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  • Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 49)     
    Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan
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    He’ll go back to work once he’s satisfied that you’re occupied with the giant porcupines. I’ll see what I can do.

    No, it’s more important that you figure out how to bring down the inverted pentagram and the fog barrier. I can sense Mikhail and Gregori with reinforcements on the other side, but they can’t get in.

    The large monsters Xaviero had created shook themselves, and then turned black vacant eyes on not Zev, but Branislava. Clearly the mage knew which of them his greatest enemy was.

    Get out of here, Branka. Right now. Stay inside that circle and get back where the Carpathians can help protect you.

    Somehow, Zev, you have to retrieve the pebbles from their chests. Nothing else will actually kill them. The pebbles give them life.

    Got it. Now go. And be safe.

    Zev needed to keep his attention on the porcupines. Each took a shuddering step as if testing their new body to see how it worked. The first one stepped out of the circle of protection with one leg, and Zev, using his mixed blood speed, whirled forward and severed the limb with blurring speed, gliding out of reach in one continuous movement.

    The porcupine howled and tipped forward, a slow ponderous fall as black blood poured into the ground around him. To Zev’s disgust the creature licked at the blood and then tried to get to his one remaining knee.

    Zev whirled in close a second time, coming in from above at the last moment. His sword flashed, severing the head as he continued his trajectory, landing a few feet away in a crouch. The head bounced and rolled, spilling more of the black blood across the field. Relief swept through him. It was a delaying tactic, but as tactics went, the porcupine wasn’t the worse thing on the battlefield. Branislava hadn’t considered that Xaviero wanted to delay them as well.

    “Zev, what the hell?” Fen was beside him.

    Dimitri took up position on the other side. All three stared in a kind of appalled fascination at the severed parts of the fallen creature. The leg shook and shuddered. The body did the same. The head elongated grotesquely.

    “I don’t think cutting them up is a really good idea,” Fen said. There was the faintest humor in his voice. “We need a different plan.”

    Zev, maybe I can help, Branislava said, terror in her voice again.

    He’s targeting you. Get out of his sight. I want you safe, Branka, you’re our hope to get out of this mess.

    She winced at the lash of pure authority in his voice. He was impossible to ignore when he spoke like that. She knew he commanded armies, and right now, both Carpathian and Lycan alike were under his orders. He commanded the battlefield like a general and clearly knew what he was doing. It was just that he didn’t know about mages—these mages—as she did. She couldn’t help but be afraid for him.

    Still, she wasn’t going to argue in the middle of a battle and distract him from the three new porcupines coming at him. Or the second original porcupine lumbering out of the circle of protection. Already, Xaviero was back to ignoring them, his arms wide, facing the fire, his features settling into lines of concentration.

    Zev muttered under his breath, wishing he knew a few incantations. “We have to know which one of the new ones was the torso. Branka says we need to retrieve the pebbles, that, by the way, turned into blue flames before they entered their bodies. So you know, this is going to be easy.”

    Dimitri sent him a little smirk. “It always is, isn’t it?”

    “They don’t move as fast as his hellhounds, or the Sange rau,” Fen pointed out with a small frown. “So what is it that is lethal about them, other than teeth and claws?”

    “If they look like a porcupine,” Zev said, with a small grin. “You might consider that their quills could be dangerous. All those sharp spikes? Just a guess.”

    Fen shot him a look. The four porcupines lumbered closer, attempting to surround the three hunters. “They look exactly alike. Which one has the pebble we’re looking for?”

    “The one directly facing you, Fen, is the one who split into threes, but that particular one with the strange-looking ridges was the torso,” Zev said. “Be careful about severing parts. We don’t want any more to pop up. I’m assuming, and that could get us all killed, that if we get the two pebbles the other two new ones will fall.”

    “Let’s hope,” Fen said, and leapt straight into the air, above the porcupine in front of him.

    As if the movement had triggered them into violence, all four of the large Lycans turned puppets, shot out deadly quills. They were much like arrows although streamlined and tipped with venom. The three hunters could see the venom glistening on the tops, which meant the bodies of the porcupines produced the venom and it ran through the hollow quill to the tip.

    The only thing that saved Zev and Dimitri from being covered in poisonous quills was their mixed blood speed. Both leapt into the air, although Zev felt the burn as one of the quills passed through his ankle. Hot and ugly pain ripped through him like a freight train, stealing his breath.

    “Push the poison out through your pores,” Dimitri instructed, his eyes on his brother.

    As Fen dropped from his leap in the air, he came down on the porcupine Zev had pointed out as the one Xaviero had released his pebble into. His legs wrapped around the neck of the beast, the only spot that wasn’t covered with quills. He drove the huge Lycan puppet nearly into the ground with the velocity of his attack, so that the porcupine couldn’t move, his legs trapped in the dirt.

    Fen plunged his knife into the chest of the beast, following the path with his fist, swearing in his native language as venom burned through his flesh, but his fingers managed to find the small pebble. He snatched at it, dragging it into his palm, even as the beast attacked him, ripping at his arms and shoulders with great, tearing claws. He held on to his prize with tenacity, ignoring what was happening to his body while he extracted the pebble.

    Two of the porcupines rushed to help, but their footwork was clumsy, and Dimitri managed to slow them down by taking their legs out from under them. Fen pushed off the porcupine’s head, the pebble in his hand. It was surprisingly clean and smooth, cool when it should have been covered in blood and warm.

    Branka, what do we do with the pebble once we have it? They’re still alive and coming at us, Zev said.

    He didn’t like Fen’s apparent fascination with the small round stone, either. Rather than hurling the thing away, as instinct might demand and running from the creatures bearing down on him, Fen stood staring at the pebble as if mesmerized.

    Use a cloth to touch it. Don’t use skin.

    Now she told him. Zev ripped his shirt and took the pebble right out of Fen’s hand, shoving him out of the path of one of the marauding porcupines. Fen blinked rapidly, frowned and looked at his torn arms with a kind of shock.

    I’ve got it. What do I do with it? Already the other puppets were coming after him, ignoring both Fen and Dimitri. He was grateful he’d pushed the poison out of his system as Dimitri had instructed, something he’d never done before and would have come in handy in a few of the battles he’d been in.

    Hurl it straight at Xaviero. Just like the time you shot at him. Aim between his eyes and don’t miss.

    He’s inside a protective circle.

    Exactly. His own magic will destroy the pebble.

    “Get the other one and try not to touch it. If you do, you risk zombie land, although Fen looked pretty dreamy,” Zev pointed out.

    Dimitri used the same tactic as Fen had, leaping into the air, his legs scissoring around the puppet’s neck, driving him down into the dirt to trap his legs while he slammed his knife inside the chest. He’d wrapped the inside of his fist with a piece of his shirt, and when he felt the small pebble, he used two fingers to scoop it into the middle of his palm.

    The porcupine tore at him. Dimitri felt sorry for the creature, despite the pain it caused as it ripped at his arms and tried to embed quills into his skin. He’d once been a Lycan warrior, fierce and fast and loyal to his people. To do this to such a man was wrong.

    “I’ll give you the peace you deserve,” he whispered softly as he ripped the pebble out of the Lycan’s chest.

    He leapt away from the creature, and sprinted to Zev’s side. “What now?”

    “We throw them at Xaviero’s forehead. Aim right between his eyes and Branislava says not to miss. So don’t miss,” Zev cautioned. “Right after me. A one-two punch, so he has no time to counter.”

    Dimitri nodded. Zev hurtled the first pebble so hard it sang as it moved through the air. Dimitri followed suit, giving the small stone a voice as they whistled low all the way to the protective circle. Both stones hit the protective shell hard, aimed exactly for the middle of Xaviero’s forehead. Blue flame burst from the protective shell, sputtered and then was gone. For a moment the ring around the mage lit up and he stumbled back as if hit with a great force.

    Anger flared in his eyes as he glared at the three of them. His puppets collapsed on the battlefield. Zev sent him a little salute.

    It’s done, Branka. We’re coming to you.

    And all of you are all right?

    A little beat up, but we’re fine, he assured. The Lycans he made into puppets are at rest.

    It was impossible for any soul dying there on the battlefield to escape, Xaviero had seen to that with his foul fog and the blackened, greedy smoke from his fire, but she didn’t want to point that out to Zev. Branislava deliberately began to inch her way away from the roaring blaze, knowing the closer she was to Xaviero’s center of power, the more it would interfere with hers. She had to be just as powerful in her own right—for good. Where there was evil, there was always good. Where there was darkness, one could find light. One didn’t exist fully without the other.

    Tatijana, are you all right?

    Before she blocked out everything else, she needed to know the other three women could handle Xayvion.

    Tatijana heard her sister as if she was far away, not merged in her mind. Her concentration was wholly on Xayvion. Already he had countered her spell, turning her wholesome and helpful garden snakes into venomous vipers, slithering around the field just waiting for a hapless Lycan or Carpathian to make a misstep.

    To those that are filled with venom,

    A healing charm I apply,

    I call you forth with music, hear my healing rhyme.

    Each serpent I now call, return to what you were,

    Releasing that which would harm,

    Banishing that which is fear,

    Dissolve that which is poison,

    Let all that is venomous disappear.

    Xayvion’s simply using delaying tactics, Ivory warned. He’s worked his way around until he’s in the position needed to form a triangle with his brother and the fire.

    The three of us can drive him out of there, slow down his petty little spells, Skyler said. He’s playing with you, Tatijana. He doesn’t care about the battle or actually doing anything but adding souls to the fire for Xaviero to open the gates.

    If we throw him off his game, Ivory added, it will slow Xaviero down and give Branislava more of a chance to unravel the source of power.

    All three felt much safer with Dimitri, Fen and Zev close to fight off the lightning-fast Sange rau, but the packs taking their places had all trained in the event they ever came across such a creature in their lifetimes. Like the Carpathians, they used hyssop oil to cover themselves and coated their silver arrows and knives with it as well.

    Tatijana tried to block out the fierce battle and the sometimes hot breath of a hellhound that managed to get too close.

    “Let’s try it,” she murmured, and held out her hands to Skyler and Ivory.

    They bent their heads as Ivory said a small prayer before they merged into one unit of power. Tatijana lifted her head and looked directly at Xayvion.

    I call to the power of earth,

    Mother who created us,

    I call to the power of air,

    Lend me your force.

    I call to the power of water,

    Protect me from that which can burn,

    I call to the power of fire,

    Bring forth through me, your explosive blast.

    Xayvion hadn’t been expecting them to attack him directly. The force hit him mid-center, folding him in half like a paper doll, lifting him up and flinging him across the field straight into the inferno Xaviero had fed the Lycans to. He screamed, spinning like a top, trying to gather enough wits to counter their spell. Even as he emerged, his robes singed and his white hair burned, Tatijana was ready for him.

    Twist and turn, spin and churn,

    Into this fog you must now turn,

    Let what is within not be seen,

    So that you wander sightless deep within.

    Whatever was in the fog, the thickness of the black enveloping smoke, was no better for the mage than for the Carpathians or Lycans. They had released foul things into the dense barrier to aid them when the time came to sacrifice the souls Xaviero had ripped from the dead. He gathered them, keeping them in the smoke, pressed against the fog.

    Xayvion felt angry spirits reaching for him, locking clawed, greedy fingers into his spirit in an attempt to drag him into the realm where they waited helplessly for Xaviero to send them into the realm of dark hopelessness.

    Instantly he fought back, shocked at the strength of the women. Tatijana was no more than fodder—food to keep the three brothers alive. There was nothing there, no brain, no gifts, no skills. A stupid child to devour when hungry. How could she counter his moves and then become aggressive? He recognized Ivory. He had helped Xavier kidnap her for Draven’s dark desire, that stupid boy, first in line to be prince before Mikhail, who had no idea of the power he could have wielded had he not had such an obsession with one woman. Xaviero had been the one aiding the vampire, chopping her maliciously into pieces and scattering her body across the meadow for the wolves to devour her. He had deliberately not killed her, knowing she would suffer horribly. If the wolves didn’t eat her the sun would take her, and yet, there she was, adding her power to Tatijana’s. The third woman was a stranger to him, but he could feel her touch, and he recognized it with a shock.

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