Authors: Christine Feehan
“I had little to do with mages, other than the obligatory training period of spells. Most of what I learned throughout the centuries, I took from those I met along the way. Most of those born mage that I came across were good people as far as I could discern. Later, when they were scattered after it came to light what Xavier was doing, most I heard of were ashamed.”
“How did you hear of them?”
“Carpathians shared mage knowledge with me.” He shrugged. “Even in the monastery, Fane would come across Carpathians, get all the news and bring it back to us. Other times, a few would come to the monastery looking for a little respite and they would bring news and more information.”
“You have a good network.”
“We have to. There are not many of us left in this world.”
As they neared the lake and once again began to circle it, Julija picked up various energies of campers and hikers, even those on horseback who’d
visited the lake. The temperature dropped even more, so that the wind coming off the surface of the lake seemed to bite at their faces.
“I don’t think he would have been this close to the road where humans travel. He would have wanted privacy. He was suffering. His grief was so strong, I could barely breathe with it.” Julija turned her head to look up at Isai’s face. “I find it so strange that Carpathians without their lifemates can’t feel, yet I could feel your emotions and his as well.”
“I have heard that from some of the other women. I thought, when I first heard it, that those women were gifted in some way, but perhaps we broadcast what we do not feel ourselves.”
She kicked at a small pebble. It rolled away from the lake, spun around and came back toward her as if she was a magnet. Her heart took another plunge and a thousand knots seemed to form in her stomach. She pressed her free hand there and tightened her fingers through his.
“Isai.” She kept her gaze fixed on the small, rounded rocks lining the path they were taking around the lake. “He’s here.”
“Of course he is.” Isai didn’t ask who “he” was. His voice was the same. Steady. Matter-of-fact. Unemotional. “We knew he would come. Anatolie is a very powerful mage and we cannot discount him, but never for one moment forget who our true enemy is. Barnabas is far more dangerous. Because Xavier was the mage before everyone’s eyes, he became the greatest enemy of the Carpathian people. Everyone thought he was more dangerous than anything they had faced.”
“You don’t think he was?”
“How much do you know about the battle that took place quite recently between the Carpathians—specifically four women, three born Dragonseeker and one mated to one—and Xaviero? He tried to start a war between Lycans and Carpathians. His intention was to bring Xavier back. He would have succeeded if those women hadn’t been able to stop him. The brethren analyzed all the data, as we often do, and we concluded that it was not Xavier who was the most dangerous. We do not even think it was Xaviero. There is a third brother, Xayvion.”
“Yes, of course. Anatolie mentioned him several times.”
“He showed himself briefly but disappeared. He was heard calling to
Xaviero, advising him to leave while he could, but Xaviero refused his advice.”
“Why do you think Xayvion is the most dangerous?”
“He had nothing to prove. He read the situation and left a battle he could not win. He succeeded in wiping out the Jaguar shifters. Yes, a few remain, but they cannot possibly rebuild their species. He remained in the background, allowing his brothers always to take the forefront, allowing them to think themselves superior. His ego is not what theirs was. He will not be taken down easily.”
She was silent for a long time as they continued around the cold, glacier-blue water. “Why do so many people crave power, Isai? Why don’t they want families and people to love them?”
“I do not know the answer to that.”
She wanted to weep endlessly. Her heart hurt it was so heavy. She pressed a hand to it and took a few more steps, feeling as if she waded through quicksand, and her grief for the world was so severe, so deep, she could hardly go on. She forced herself to put one foot in front of the other when all she wanted to do was sink down and just rest. She needed rest desperately.
“Julija.” Isai’s voice was extremely gentle. He cupped the side of her face. “You are feeling Iulian. We have found his psychic footprints. Can you manage to follow them?”
She honestly didn’t know. His sorrow was overwhelming. Terrible to endure, to feel. She also felt like a voyeur. This was Iulian’s private grief and she didn’t belong there. In a way, it was his tribute to his lifemate.
Sívamet, he cannot feel as you can. This grief was buried so deep he was unable to tap into it and that was a good thing. He went to her. He told her he would find her in the next realm. I do not know if he bound them together, which is a possibility even without his taking her blood or she his. Once the ritual binding words are said, their souls are tied. You said she couldn’t speak. If that is so, he felt no emotion, he saw no colors, but he could find her, and clearly, he always meant to follow her.
She swallowed hard, fighting not to go down to her knees under the
weight of Iulian’s sorrow and the long centuries of nothingness. Too many when, in the end, he hadn’t reached his lifemate in time. She knew the moment Isai intervened, taking the burden from her, but he couldn’t shoulder it all, not when she needed to follow Iulian’s psychic trail.
He put his arm around her when she stumbled. She had been with Isai long enough to know she couldn’t leave him, their connection was too strong, but she hadn’t realized until that moment just what he had gone through. He was far older than Iulian and had endured so much longer and so much more. For her. Waiting for her. She turned her face up to his, love for him overwhelming her.
He slipped his arm around her waist. “You are worth every moment of being alone, Julija.”
That was humbling beyond words. She gave him a watery smile and forced her attention back to Iulian. “I’m glad he at least saw her before she died. He had that and knew who she was.”
“If he bound them together, soul to soul, he will find her,” Isai said with great confidence.
That made her feel better. They rounded the next little curve of the lake and she stopped abruptly. They were on a small rise and could see far out onto the lake. The surface rippled madly with the wind, but it didn’t matter. She could see Iulian clearly now.
“He stood for a long time, right here, right in this spot, thinking of her. For a few minutes he paced, but he had already made up his mind. He knew what he was going to do and had no hesitation whatsoever about it.” She turned her face up to Isai’s again. “He had no interest in the book other than to protect Mikhail from attacks and the Carpathian people from the book falling into the wrong hands.”
He smiled at her reassurance. “Once I knew he’d found his lifemate, I was certain he would not have wanted the book for his own gain.”
“Well, we know for certain.”
“We have to have a plan for destroying it as soon as it is in our hands. We will be attacked the moment you bring the book to the surface. It is in the lake, isn’t it?”
She looked out over the expanse of water, the wind ruffling the surface, causing choppy waves. “It isn’t there, Isai. He considered it. That was his intention, but the lake was too beautiful, and he didn’t want to mar it with the ugliness of the book.”
He sighed. “I suppose it was never going to be that easy.”
“It is close. He chose to end his life here. He sliced his wrist and sat here, allowing his blood to coat the book completely. He had no idea you were alive, or that I could track him through our earlier connection. With his blood sacrifice, that of a good man of honor, he was certain no other could find the book.”
“If the book is not in the lake, where did he hide it? Perhaps we could leave it alone.”
She shook her head. “Sooner or later, someone would stumble across it. Even if he buried it deep.” Isai had told her the exact same thing earlier, and he was right, no matter how much she wanted to walk away from the task. She took a look around her.
“Iulian would be weak from blood loss. He had to have had a plan.” Isai looked around as well. What would his brother have devised at the last minute? He wouldn’t allow anyone to find his body or the book. The only way to get rid of a body without moving it far was bury it or burn it. He couldn’t burn it after he was gone, and the book didn’t burn anyway. So what?
“He buried it,” both said simultaneously. They looked at each other in agreement.
“He opened the earth and moved down inside, taking the book with him,” Isai guessed.
“Deep then,” Julija said. “He had to have gone very deep if he thought the wind and rain wouldn’t eventually uncover the book.” She began to walk in an ever-widening circle around the spot where she knew Iulian had rested and then cut his wrist. There was no trace of his blood anywhere. She knew because his blood would have called to his brother. He had done so in the open earth.
“Do you feel him?” Isai asked.
She stepped right and then left on a narrow track, trying to feel, trying to puzzle out Iulian’s way of ridding the world of the book. Then she stepped right on the exact spot. She knew because it was overwhelming as the hunter’s last thoughts were of his woman.
She looked up at her man. “Here. He is buried right here.”
You have to be ready for an all-out war, Julija,” Isai warned. “We are very exposed standing here out in the open.” He knew what was coming even more than she did. This book had been the thing of controversy for hundreds of years. If they were right, and he feared they were, the mages—particularly Anatolie, Xavier’s son, and Barnabas, Xaviero’s son—would come at them with everything they had to get possession of the book. Once it was destroyed, they would be furious.
“We have to stand over the exact location in order for me to counter what Iulian did to hide the book,” Julija protested. “You have to be here so your blood calls to his.”
His heart sank. He had to be prepared for either event. If they were wrong and they couldn’t destroy the book, they would have to flee with it. “The moment the book is destroyed, we take to the air in the form of mist.” He poured confidence into his voice. “Owls can be shot down. I want you to do what you have to do and then immediately,
, become mist. I’ll blanket the entire area with heavy snow to slow them down. I want you to head back to our sanctuary and wait for me there.”
“You can’t deal with these mages on your own. Both,
are high mage. That means very few could defeat them in a battle. It took four of your most powerful women to defeat Xaviero. They were Dragonseeker and they knew all the mage spells.”
Isai knew she was right, but he didn’t want her exposed to their enemy. She wasn’t the type of woman to obey when there was danger. He could force her obedience . . .
“Don’t you dare. Don’t you even think about doing that,” Julija snapped. “I would never forgive you. It’s my right. My choice. You’re mine, Isai, and I have the right to fight for you if that is what I choose to do and it is. I will not leave you here alone.”
He kept his hand low by his side but sent a command to the clouds by murmuring under his breath and twisting his fingers. The wind picked up just a little, enough to blow leaves and twigs in small little eddies, tiny twisters that danced over the ground around them. Any other time it would have been a beautiful heralding of winter, but tension was growing.
“I have a small knife. I carry it on me just in case. It’s a ceremonial knife. I’ve cleansed and blessed it. No one has ever touched it but me.”
He almost asked her why she carried it with her, but something in her voice warned him not to.
“I’ll bring the book up and immediately, before either of the two mages realize what we’re doing, I’ll cut myself and you cut yourself. I can’t do it to you, so you’re going to have to. I’ll say the ritual release words to release the souls from the book. Once they are gone, we should be able to drive the book from this world with our blood.”
“How long will it take, Julija?”
Impatience crossed her face, and he realized she was holding it together by a thread. He was used to switching to his hunting mode. He pushed all emotion aside and just got the job done. She felt everything, including terror, knowing her two worst enemies were on standby to kill them.
“You have to be prepared for me to be wrong, Isai. The book can’t fall into their hands. That has to be the first priority. If we don’t destroy it, you take possession of it.”
She was of the high mage’s bloodline. The power of the book could be overwhelming to her. “You have the better chance of getting it out of here safely. I can slow them down. Don’t shake your head, Isai, I can do that far better than you. I can counter their every spell.”
“You cannot just counter, Julija. You are going to have to get aggressive if we are going to get out of here alive.”
He could fight them off and give her time to get away, but if she had to defend the book, she was going to have to come into her own and recognize that she was every bit as powerful as either of their enemies. Anatolie and Barnabas were far more experienced, but her blood was both Carpathian and mage, and she had the best of both species. He was ancient and had no doubt that he would kill one or both of them, but it would take time and they would throw everything they had at him. If they were very, very lucky, his brethren would come.
“I understand,” she said. She tilted her head and looked him in the eye. “I can do this, Isai. I’m with you all the way. I knew it would come down to this someday. I have always been afraid Barnabas would convince Anatolie to let him have me again. If that happened, I promised myself I would never make that descent into hell again.”
He cupped her face in his hands. “You do know that I can find you anywhere.
I would follow you straight into hell if that was where you were. I’d come for you, Julija, never doubt that.”
He kissed her with exquisite tenderness. “My beloved. My little mage. I love you more than I can ever express.”
“I love you the same way.”
She had stars in her eyes. They were surrounded by her worst enemies and she looked at him as if he was everything. He brushed her lips again. “Are you ready?”
She nodded. “Let’s do this.”
Facing the lake, Julija took a deep, cleansing breath and closed her eyes to remove one of her senses, better to feel what she needed. The moment she did, Isai kicked the wind up a notch and the clouds above them swirled and groaned with the heavy burden of so much snow. Flakes fell in little flurries, were caught in the wind and carried out over the water.
She lifted her hands toward the lake. Isai knew the two high mages were expecting the book to be buried in the depths of the water, just as they had been. Both men would be concentrating their energies on the lake. He increased the snowfall so that their world turned white as the clouds, burgeoning with snow, finally burst open. He made certain the snow felt entirely natural. It was already there, he just added to the intensity of it.
Blood calls to blood, to that which is unseen.
Syphoning away darkness, so clarity is seen.
I call to the power of the earth below.
Open your arms that I may see what is hidden beneath and now know.
Isai wrapped Julija in his arms, pulling her back from the earth where it fell in on itself. He hoped that they could only be seen as shadowy figures walking closer to the lake.
The moment the deep grave was open, something stirred at the very bottom of the hole. It appeared indistinct, transparent, shimmering one moment black and the next gray, insubstantial in the ever-moving smoke. The thing tilted its head and looked up at them. The pits that had been eyes took on a fiery glow.
Isai’s breath caught in his lungs. “Shadow warrior,” he identified softly. Now he knew why his brother’s burden had been so intolerable, so heavy. He hadn’t just buried the book and chanced that no one would come upon it. He had left himself behind as a guardian. It was a terrible—and wonderful—sacrifice.
admiring him.” Already the apparition was standing upright, looking up at them, his body beginning to take form. She patted her thigh hard to clear her mind. “Vapor. Particles. Dust, dirt, whatever is available. Small molecules.” She murmured aloud what the shadow warrior was made of. She swallowed hard.
“Hear me now, Iulian. You deserve to rest in peace after all your years of service. Your blood-kin Isai will take over to allow you to go to your
lifemate. I am Julija, his lifemate, and I bear the mark of the high mage and the Dragonseeker.”
I call on the wind to take this warrior home.
I call on earth and fire to carry him to rest.
I call to the powers of air, circle and clear that which has been shadow so long.
I call to the powers of earth, open and provide a resting place for this warrior.
I call to the powers of fire, bring back his heart so he may find his true love.
I call to the powers of water, may this warrior find peace and balance within you.
Air, Earth, Fire, Water, hear me.
Surround this warrior, take him home, give him rest.
The shadow warrior moved between insubstantial gray smoke and what appeared to be a living, breathing Carpathian. His eyes went from a fiery glow to blazing blue, meeting Isai’s. Something passed between the brothers and then those eyes went to empty sockets. The wind picked up and blew him apart so that great, long strands of smoke twined with the snow and lay on the ground around them.
Julija staggered and Isai immediately caught her, his gaze on the snow falling in the meadow to their left. The meadow was flat, and already the blades of grass and small bushes were covered with snow. The skies were heavy with flakes, but he could see movement in the distance, completely across the meadow. It was slow, but it was coming steadily toward them.
,” he whispered into her ear. “I know you are getting tired, but you must keep going. The moment the book is gone, we can leave this place.” He reached for the shadow cats.
Can you see what is coming at us?
It was always best to keep the images as easy as possible for the
creatures, although, he had to admit, they were getting very adept at reading his words and images. Blue especially was adapting fast.
Below them was the book. It sat looking very innocent, deep in the hole. Julija closed her eyes and leaned into Isai for strength. “The pull is tremendous. The call of the book on me.” She showed him her arm where the snake coiled around the scorpion hissing, mouth wide and tongue out seeking the powerful energy. The scorpion rattled its claws and the stinger was up and ready.
“They’re coming for us,” Isai warned, hating to hurry her, not when she needed to gather strength to fight the pull of her mage bloodline.
She nodded. “Be ready. We’ll have to do this very fast. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to fight the need to open it. It’s incredibly powerful.”
Isai could see tiny blood droplets beading on her forehead. Already her Carpathian blood was at war with her mage blood. “Do it,
. Rid the world of that thing.”
He slipped one arm around her waist, pulling her into him so she had a place to rest, so she knew she wasn’t alone in this. All the while his gaze was fixed on the blizzard of swirling white flakes. He added to the whiteout, diminishing his own view, but slowing their enemy more.
He constructed warriors of old, an army of them, and sent them into the night to battle with the entities coming at them. Occasionally, from the outside edges of the oncoming army, bloodcurdling cries could be heard.
He knew the two mages had thrown in together. He could feel both of them in the storm. Their touches were quite different. Anatolie was sophisticated, almost light, constructing a multitude of monsters to come at them. He hadn’t differentiated between Isai and Julija. Every one of those creatures shuffling toward them were ordered to kill. He knew because he could feel the powerful need radiating off of them.
Barnabas was completely different. The beasts coming at them held great purpose and were mythical demons from hell. Hellhounds. Why they weren’t running toward them, Isai didn’t understand. Hellhounds were fast and difficult to kill. He would need arrows and hyssop oil, and a lot of luck. Barnabas was precise, methodical and focused. He had a purpose for his hellhounds and they were totally under his power.
Hellhounds, once unleashed, were ferocious, demonic creatures, difficult to control. Set on a target, they rarely were capable of being pulled back. These hellhounds showed almost frightening restraint.
Julija took a deep breath, drawing his attention. He glanced down at her. She lifted her hands and began to invoke protections.
Fire surround us with a tower of flames,
Holding back that which would do harm or maim.
Water wash clean of all dark magic cast.
Air bring forth your breath with a mighty blast,
Holding back powers from below and the past.
Earth protect us from that which is unseen,
Lying within your realm yet to be redeemed.
“Are you ready, Isai? I’ve made certain we’re as protected as possible, but if something goes wrong and I can’t resist its power, you have to take control. Take the book. Leave me if you have to. Get away and hide it.”
“You are going to destroy it,” he assured. Absolute conviction was in his voice because he believed it. Julija was far stronger than she gave herself credit for.
“We,” she corrected. She closed her eyes for a moment and then once again lifted her hands, weaving a complicated pattern.
That which is bound, deep within the earth,
I place forth my hand to you.
I now release your bonds,
Arise and come to me.
At once the book began to float upward toward them. As it did, the snake and scorpion on her arm shook in excitement. “I don’t want to touch it, Isai,” she cautioned. “You were just thinking of hyssop oil. Coat your hands in it so they don’t touch the book. I can hear the wailing of the dead. They might try to retaliate against anyone attempting to wield the book.”
He glanced at her sharply. He couldn’t hear the cries of those
murdered, but she was so sensitive. He could see the little dots of blood on her forehead beginning to trickle down her face. He did as she said, and the moment the book cleared the deep hole and rose into the air, there was a sudden silence. It was brief—too brief. The creatures in the snow coming at them went wild, picking up their pace to run at them.
The air filled with power, clashes of it, whiplike attacks coming from two different directions seeking the book. The book tried to go toward the stream of energy coming from the east. Isai recognized that malevolence as Barnabas. Before the book could be taken, he grabbed it, remembering at the last moment to coat his hands in oil.
Julija didn’t hesitate. Her hands went into the air and she once again wove a complicated pattern. The moment she did, the snake hissed its displeasure and sank its teeth into her arm repeatedly. Strike after strike. Bite after bite. The scorpion plunged its stinger viciously into her arm.