Picking up the pot of oil, he threw the contents at the two-headed beast leaping at Travis. The boy backpedaled fast as he fit another arrow into his bow, firing as he stumbled away from the hellhound.

    Zev felt the blast of black breath from the beast, hot and wild and tainted with evil, as he stepped between the hound and the boy. He fired calmly into the eye of the right head. Travis’s arrow had hit the throat a second time. Oil dripped from both heads of the animal, running off the fur in streams. The fur came with the oil, leaving long raw patches of blistering skin.

    Maddened with pain, the hellhound thrashed around, and then hit its head against one of the columns, shaking the roof and cracking the column. One side of the roof partially collapsed over the porch as the animal hit the railing and then the side of the house. The two-headed beast spun in circles, teeth snapping at everything in its path.

    Zev yanked Travis off the porch, thrusting the boy behind him as the hound Jubal fired at rose from the ground and galloped toward them with blurring speed. Zev fired rapidly, three arrows in quick succession, aiming just ahead of the hellhound. The beast leapt the last few feet, his glowing eyes not on Zev, but on the boy. One eye had two arrows sticking out of it, but the second eye was clear. The third arrow had hit him through the nose.

    Zev dropped the crossbow, and caught the beast with his bare hands, snapping the massive head away from Travis.

    “My knife,” he hissed, over his shoulder at the boy. He was grateful for his mixed blood, blood that gave him enormous strength, although the beast burned him right through the thin gloves he wore. Using leverage he flipped the hellhound off his feet, but his arm was dangerously close to the snapping teeth.

    He felt Travis step up beside him, pull the knife from his belt and without being told, without hesitation, thrust the oil-covered blade into the eye of the beast. Jubal had his hands full with the beast Zev had shot earlier, trying to prevent it from reaching the verandah.

    Zev and Travis leapt back and away from the thrashing, dying animal, turning back to the porch. It was empty. Where the window had been, there was now an enormous hole. His heart sinking, Zev caught up his crossbow, dove through the window, somersaulted to his feet, and ran toward the hallway.

    The trail of black blood led through the house to the kitchen where there was another enormous hole where the door to the basement should have been. The hellhound had been programmed to find and kill the children, and it was following their scent trail.

    He took the stairs two at a time, jumped one-handed over the railing when he was halfway down and landed in a crouch just a few feet from the two-headed hound. One head lolled to one side, two streams of black blood pouring from the sightless eyes. Black fur was gone from the head, neck and shoulders, leaving blistering skin that seemed to bubble up loosely as if underneath, the oil was dissolving everything it touched.