Authors: Christine Feehan
He glanced at the ground around her feet. It was bare of snow and still smoking in places. It was also stained red with her blood. “You destroyed Xavier’s book.”
He sighed. “You amaze me with your continual poor choices, Julija. That book was invaluable, although it is not necessary to me, just a mere shortcut.” He glanced uneasily over his shoulder, looking not toward the hellhounds, lightning and battle between Anatolie and Isai, but west. “We must go now.” He snapped his fingers at her and pointed to his side, expecting her to obey his command to come to him.
At once she felt humiliation. That moment when he had forced her to her knees and made her crawl, begging for scraps of food, begging for water. He made her pay dearly for every concession. She shook her head. “Go, Barnabas. Go before Isai comes for you.”
“Isai is nothing. I have no need to worry over him. The longer you resist, the more I will punish you. Do you remember how the lash feels tearing through your flesh? The pain of it?” He paused and let his gaze drift over her. Claiming her. “The pleasure?”
He was making her feel those things just with his words. With his breath. She countered, knowing she was feeling a little desperate, but trying not to show him.
Circle of light become a pillar.
Wrap around me as if a cocoon.
Holding back both words and sound,
That would seek to harm and wound.
“I see you think you have learned to protect yourself from me. Do you think your childish spells can possibly counter mine? You are a child next to me. I learned from my uncle Xavier, no more than a child working by his side. My father, Xaviero, also taught me many things, things Xavier
had never learned. I also had the advantage of training under my other uncle, Xayvion, and, although he preferred to stay behind the scenes, in the background, he undoubtedly was the most powerful. I have the advantage of all three.”
As he spoke, his tone casual, almost conversational, his hands moved gracefully by his side, fingers tapping a rhythm on his thigh. He never spoke casually or conversed with her, not since he had revealed himself to be dark and cruel. She wasn’t in the least deceived. She knew it was an attack on her, she just was uncertain where it was coming from. She had protected herself against his voice—
The ground opened up, dropping her straight down. He smiled at her as she fell into the dark hole, the one he would bury her in and leave her in for indeterminate days and nights with only a small straw to breathe through. Dirt filled in all around her. His hands were up now, weaving a pattern, as he murmured his command. She kept her gaze fixed on that pattern as well as his lips as the soil consumed her.
As the dirt filled in around her, Isai’s voice poured into her mind.
You are Carpathian, my love. The earth welcomes you. You have no need to breathe air if it is your desire not to. He cannot harm you by putting you in the very place that rejuvenates you.
Julija hadn’t considered the soil would revitalize her. It would regenerate her torn flesh and restore her. It took a few minutes to overcome her need for oxygen. She had to fight not to panic, but she was able to follow Isai’s steady breathing. Once she realized she could do it, she took her time thinking how best to counter Barnabas as she rose from the soil. Something to put him down hard. Very hard. She still had the little ritual dagger. It was small, but it carried a tremendous amount of power.
Her heart began to pound. If he was listening, he would feel triumphant, as if he had gained what he wanted—her terror so she would cooperate. It wasn’t that. She knew the moment she struck at him, he would retaliate just as hard, just as fast, or even harder and faster. She was
afraid of him.
Steeling herself, she burst through the soil, practically right at his feet, giving her command.
Earth surround me. Air encircle me.
Thunder sound loudly. Lightning strike.
Bring this evil down as I rise.
Fire surround him.
Earth help bind him.
Vines entwining so he may not rise.
Barnabas fell to the ground, slamming his head hard as he went down; his arms went limp like those of a rag doll, unable to cushion his fall. She lifted her hands to give him a second command and found herself on the ground, a rag doll beside him. He had simply used her own spell against her, so that neither could move.
I am in your head, Julija. I know what you think to do with that dagger.
The dagger began to slip from her pocket and move into the air above her throat. She countered quickly.
That which is made of finest steel,
I know your maker, I control your will.
Steel that would cut and harm,
I command your movement and order your return.
She reached for Isai, knowing she had only seconds before Barnabas would counter the simple spell she used. She was already doing so, which would help him do the same.
Your Carpathian lover has abandoned you, left the battlefield like the cur he is. He will not save you from me.
She was on her feet first and she exploded into action, catching at the dagger, stepping into him as he rose to plunge the blade into his heart. She’d forgotten her own blood was on the blade and the moment it entered him, those fresh drops gave him the advantage. He caught her hand with both of his, preventing her from shoving it all the way in. Looking straight into her eyes, using a blood sacrificial spell, one of the strongest, he commanded her body to come under his complete authority.
She fell into his arms. He held her, shaking his head, and then he
took the knife and plunged it into her abdomen just above her baby. Not deep, but it hurt like hell and scared her, wondering if he knew about the child. When he pulled out the blade he licked at the drops of blood. “I had forgotten how good you taste, Julija. I dream of your taste and yet when I actually have the blood in front of me, it is even better. We will leave this place. I have no doubt the Carpathians will succeed on the battlefield, defeat Anatolie and the hellhounds, but in the end, they lost the war, didn’t they? I have the prize.”
He was locked out of Julija’s mind. Isai couldn’t reach her and had no idea what was happening to her. He knew the moment she had fallen to the ground beside Barnabas, and that her intent had been to use the dagger on him, then he was completely closed off from her. Barnabas had constructed some kind of spell. Isai wasn’t mage, but he had mage blood running through his veins. He had no doubt he could find a way to reach her. It was imperative since he couldn’t tell what was happening to her.
Dividing his attention could get him killed. He was dragged along the ground right through the thick of the hellhounds. They went after him as if he was a fox and they had been let loose to exterminate him. Better Anatolie had killed him outright. He had all of his weapons and even as he was dragged, he continued to shoot arrows dipped in hyssop oil straight into the eyes of the hellhounds.
His mind raced. He needed to open communication with Julija. He didn’t fight the whip. Anatolie’s attention was riveted to the wild ride he was forcing the Carpathian on. His sense of power was growing the longer he wielded the lightning, something only Carpathians did. Isai gave him that. Anatolie was a powerful mage, dark and dangerous. As long as he was concentrating on keeping the whip under his control, he couldn’t think of other, much more perilous spells.
Anatolie’s wild laughter echoed through the battlefield. Around them, the snow thickened. The wind howled, spinning great funnels of snow into columns. Isai felt them at once. The brethren had arrived. His
brothers from the monastery. They were already wading into battle with the hellhounds.
You should have called earlier, brother,
Why save all the fun for yourself?
All of the brethren were large and muscular with ropes of defined muscle. They each had long, salt-and-pepper hair flowing down their backs, the result of all the centuries spent battling. All had scars to prove they had been wounded mortally on more than one occasion and yet had survived. Each had the tattoo of their creed flowing down their backs, but that was where the similarities ended.
Ferro was the most intimidating of the brethren. He had unusual eyes the color of iron complete with rust running through them. It gave him a stare that was mesmerizing. He was quiet in most situations, but of all the brethren, Isai considered him the most dangerous.
I am grateful you are here. The high mage put a spell on the hellhounds. They want to kill me and as many as I kill, more arrive,
With the snow thickening and throwing itself in every direction seemingly at a capricious whim, Anatolie’s vision was completely cut off. He could no longer delight in his prisoner being eaten alive by the demonic hellhounds.
I have come to save you, brother,
Sandu weighed in.
It seems this is to be my lot in life.
Sandu had eyes as black as night yet a red flame burned deep in their depths, giving one a glimpse into the fiery volcano inside of him.
Someone has to give you a little work. You were becoming lazy.
Isai shot two more of the hellhounds, and this time, Petru, with slashing eyes of mercury, sliced off their heads.
Do you plan on riding that hellhound back to hell or are you going to get off your butt and help out?
Isai placed his exact weight in the noose of lightning and freed himself, allowing Anatolie to think he still had his prisoner. It appeared to be so when Anatolie managed to glimpse the Carpathian warrior being dragged over the ground. Carpathians could produce illusions as easily as a mage.
Benedek, with his unusual dark eyes and long flowing hair, came out of the blizzard and signaled to him to go east. He circled around to the west to get behind the high mage. Anatolie would know in a few moments that Isai had tricked him and that others had joined the battle. He didn’t want to fight toe to toe with a high mage. If the man chose to cast spells and then run, which Isai was certain he would do, he might succeed. However, if Isai could catch him unawares, he had a chance to kill him. The last thing any of them wanted was a powerful mage coming at them from behind when they went after Barnabas.
Anatolie had done what Isai would have predicted, given that his son Vasile had chosen the same method to protect himself. He was in a sheltered alcove of rock, a small fortress surrounded, Isai was certain, by a powerful grid that, moving through, would trigger the same types of traps Vasile’s defense system had. Isai didn’t have the time to take them all down.
Rising as vapor, he streamed over the defense grid, warning Benedek. He felt his way carefully, knowing the air could be protected as well, although Anatolie didn’t have a lot of time to spend on his own defense, not when he’d gone right away on the attack.
The high mage had to step outside the grotto-like fortress in order to wield the lightning, but as long as he had his enemy on the end of his whip, he wasn’t worried. Isai came in from his left side, dropping low. As he did so, the shadow cats leapt from his back. The six cats distracted Anatolie as they emerged from the snow, coming straight at him.
When he looked up, Isai was in front of him, his face set in an expressionless mask. Benedek was at his back, just as stone-faced. Isai plunged his hand through the chest wall and got the heart while Benedek took the mage’s head with one slice of his sword. It was Isai who called down the lightning to burn the body.
“I will make certain that Julija removes the spell to replenish the hellhounds once I find her. Thank you for coming.”
“The others are guarding the compound in case there is trouble there. Elisabeta was very uncomfortable. All of us felt your need.”
Isai nodded. They had been together so long, when one was in trouble,
often the others knew and immediately set out to find them. “Good hunting, my brother.”
Benedek nodded. “Same to you,
Isai took to the skies, allowing his brethren to fight the hellhounds. In the many centuries each had lived, they had encountered the demonic beasts and learned the best ways to kill them. Unfortunately, as he had learned, these creatures were spellbound and replenished when one went down. They would try to follow him because they were programmed to kill him, no one else. Barnabas hadn’t counted on the brethren coming when they felt his need.
Isai took the form of a snow flurry as he neared the place where he had left Julija destroying the book. Occasionally, he caught a glimpse of one of his cats, but mostly their bodies were transparent now, as they were hunting, just as he was. He spotted Barnabas bending over Julija’s limp body and plunging a dagger into her. Each time he did, he made shallow cuts and licked at the crimson drops.
Isai pushed fury away. He couldn’t allow anything of himself to get in the way of getting his lifemate back. Before he could decide what to do, he saw Julija’s gaze shift to one of the cats. She was not only alive but thinking. Gathering her strength. Deciding what to do. She had a plan. More than anything he wanted her to throw Barnabas out of her mind, but that wasn’t the most critical thing for her to do.
“You didn’t take my voice, Barnabas.”
“Your screams are delightful, my pet.” Deliberately Barnabas bent his head to kiss her eyes and cheeks and then down her throat, the dagger poised in his fist.
Earth unbind me. Air set me free.
Thunder away. Lightning may I see no more.
Fire now burn, releasing this spell.
Water I command you to become a wall.
As water’s wall is built, I bring forth fire for steam,
Separating all so none may be seen.
Julija whipped up both hands and stabbed her fingers into Barnabas’s eyes, immediately rolling out of his hands to land on her hands and knees in the bloodstained snow. Barnabas swore repeatedly, his hands coming up to his face where his eyes were streaming. He murmured a quick spell to relieve the pain and damage.