|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 46)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
“You’ve given your speech and paid your respects,” Gregori said. “Already the children were attacked. Had Zev not been Dark Blood, we could have lost them. Our last defense is you. You know that. Better to protect our children than to stay and protect the Lycans when they’re insisting on staying. If things get bad here, we can send reinforcements.”
“What is he up to, this Xaviero? Why would he suddenly reveal himself to all of us? The brothers hid among our different species and did their damage in secret. What is so important that they keep coming at us? Clearly Lycans and Carpathians are not going to go to war with one another. He can’t wipe us out, not here. We’re spread out over the world. We need the answer to this, Gregori. Whatever Xaviero wants is too important for us not to know about it.”
Mikhail rose with obvious reluctance. He signaled Zev over to them. “Dimitri has warned you?”
Zev took a deep breath and let it out, nodding his head. There were very few times when he had clashed with Rolf, head of the Lycan council, but Rolf had insisted on sending off Arno and his son with honor. He insisted on waiting the prescribed three days so those far away could make the journey. That just gave Xaviero all the more time to prepare. After the attack on the children, Zev was absolutely certain Xaviero would strike at the service. He’d been right. He hated being right.
“Yes. I’ve talked to Rolf numerous times and he refuses to listen. I tried to tell Rolf it wasn’t safe for anyone to be here, but he pointed out the large number of Lycans and Carpathians who have come to pay their respects. He thinks there is an army here and no need to leave.”
“Perhaps if I spoke to him again,” Mikhail offered. He had already done so once, after their children had been attacked. Clearly Xaviero was not going to stop until he reached his goal—whatever that was.
Zev shook his head. “This ceremony is ingrained deep in our culture. It’s important to all Lycans and especially Rolf. He is head of the council. Arno is a fallen council member, murdered by an enemy. He will stay here alone if necessary.”
From the moment he’d entered the clearing, Zev had known something was terribly wrong. The feeling in the very soil bothered him. The air. He felt uneasy and trapped. He’d gone to Rolf immediately and tried to get him to at least change the location of the ceremony, but the ground had been purified and the pyre already built.
Zev had argued that the feeling in his gut was never wrong and had kept him alive all these long years—more, that he had expected Xaviero to strike at them. Rolf had actually turned his back on Zev and stormed away, refusing to listen to reason.
“Still, I have to try,” Mikhail said, ignoring Gregori’s slashing silver eyes.
He made his way through the crowd of Lycans to reach the head of the council. A man, one of many who had come that Mikhail had never seen before, was speaking from the podium. He wore a long brown robe with a hood and spoke in a soft, carrying tone. He looked grief-stricken as he spoke of Arno and the fallen elite hunter. Not only did he look devastated, but he projected such sorrow that even Mikhail felt desolate.
He nearly turned back, aware that the Lycans were all grieving for the much-beloved council member and his son, but Gregori was waiting, arms folded across his chest, his silver gaze impossible to ignore. Rolf rose reluctantly when Mikhail gestured to him and they found a small space off to one side.
“Rolf.” Mikhail pitched his voice low. “We’re getting reports of trouble heading this way. The consensus from our most experienced warriors is that we should leave immediately. I agree with their assessment. We need to start getting everyone to safety.”
Swift annoyance crossed Rolf’s face and he glanced over at Zev, as if the elite hunter had been the one to irritate him. His features settled into his usual calm mask when he looked back at the prince of the Carpathian people.
“Zev had no right to ask you to come and talk to me,” he said, his teeth snapping together, revealing the wolf lurking close to the surface.
“He didn’t ask me,” Mikhail countered. “My security people did. Zev explained that this ceremony was important to the Lycans and I respect that. I respected Arno. But you and I are responsible for our people, and I thought you would want to know that time is of the essence. We have to get everyone to safety.”
Rolf’s mouth tightened. “Perhaps you’ve never gone into war zones, but I have many times during my career as a council member for my people. We accept the risks.”
“For yourself,” Mikhail agreed. “But for so many others? Look at the number of Lycans who have come from so many places to pay their respects. They’re in jeopardy as well.”
“Arno served these people for well over a hundred years. He deserves their respect and the honor of their presence. He was a highly decorated and revered member of the Sacred Circle. He believed in the old ways and codes of honor. This was his way. This is his belief. I will not dishonor him because I am afraid for my life,” Rolf said firmly. “Nor will any Lycan. I do appreciate you coming, but this is a Lycan matter and you and your people must do as you see fit. We will stay.” He whirled around and stormed back to his place in the front of the Lycan packs, his shoulders square and his jaw set stubbornly.
Mikhail glanced at Gregori. There was no getting around the Lycan council leader. He had made up his mind and there would be no changing it. Rolf was not only grief-stricken; he was weighed down with guilt.
“Put the word out to our people. There is trouble coming and we’re leaving.”
“Zev isn’t going to leave the Lycans,” Gregori said. “He’s been their protection for years and it won’t matter that Rolf is being stubborn about this. Zev was born into their culture and, although from a protection standpoint he’d like to get them all out of here, he understands. His brothers will stand with him. Ivory and Razvan as well.”
Mikhail nodded. “I would expect nothing less. If it wasn’t for my responsibilities to our people, I’d stand with them as well. Xavier nearly pushed our species into extinction. Xayvion has nearly done so with the Jaguar race. Xaviero is determined to ruin the Lycans. They have to be stopped.”
Gregori inched Mikhail away from the Lycans. Two more council members had come to honor Arno and with them, their guards. Leaders or representatives of many other packs had arrived as well. Gregori used the common Carpathian path to warn their warriors of the coming danger Dimitri and Skyler had observed in the forest.
Mikhail and Gregori made their way to Zev. Mikhail shook his head sadly when Zev raised an eyebrow. He stepped forward and gripped Zev’s forearms in the traditional way of Carpathian warriors. He was pleased when Zev instinctively gripped his. “You are prepared?”
Zev nodded slowly. “We’ve tried to think of everything that might be thrown at us. I think we’re as prepared as we can be.” Who could ever be fully prepared for mage magic? Not just any mage, but a High Mage?
The sense of urgency in him was growing. He wanted Mikhail gone, far away from the clearing and the fog Dimitri had warned him of. If nearly all Carpathians were wiped out, there would be hope as long as Mikhail lived. Mikhail might chafe the bonds that held him prisoner of his people occasionally, but he knew his duties and Zev could see that he wouldn’t argue with either him or Gregori. He was leaving.
Can you hear them? That’s not just our wolves, Zev, that’s the wild ones. I’ve sent them away.
I hear. The ceremony has started. What is happening out there? Zev stayed calm. Panic caused one to lose the ability to think. He was responsible for the council members, their Lycan guards and all the alphas and representatives that had come from many of the packs.
He motioned to his elite hunters. Daciana’s eyes were swollen and red, something he’d never witnessed in the long years they’d been together. He couldn’t blame her. Losing Arnau was wrenching and adding his father Arno’s death to the mix only added to the sorrow—and guilt.
The fog here is unnatural and not made by any Carpathian, Dimitri reported, using the common Carpathian path. It has a foul feel to it. Skyler says she detects a darker spell within the mist. All wildlife, including birds are retreating from it. Insects are pouring out of the ground.
Smoke rose in the air, the purifying leaves burning white and giving off the sweet odor of jasmine in preparation for the burning of the bodies. Arno and Arnau lay within the flowers and branches of the funeral pyre, high up where their spirits would have an easy ascension.
Daciana, Makoce and Lykaon joined him.
“We’re going to be attacked. Rolf and the others won’t listen to anything I say. They’re insisting on completing the ceremony. Be ready. Stay close to the council members. Any other guards you really trust, warn, and get them to surround the council.”
They didn’t ask questions. He’d known they wouldn’t. He was alpha of their pack and his word was law. They nodded and moved into the crowd surrounding the ceremonial pyre.
Branislava reached out to him, settling her fingers around his wrist as he came up to her. “He’s here, Zev,” she whispered, leaning into him. “I feel his presence.”
Just her light touch made him feel as if he had a home. A haven. She had a way of looking at him that made the world right, even when everything around them seemed to be falling apart.
“We knew he would come, Branka, if for no other purpose than to see the grief his handiwork caused. We knew he wouldn’t be able to help himself.”
Branislava looked around at the precautions and intricate safeguards the Carpathians had used to protect the Lycans as they gathered for the service. “He’s here for a purpose. Not just to thumb his nose and prove his superiority. I know you feel it, too. And now Dimitri has found the mist. It will come creeping out of the forest surrounding us, and there are foul things he could conjure up that can kill.”
“You know him better than anyone else, Branislava. You’ve done a study of these three mages for centuries when no one else knew of their existence. You’re our authority. Tell me what you think he’s going to do.”
He had faith in her ability to defeat Xaviero. She was every bit as skilled and she had the advantage. She’d seen him cast, knew his every spell, where he had never considered her a threat and hadn’t known the three mages were educating a very bright pupil. She just had to believe in herself. He knew she had to overcome the terror instilled in her from her birth.
Branislava chewed nervously on her lower lip. “He’ll want to get as close to the funeral pyre as possible. He would most likely want to give the talk . . .” She trailed off, her eyes meeting Zev’s. She shook her head hastily. “But he wouldn’t dare.”
“It’s exactly what he’d do,” Zev countered. “Can you imagine how smug he would be if he got away with it? Standing in front of Carpathian and Lycan alike and giving what essentially would be a eulogy for the two men he murdered? He wouldn’t need to exact revenge—that alone would reaffirm his superiority.”
Dimitri, how fast is the fog moving toward us? It was imperative to know Xaviero’s timetable. Zev needed to clear out the civilians and prepare the available warriors for battle.
It’s building very slowly. And thick. And very, very foul.
Branislava glanced nervously toward the surrounding forest. That’s not good. I don’t like that insects are pouring out of the ground, either. He’s up to something, something much deadlier than we first thought.
The fog started about a foot off the ground and is now winding up to the top of the trees like thick snakes, Skyler added.
Stay away from it, Branislava advised. Don’t let it touch your skin. And whatever you do, don’t get inside of it.
I see glowing eyes. Red. Yellow. And we’re beginning to hear voices—or I am, Dimitri said. Skyler feels things moving, but she hasn’t heard anything yet.
Zev’s heart seemed to skip a beat. His army. The Sange rau. We knew he was building an army. Dimitri can feel them because he’s mixed blood as well. Xaviero has an army of Sange rau and hellhounds waiting to annihilate us.
But if that were the case, why aren’t they here already? Branislava asked. Why send the fog. We’re in the middle of a clearing.
Zev frowned. He’s holding them back. To what purpose? he mused aloud, inviting the others to speculate. Why is he taking the chance that we might discover them before he unleashes them on us?
“Who from the Sacred Circle was scheduled to give a talk?” Branislava asked, whipping around to look toward the funeral pyre.
“Roberto Hans,” Zev answered slowly, avoiding looking too hard at the Lycan considered one of the greatest leaders of the Sacred Circle. “He’s speaking now.”
Zev recognized him as one of the more prominent members of the Sacred Circle. Roberto Hans had been speaking with Rolf just moments earlier. The face and body appeared to be Roberto’s, along with the deep voice, yet to Zev’s trained ear, there was a lack of depth to the sound. Something missing. As if the voice was a recording and not the real thing.
There was no way to prove he was right, but still, he was certain. Zev recalled that Roberto and the Lycan known as Rannalufr had been good friends. Had Xaviero, disguised as Rannalufr, approached Roberto just to talk about the death of their old friend Arno, Roberto would have allowed him in without hesitation.
Branislava watched Zev move away, back toward the Lycans crowded so closely around the funeral pyre. She didn’t like that they were so close to Xaviero—if that was the High Mage—and she was fairly certain it was. She didn’t want to keep staring at him, afraid he would realize they were on to him. She moved to get into a better position to aid Zev when a peculiar odor drifted from the crowd, just the faintest of smells, but she caught it and stiffened, stopping instantly.