|Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Blood (Chapter 51)|
|Dark Blood(Dark #26) by Christine Feehan|
It was dark and dank, very humid inside the throat of the worm. Great streams of amber hung like icicles from the roof of the mouth and dripped continuously. Membranes were covered by strange high ridges, deep valleys of scarring and large misshapen bumps, above and all around them.
The worm shrieked again, the sound echoing up the throat, nearly throwing them against the walls. The creature grew frantic as the tunnel continued to collapse, fighting to make it through to the other side by wiggling, bucking and even whirling like a drill.
The three women searched for the telltale spot inside the desperate worm. As the creature spun madly in an attempt to get out of the collapsing tunnel, venom sprayed around its throat. Only the fact that the three women were in the form of vapor saved them from being doused.
Is this it? Skyler asked.
Tatijana had stayed close to her, hoping to protect her if everything went bad fast, not that she could imagine much worse. She peered at the strange markings on the inside of the worm’s throat. Small raised wounds and blemishes were scattered in a pattern of seven whorls and deep circular indentations, marks she was certain the mage had made.
Skyler’s right. This has to be his mark, Ivory. There’s a fresh wound here.
Ivory inspected the small ring. Perfect. Good eyes, Skyler. This disc is iolite, she identified. Already there was a thin thread of blue-violet light emanating from the disc.
It’s a violet stone that enhances vision on the astral realm, Tatijana explained to Skyler just in case she didn’t know.
Very volatile under the right circumstances, Ivory added. Do exactly as I do and then get out of here fast.
Ivory didn’t wait, shimmering into her natural form, careful to avoid the strings of amber venom seeping in long strings from the roof of the mouth as she hovered in the center of the worm’s throat.
Skyler gasped as fibers reached for Ivory, like tentacles following the source of heat. Ivory was fast, dodging them and using the light like one of her arrows, striking deep, penetrating into the worm’s tough wall. When she let go of the disc, the weapon followed the light, crashing hard into the pattern of scars.
Both Skyler and Tatijana followed suit without hesitation, releasing first the light like a spear and then the disc, nearly simultaneously. All three weapons pulsed with light and then burst into a violet wash that bathed the walls of the worm’s throat in vivid color. A shrill, penetrating sound followed, the piercing notes threatening to destroy all sense, so that all three hastily muted the volume.
Hurry, hurry, Ivory urged, rushing toward the mouth of the worm.
The giant cavernous body of the creature rolled again. Bucked harder. Began to thrash violently. Tatijana and Skyler kept up with Ivory, dodging the venom and avoiding touching the walls of the spiraling worm. Condensation formed, an eerie haze when the violet light spread like a smoky red tide staining everything in its path a bluish purple.
The three women hovered just behind the double rows of serrated teeth. The sense of urgency was strong in all of them, as if they shared one mind—and one goal.
The worm rocked violently again, thrashing as more smoky violet light poured from the three discs and curled as vapor in every direction. Ivory appeared to be concentrating hard.
Three, two, one, she counted down and then burst forward.
The worm’s throat contracted. Squeezed. The walls narrowed behind them. The mouth of the worm gaped open to cough, every muscle constricting violently.
Ivory didn’t need to tell them to hurry. They followed her frantic attempt at reaching the surface. The ground trembled and shook with intensity as the worm thrashed, maddened by the burning in its throat. Shock waves like seismic anomalies reverberated through the ground. Dirt fell in on itself all around them.
I can get us out faster, Tatijana volunteered. Let me.
Tatijana squeezed past Ivory, shifting into her dragon form so that she could dig their way out far faster than they could. Her wedge-shaped head burst through the surface, continuing upward so that she could use her long neck and front claws to protect the others from the fierce battle taking place aboveground.
Branislava saw Tatijana’s dragon head emerge from beneath the surface and something deep inside her settled. Behind Tatijana’s dragon came first Ivory and then Skyler. She wasn’t alone fighting a war against two, possibly three mages. Her lifemate and the others were holding off the mage’s army to give her the chance to bring down Xaviero’s seat of power, and she was close. She could feel it now, the taste of victory. It was all about not making a mistake.
All three women had gone through a fight, but they’d emerged alive and victorious. They hurried to make their way through the battlefield to get to her side. With the exception of Ivory, three had been born of Dragonseeker blood. Ivory was lifemate to a Dragonseeker and over the years his blood had become hers, so technically, the mages would be dealing with four powerful Dragonseeker women.
Tatijana, I need you and Ivory to take the two trees there. Branislava indicated the tree directly opposite from the one she had released. Ivory, if you could take the one at the bottom of the pentagram, that would be helpful. Skyler, you and I are going to work on the ones on either side of Xaviero. He’s setting up a triangle with the fire and his brother. You can see his position.
She dug a small diagram in the dirt with the toe of her boot. I’ve figured out what he’s doing and how he set up his power grid. We’ll have to open our minds to one another for this to work properly.
Ivory was a loner. Other than Razvan she didn’t share her life—or her mind—with anyone else. If this was to work, they’d have to do it together.
Ivory knew her meaning immediately and simply nodded. I am a warrior first. Whatever needs to be done, I will do.
Branislava breathed a sigh of relief. She’d put her sister closest to Ivory in order to give Ivory aid if needed. She would be positioned with Skyler. Both women were powerhouses in their own right, and all four of them connected had every chance of bringing down the two mages. She did her best to convey that confidence while she instructed them on how to peel back the layers of magic Xaviero had wrought.
Skyler’s eyes widened in shock, Branislava’s only warning. A massive hellhound hit her squarely in the chest driving her over backward, the gaping mouth with rows of terrible teeth driving straight for her throat. She tried to fend it off with outstretched hands, a pitiful attempt, but the hot breath blasted her in the face and what looked like a thousand teeth rushed at her. At the last moment she squirmed enough that the beast clamped his jaw down tight around her shoulder, not her throat.
She heard her own scream, a frightened, pain-filled cry, torn from her in spite of all resolution not to show Xaviero weakness. Of course he’d targeted the women. She’d been so wrapped up in her work, she hadn’t thought to keep one eye out for an attack.
The hellhound ripped a great chunk of flesh from her shoulder, and clamped down a second time on the bone. His teeth seemed to meet in the middle and he shook her like a rag doll. There was no way to shift, no way to reach into her belt and retrieve the knife there.
Skyler rolled on the ground beneath the hellhound, a knife in her fist, blade up. She cut the legs of the beast, slicing tendons and ligaments as she rolled to the other side. As she came up in a crouch, she slammed the blade into the eye of the hellhound and leapt away from the creature before it could release Branislava and attack her.
Razvan came out of nowhere, covered in blood, his face a mask of intent, eyes blazing fire as he leapt over one hellhound, slamming his arrow deep into its eye, knocked down a Sange rau and launched himself in the air at the last moment, to land squarely on the back of the hellhound attacking Branislava.
He wrapped one arm around the beast’s head, jerking it back hard as he plunged his knife into the animal’s remaining good eye. The hellhound shuddered. Took a step and collapsed over the top of Branislava. Razvan pulled her out from under the heavy creature, his fingers moving over her shoulder to determine how much damage had been done.
“Thanks. Both of you.” She included Skyler. “Thank you.”
Razvan nodded. “It’s not broken, but right now, drive out every bit of bacteria. You’ll need to cauterize it as fast as possible.”
It hurt, even when she did her best to push the pain away. Even pushing out the strands of bacteria was painful. Burning it clean hurt even more. She set her teeth and nodded to Razvan that she was good and could go back to work. A part of her was very grateful that he stood guard over the four of them. The thought of another hellhound getting ahold of her was terrifying. With a little shudder she turned back to begin peeling the layers back on the heavy strands of magic protecting the mage’s power grid.
The fire let out a roar, as if alive, and maybe it was with the aid of the mages. The flames turned blue in the middle of the conflagration, a storm of defiant color in the midst of the raging blaze. The flames leapt higher and higher, nearly climbing to the fog ceiling, the black smoke spreading like a cancer overhead. The tremendous heat drove everyone away from the site, not because the Carpathians couldn’t control their temperatures, but because the fire melted everything in its range.
The ground shifted, a jarring warning that stopped nearly everyone in their tracks. Even the few remaining hellhounds paused uneasily. Xaviero walked out of the protective circle, unbending, unafraid, a blue light glowing around him. His brother came from the other side, just as impressive, wrapped in that same mystique that set them apart from the rest of the world.
They kept to the shadows, making no sound at all, yet commanding the attention of every combatant. The hellhounds rushed to them, slinking low, like pets who had been beaten but were at the command of their masters. Both mages waved their hands and a candle on either side of the triangle they formed with the fire leapt to life, the flames flickering blue to match the center of the larger blaze.
The ground trembled a second time, a great crack zigzagging through the center of the triangle Xaviero, Xayvion and the fire formed, in the exact center of power between the trees the two had prepared in advance. Soil erupted into a geyser and then collapsed in on itself, forming a sinkhole several feet in diameter.
The candles on either side of the triangle leapt in glee, the flames turning blue to answer the blue crystals both mages scattered on the ground surrounding the sinkhole. A blast of heat rose from below, as if a great volcano lurked just beneath the surface. The fog above their heads reflected an orange-red hue cast from the melted rock deep in the sinkhole.
A hush fell over the battlefield. Both mages stepped out of the shadows, ringed by the hellhounds to guard them as they performed their ritual. Dressed in purple robes, they lifted their arms and opened them wide. In complete synchronization, the two chanted the foulest of dark magic, demanding the gates of hell be opened.
I call to the devil of black rock’s depth,
Let these souls travel the devil’s spine.
Let them be the offering to all that is dark,
So that none may undo this time.
Let these souls serve as fodder,
As hunger feeds.
Let their blood seal the bond,
Let their blood seal this need.
Branislava winced at the demonic, vile incantation, the deal they were making. They ordered and cajoled. They commanded and yet supplicated. The arrogance of the two mages shocked her. What they would bring back from the dead would be far worse than what Xavier had been. She shuddered thinking of the reign of terror he would provide. The mage voices rose in volume as they continued with their bid to free their brother.
Each soul I send,
I exchange for life.
I sign with you now with blood and life,
From this day forward I am bound to serve.
Be ever to be immortal,
For what has been served.
From spirit and blood, flesh and bone,
I sign this pact now with immortality won.
Xaviero gestured toward the fire, crooking his little finger, summoning their offering. The prisoner was wrapped from head to toe in silver chain. A tall, broad-shouldered Sange rau dragged him from behind the fire and shoved him into the triangle so hard he fell facedown in the dirt. The Sange rau moved back quickly, clearly not wanting to get too close to the mage. With no hands to stop him, the prisoner’s face buried itself in the grime. He lay unmoving for a moment, no sound escaping. Very slowly he turned over and in spite of the chains, managed to get into a sitting position.
Zev’s heart stuttered. Went still. Branka. That is my grandfather. That’s Hemming. I would know him anywhere, even though the silver has burned into his skin and he’s been tortured beyond endurance. That’s Hemming.
Don’t move. Don’t speak or draw attention to yourself in any way, Branislava cautioned. You are alpha. Above all matters. He cannot feel your emotion or he can draw more power from it. Your grandfather carries your grandmother’s blood. He is now mixed blood as you are, and he is a strong Dark Blood.
Zev hadn’t really considered that. He’d been told by the Carpathians that he was of the Dark Blood lineage many times, but he never really understood what it meant. He thought of himself as Lycan. If he considered himself Carpathian at all, it was as a brother to Fen and Dimitri. Now, with his grandfather chained and about to be slain so Xavier could have his body and his spirit could go to hell in exchange, he realized that all along, it was this the mages had been looking to do.
They wanted the body and blood of a Dark Blood, and his grandfather had probably walked right into their trap. He had gone looking for those who had murdered his mate. One by one he had hunted them down. Of course Xaviero would have heard the rumors. It would have taken little effort to lure Hemming to him.
They can’t have him, Zev said, absolute determination in his mind and voice.
Of course they can’t. We’re close to tearing down his powerhouse, but it takes time to unravel what he’s wrought. Inch your way to the weakest side, the side of the fire. He won’t be expecting an attack from that side, Branislava advised.