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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 48)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan
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    Horror filled her. She felt Branislava reaching behind her and slowly closed her fingers around Tatijana’s hand. She glanced over her shoulder to see that they were ringed, not only by hellhounds, but behind them Sange rau. Four of them.

    Behind the wall of hellhounds and Sange rau, a robed figure stepped out. He threw back his hood and smiled grotesquely. She found herself staring at Xayvion.

    20

    Branislava whipped around, gripping Tatijana’s hand. She barely allowed herself to see the hellhounds with their glowing eyes fixed on their small group, or the four Sange rau directly behind them. Her gaze was drawn straight to the flames shooting up to the sky.

    Xaviero was collecting his souls, anguished beings unable to prevent themselves from obeying his command. He sent them to their slaughter, death by fire, a putrefying blend of incense he had mixed with poisonous tree branches hidden among the flowers and branches after the pyre had been built.

    She was only partway through figuring out exactly what Xaviero had done to build his inverted pentagram. She couldn’t do that and save people, and right now, feeding people into his fire to claim their souls was far too much for her to bear.

    Branka, I can’t stop them.

    Zev came into view, rushing to shove the next two Lycans out of line. They went flying to the ground, landing a distance away, but both picked themselves up and simply went to the end of the line, falling into place in spite of Zev’s interference.

    Help me, tell me what to do.

    These were his friends, some he’d known from birth. There was no countering any of the intricate spells as easily as Tatijana had done away with the toads. Each spell was wrapped in a layer and had to be peeled back like an onion. How did one stop a master?

    Dimitri, Fen, I have to get to the fire right now. They were her biggest hope. Fen was fighting his way back to Tatijana, Skyler, Ivory and her, knowing they had to be protected while they tried to deal with Xaviero’s hellish spells. She had to break free of the ring of hellhounds and Sange rau in order to aid those walking haplessly into the fire. I’ll try to clear a path, but it won’t last more than a few seconds.

    Tatijana, Skyler and Ivory would have no choice but to counter Xayvion. He was obviously there to keep them busy and not allow them to interfere in any way with Xaviero and the ceremony he was conducting.

    Branislava tried to drown out the sounds of the battle going on all around, the cries of the dying and horror-stricken as well as the sight of the hellhounds with their glowing eyes and slavering jaws. She couldn’t think about the Sange rau directly behind the massive beasts. They were tall, broad-shouldered and savage, nearly impossible to kill; she needed Dimitri and Fen to run interference if she was to have a chance of getting past them.

    Mask my energy so they have no idea I’m shifting. It would be tricky. The Sange rau as well as the Lycans could feel energy coming toward them. They had to time it just right. The hellhounds were already closing in, forcing the ring smaller.

    Now, Dimitri responded.

    Branislava leapt into the air, over the hellhounds, almost directly in the path of one of the Sange rau, shifting into her dragon form. Branislava recognized Sandulf from Lyall’s memories. The Sange rau was far faster than she anticipated, leaping after her, shifting into half-wolf, half-man form and hooking the dragon’s belly with terrible claws, ripping to try to eviscerate the dragon.

    Great drops of blood rained down on the hellhounds so that for a moment they paused in their attack on those gathered in the tight circle. They abandoned their stalking to leap into the air, trying to get to the dragon and help bring it down. The fresh blood maddened them so even the commands of Sandulf did no good.

    Dimitri shifted into half-man, half-wolf, slamming into Sandulf clawing at the dragon, attempting to drag it to earth. They came together with bone-shaking force, so hard Dimitri knocked the mixed blood from the dragon, allowing her to rise just enough to escape the hellhounds’ attack. He landed on the back of one beast while Sandulf fell on the neck between the two giant heads of a two-headed hound.

    Dimitri, covered in hyssop oil, burned the back and fur so that the pain-maddened hound shrieked in fury, snapping at everything in sight, including other hellhounds. Rolling, Dimitri straddled the monster and jammed an arrow into one wicked yellow eye, using the combination of his mixed blood to penetrate to the brain.

    Assaulted by the neighboring hound biting repeatedly at it and having a large, heavy man hit between its heads, the two-headed beast lowered its heads, looking malevolently left and right and sank teeth into the two hellhounds beside it. Dimitri managed to jam a second arrow into the eye of the monster he rode. The hound shuddered, took two steps and dropped.

    Sandulf got up slowly and faced Dimitri, wiping his hand across his mouth, looking down at the blood smeared on his fingers. He spit contemptuously. He was a brute of a man, much like his uncle, Randall, but where Randall was gentle and kind, Sandulf enjoyed the power of his build. His eyes glittered with rage as he rushed Dimitri.

    Dimitri didn’t move, waiting, a matador meeting the rush of bull. At the last possible moment he sidestepped, plunging the silver stake deep, using the momentum of both their attacks to push through the chest wall to penetrate the heart. He whirled around as he drew his sword and severed the head from the shoulders.

    Branislava’s dragon rose just enough to get out of the way of the hounds, spun and aimed her tail at the hounds and Sange rau surrounding the others. With a vicious slap, she sent them all tumbling away from Skyler, Tatijana and Ivory. She couldn’t stay and protect them, not with Zev and the Lycans in such trouble. She left them, sending up a prayer that Dimitri, Fen and Razvan could protect them.

    Zev continued to shove Lycans out of line, forcing them to go to the back and wait for their turn to walk into the fire. He was hot and sweaty and furious. He couldn’t wake any of them, no matter how hard he tried. It was a difficult and tiring business. Just a few feet from him was Xaviero, his hands moving in an intricate pattern as he faced the fire, feeding it with live fuel in order to perform the task he desired. He was close, yet Zev couldn’t touch him, not with the protective circle around him.

    The fire dragon plopped herself down at the edge of the large fire now shooting halfway to the thick fog overhead. Billowing black smoke ran along the ceiling, turning the fog charcoal in color. The dragon lifted her wedge-shaped head and poured a steady stream of fire around the protection circle, lighting the ground so that flames shot up around Xaviero, ringing him. The blaze couldn’t touch him, but it would make him uncomfortable and unable to see what was happening around him. More, it would force him to stop what he was doing, just as she had done while trying to bring down the inverted pentagram, to counter her moves.

    She wouldn’t be able to stay long in the fire, preventing the Lycans from throwing themselves into the inferno, so she had to neutralize Xaviero’s spell. She knew Xaviero very well, she had studied him carefully. Even if he’d made a thousand more spells in the intervening years, his style was still the same—arrogant and self-serving.

    Zev did his best to turn each of the Lycans away from the fire. They seemed empty bodies, their spirits gone, although he could see the horror in their eyes as they walked into the flames. He’d lost four only, but he’d had to be aggressive, even using his fists to knock them to the ground. Shoving hadn’t been enough with the more determined—or those deep under Xaviero’s command.

    Hurry, Branka. They’re moving around to the other side.

    He knew she was hurrying, doing her best. She had to be uncomfortable there in the fire, even in her dragon form, but these were real men and women just walking calmly under the High Mage’s command into the conflagration. On some level, they know what they’re doing. Xaviero has removed their free will, but they can see what’s coming and have no way to stop it.

    Branislava heard the anguish in his voice. It was like Xaviero to do such a thing. It wasn’t enough for him to sacrifice all the Lycans to his nefarious plan; he had to make certain they suffered emotionally and mentally. She would bet her last dollar they suffered physically as well, they just couldn’t cry out.

    Choices have been taken,

    No will is left to see,

    I call to that which is hidden deep inside of thee.

    I call to the fire of passion,

    I call to the spirit within,

    Break these bonds that bend,

    Allowing free will to reign again.

    The Lycans returned to themselves with a terrible war cry, spinning around, away from the fire and looking with hatred and anger toward Xaviero. Eight of the warriors peeled off to surround the circle of protection.

    No! Zev, you must stop them. They can’t attack him.

    Terrified of what the High Mage could do with the angry wolves, twisting their hatred and anger to his purpose, she shifted from her dragon form, leaping away from the flames and running to intercept, her hands already sketching a pattern in the air as she tried to place a holding spell on the Lycan warriors.

    Time that is movement,

    Root them,

    Hold each within their place,

    Let all now be frozen so no further harm may take place.

    Already it was far too late for the fastest and strongest of the Lycans. Four leapt through the flames surrounding the hated mage and struck the protection barrier. One tried for the back of Xaviero’s neck, hoping to use his wolf to sever the spinal cord. Two others closed in from both sides, and the last chose a frontal attack, going for the throat.

    The flames surrounding the protection circle disappeared in a blue puff. Xaviero caught the Lycan coming at him, snapped his neck and threw him casually into the flames several feet away. He smiled at Branislava as he did so, that evil, contemptuous smirk she remembered from long ago. She would never forget the macabre showing of his teeth and his cold, dead eyes that glowed with a kind of glee when he hurt others.

    The Lycan leaping at his neck was caught in the air, held prisoner by burning runes and then, casually, with his unholy sneer, the mage reached up, caught the Lycan by the neck and tossed him after the first one into the blaze.

    Both Lycans screamed as they caught fire, whirling around trying to put out the flames running over their bodies. As if they’d been coated in an accelerant, the fire burned right through them, as they screamed and wailed, the sound never to be forgotten.

    The last two warriors hit the protective circle, and runes leapt over their bodies, running up their legs and hips, to their torsos and around to their backs, climbing higher and higher until they reached their necks. Both men in their Lycan form put clawed hands up to their throats, their eyes going wide, seeming almost to pop out of their heads as they fought for air. It was a slow, cruel strangulation and all who watched were helpless to do anything at all. The two men, as if they were doing a ghoulish ballet fell to the ground in slow motion and lay at the mage’s feet.

    Around them, the battle blazed between Carpathians and the Lycans led by Daciana, Makoce and Lykaon and the hellhounds and Sange rau army the mages had created. Still, in that moment, it seemed as if there was only Xaviero and Branislava staring at each another.

    Branislava moistened her lips and waved her hand to restore the Lycans’ abilities to move. “He’s baiting all of you. You can’t defeat him,” she said aloud. “You can’t. Join the others in fighting off his army and leave him to me.” She forced absolute confidence into her voice, the confidence Zev instilled in her. His belief in her overcame her childhood terror of this man.

    Eyes darkened with anger, the mage stared at Branislava, a clear warning that he would retaliate if she tried anything at all.

    Zev took a step toward the mage, drawing his attention. Branislava shook her head, but said nothing. Zev wasn’t a man who fought battles with anger or made impetuous moves. He’d deliberately caught the eye of the mage to give her time to get back to taking down the barrier and removing Xaviero’s inverted pentagram and the unholy fog.

    Staring at Zev, the mage slipped his hands into the pockets of his robe and took out two very benign-looking pebbles. They were about the size of a man’s eye and smooth as if they’d been polished over and over. With slow deliberation, Xaviero opened his hands, allowing the pebbles to slip out of his palms and drop onto the furred chest of the two dead Lycans at his feet. He never once looked down to see if his aim was true. He only stared at Zev with his sneer of absolute contempt.

    Zev could see that the pebbles landed directly over the hearts of both Lycans. There was no bouncing or sliding off the thick mats of fur. The pebble blazed into a curious blue-purple flame and sank into the chests of the Lycans. His breath caught in his throat as the two dead warriors spasmed. Convulsed. Began to grow. Where there had been fur, great spikes burst through skin, covering back, chest, arms and even legs. The muzzles expanded to accommodate a second row of serrated teeth. The two creatures stood up on their legs, claws growing until they were twice the size of a grizzly bear’s.

    Zev sighed and looked around at the Lycans staring in disbelief. There was little of the two men they knew recognizable under the monstrous builds. “I’ll need Fen and Dimitri here to help me deal with porcupine boys,” he said in a carrying voice, going for humor when it appeared they were all doomed.

    A few of the pack leaders smiled. He signaled to Branislava to move back away from the fire and into the circle of Lycans.

    “You must protect the women. More than anything else that matters. You know how to kill the hellhounds, and you must deal in packs with the Sange rau. There’re more of us than them. Mob them if you have to, but take them down. And protect the women. They have to deal with the mages.”

    Branka, you have to break his circle of power. I haven’t been able to find his sacrifice as of yet. I’m drawn to the other side of the fire. I’m certain that’s where he’s kept, but Xaviero keeps throwing things at me I can’t ignore.

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