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Authors: Christine Feehan

Dark Illusion (41 page)

BOOK: Dark Illusion
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Harm sent to me by sacred steel.

I now reverse your direction seeking only the evil that yields.

Julija staggered a few feet from Barnabas, and instantly Blue leapt out of the shadows and sank his teeth into Barnabas’s neck. Belle attacked from behind him. Comet and Phaedra assisted in pulling him down. Even as they did, he shouted out a spell and the cats fell to the ground panting. Before he could retaliate against them, Isai was there, driving Barnabas away from them—and Julija.

She tried to reach out to him, to merge mind to mind, but Barnabas’s spell had forced a separation. Immediately she countered it.

That which dwells in darkness,

I banish you from my mind.

Allowing only that which is tied by love,

To merge within my mind.

As Isai slammed his fist deep into Barnabas’s chest, the dark mage struck hard, using a spell to splinter the ancient Carpathian. Isai’s body separated into what appeared to be numerous life-sized paper dolls. Barnabas smiled his most charming smile and blew on the one closest to him so they fell like dominos almost at Julija’s feet.

“You shouldn’t have made me angry, pet,” he advised. He turned his right hand palm up and began to make a circle with his left over his palm. As he did so he began a little singsong chant. Orange and red flames licked at his palms, forming a ball that grew and grew.

Julija’s heart pounded so hard it hurt. She took a deep breath, not
daring to look away. As Barnabas casually tossed the ball toward Isai’s splintered body, she whispered her counterspell.

I call the clouds above,

Bring forth your waters, stopping fires hold.

Let droplets of water dissipate and drown that which would burn,

Returning it all to ground.

Isai rolled, the splinters bonding together as he came to his feet. Both Barnabas and Julija stared at him in shock as he faced the dark mage, his body slightly in front of hers. He bowed toward Barnabas.

“Surely you did not think you were the first to ever use a splinter spell.”

Isai touched Julija’s mind. She felt him come into her and she nearly lost it, wanting to cry with relief. He sounded the way he always did. Confident. He looked invincible.

“Very few know it,” Barnabas conceded. He glanced toward the blizzard of snow. He couldn’t see the battle taking place, but he could hear it. No hellhounds had come to kill Isai, their primary target.

Behind Barnabas, Julija caught a glimpse of the cats moving in the shadows behind and to the right of the high mage. They waited for Isai’s signal to attack. Having Isai there and knowing the cats were close and willing to aid them gave her the necessary strength to face her worst nightmare.

“Very few
alive
know it,” Isai qualified. “Your hounds are occupied at the moment. Julija, I need you to counter the spell that replenishes them. The brethren are having fun, but it will grow tiresome over time.”

Julija immediately responded.

Those who have arisen from earth’s deepest core,

When one is banished, you may reproduce no more.

Though your mind is as one,

May your memory be lost,

Banishing all thoughts of your targeted host.

“Who are you?” Barnabas asked. “Do I know you?”

“I knew you when you used a different name. You were called Barna all those centuries ago, son of Xaviero. You were chosen over Anatolie, son of Xavier. Why?”

Barnabas shrugged. “You saw him. His ego grew faster than his skills.” He indicated Julija. “He had exactly what he needed, but he didn’t recognize it. He used her as fodder, when she is the main prize. I cared nothing for the book. I saw every spell my uncle chose to include, I learned them and put them aside. Anatolie wanted to destroy your species. I would much rather keep all of you alive.” Again, he flashed a smile, his white teeth mocking them.

Julija’s stomach tangled into a thousand knots. Barnabas was unfazed that he faced her, Isai and the shadow cats. He didn’t care that Isai’s brethren fought the hellhounds and were at that moment destroying them. She wanted to shove Isai behind her, to caution him to be careful. Barnabas was up to something.

“You wanted Julija.” Isai made it a statement.

“I
want
my little pet back. She belongs to me. She knows she does.” He held out his hand toward her. “If you come with me now, I will spare your lover.”

The way he said the last two words told her everything. Barnabas planned to kill Isai no matter what she did. Beneath his calm exterior, he seethed with rage. Whatever he was planning was going to be spectacular. She began to form a defensive grid in her mind, building it up. To her astonishment, Isai joined her, taking it over, meticulously building the barrier against the dark mage from the ground up. Soon it surrounded them like an invisible fortress.

Isai called to the cats with a silent command, stretching his arms wide indicating for them to become part of his skin immediately. One by one, the cats obeyed. Blue was last and he appeared reluctant, but in the end he did as Isai demanded.

“Very clever of you to turn the shadow cats,” Barnabas praised and slowly allowed his hand to drop by his side.

Julija kept watch on his hands. He could murmur a spell under his breath and she might not see, but if those fingers began to move against his thigh, or he sent a blast of air at them, she would know.

You are Carpathian. You are mage. Your power is equal or more than his. Why do you think he wants you back? This is not about a sex slave escaping him. He could enslave any number of women. This is about your power, Julija. You can defeat him.

Just as they had merged their blood to destroy the book, she thought their strength was in the way they were together.

Barnabas’s hands moved fast, too fast for her to follow the patterns, but she heard the roar go up and the ground shook. Giant paws thundered as they pounded into the earth. The sky opened up and rained insects.

I call to alloy, carbon and steel,

Build us a dome to withhold and repel.

The moment they were safe from the thousands of insects, Julija sent up a small prayer for forgiveness. She’d never used her magic for anything but good.

The hellhounds came at them, a good dozen, trampling every bush or tree in sight, flattening the grass the snow hadn’t already covered. Barnabas whirled into their midst, his hands clapping like thunder, shaking the earth so that it was impossible to stand. Isai simply floated up, gripping Julija’s arm as he did so. The moment she was safe, he left the shelter they had constructed together. Julija couldn’t wait to see what he did. She hurtled the spell at Barnabas, hoping to ensnare him in his own dark magic.

By the power of three times three,

May all you have done return back to thee.

Let all harm and hate be returned tenfold,

So that you may suffer pain both new and old.

She cried out Isai’s name, reaching for him, uncertain whether or not her spell had been enough to turn the tables on a high mage. The hellhounds
were horrific, great, lumbering demonic beasts. Ordinarily she felt sorry for creatures twisted by the mages, but these were killing machines, eagerly looking for flesh to devour.

Barnabas went under what appeared to be four or five ravenous beasts. Their red glowing eyes looked like hot coals. She saw the mage’s coat torn and striped with blood, but it seemed impossible that his own hellhounds could have killed him that quickly. He was too powerful. Too good at what he did.

She looked around in alarm, checking every direction. The storm had let up, although it was still snowing, blanketing the world in pristine white when blood flowed so fast there on the meadow floor.

She’d never seen anyone move as fast as Isai. Arrows flew, and she could see the flash of swords. His brethren joined him, occasionally tossing a sword through the air for another one to slice off a head.

Very slowly she put her feet back on the ground, testing it, making certain there was no sign of the high mage. If he was dead, would the hounds have left a body? They didn’t have time to consume him before the brethren were there, killing them one by one. They were machines, mowing down the slavering beasts.

Then, without warning, there was absolute silence. Not a single hellhound still lived. Isai slowly straightened up and looked at his brothers. They saluted him and turned their attention to the battlefield, to mop up.

“Is he there? Barnabas? Is he there, Isai?” It was more than she could have hoped for, but still, it might have happened.

“His coat, nothing else. No body.”

She closed her eyes. Of course he’d escaped. She could destroy a hideous book that should never have been in the first place, but she had no idea how to kill a mage like Barnabas. Maybe no one did. “I’m sorry, Isai. I stopped him for the moment, but he’ll come back.”

“Carpathians have lived with enemies for centuries, Julija, and we will live with them for centuries more.” He was pragmatic about it, just as he was about everything else. “I want to take you home. We have to clean up here and then we will have to go to ground. The sun is coming up and none among us can take the sunshine.”

“I can guard all of you,” she offered.

“There is no need.” He took her hand, his thumb sliding over the back of it, making her shiver. “Come meet my friends.”

His friends were calling down the lightning, sending the hellhounds back to their resting place with a fiery inferno. She thought the send-off was very appropriate.

21

The house Isai took Julija to was small and set well back from the main house of Tariq Asenguard’s compound. He had explained to her that the ancients were looking into purchasing a large tract of land with several homes on it, just along the lakefront and bordering Tariq’s land on one side. In the meantime, they could use the little house that was on his friend’s property.

They spent a week there, alone with each other and the shadow cats. She loved it. Every minute of the day with Isai seemed a miracle. She laughed a lot when she never had. She often didn’t recognize herself, teasing Isai and being completely relaxed with him. And the cats . . . She loved spending time with them and watching them pounce on Isai. They were big and strong, their health much improved in that one week. They would ambush Isai whenever he came through a doorway.

Julija loved watching her lifemate with the cats. He never seemed to tire of their antics. No matter how many times they knocked him over, he would laugh and wrestle with them. The two youngest, Phantom and Sable, had been won over that last battle, when Isai had been so careful not to send them out to fight. He had left the decision up to them
completely, in fact, had tried to protect the cats. That had been enough to convince the two that he was nothing like the men who had created them.

Julija wanted to stay cocooned in her little world. She knew Isai wanted her to meet the others living close to them, but that meant once again stepping out of her comfort zone and trusting others. He had been patient with her, but she could tell that was coming to an end.

Each evening she reached out to Elisabeta in hope of encouraging her to surface. Part of her was doing so for selfish reasons. She thought if Elisabeta needed her while she was being introduced to everyone, it would make it much easier for Julija to be introduced. Cowardly, she knew, but there it was.

“You are not a coward,” Isai whispered, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her onto his lap as he often did. He seemed to prefer her sitting on him whenever there were chairs close by.

“I am,” she refuted, being honest. “A total coward. I’m supposed to be Elisabeta’s friend, but I’m thinking of using her to make it easier for me to meet all of your friends. That is cowardly.”

“I suppose you could look at it that way.” He nuzzled the top of her head with his chin. Immediately her hair got caught in the bristles on his jaw. “Another way might be the two of you help each other out.” He pressed little kisses over the top of her head. “I do prefer that you depend on me, but if you need Elisabeta to help you overcome your fears of meeting my friends, then I want that for you. Whatever makes it easier.”

“I’m sorry, Isai. I do want to meet them. It’s just that, over the years, I learned never to make friends. It didn’t end well. And learning to trust others will be difficult. I’ll do it, but it won’t be easy,” she warned. She didn’t want him thinking she could so easily fit in. She could pretend, but that wasn’t what she wanted. She didn’t think he would want that, either.

“I will not allow anything to happen to you, Julija, nor do I want you unhappy.”

She turned her face up to his throat. She loved the way he smelled. Like home. Like her man. He made her feel safe even though she knew the world around her wasn’t.

“I know, Isai. I want to be friends with them and I will. I just really
have enjoyed this week with you without having anyone try to kill us.” She tried to make a joke of it, but instead, knew she was stalling. “Let me just talk to Elisabeta and see if I can coax her to come to the surface. She’ll want to meet everyone, too.” That was just ridiculous. She knew it. He knew it.

Isai didn’t call her on it. He hugged her closer. “If that makes you feel better, Julija, by all means do so. I would love to be introduced. She is a good friend to you.”

Julija knew Elisabeta was a very good friend, but she wasn’t going to abandon her resting place anytime soon. This was another delaying tactic. She circled Isai’s neck with her arms and laid her head against his chest, her ear over his heart, so she could listen to the steady beat while she reached out to Elisabeta.

As always it took a few minutes for Elisabeta to fully awaken. There was a part of her that worried it was taking just a little longer each time. What if she refused to surface? Had anyone ever done such a thing? For a moment there was panic.

Isai kissed her ear. “She has a lifemate, Julija. He would never allow such a thing.”

“Then why hasn’t he insisted she rise?”

“I do not know, but he will do what is best for her.”

She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against his shoulder. How many times was he going to say that to her?

“As many as it takes,” Isai said with confidence and a little amusement.

She took a deep breath and reached out again to her friend. Aside from Isai, Elisabeta was her only friend.

I have so much to tell you. My lifemate has made me incredibly happy. He is here with me now, eager to meet you. Remember when I was so afraid, and you reassured me that he would find a way to make me happy? You were right.
Deliberately she used the term
lifemate
in order to remind Elisabeta that she had a partner and he would do the same for her.

Are you happy, Julija? Really happy?

Elisabeta’s voice was a sweet relief, removing the last of Barnabas, pushing him from Julija’s mind. There was just something about listening
to Elisabeta, hearing that soft voice, her tone, that brought peace and comfort. Hers was a rare gift.

I cannot wait to see you in person again. It feels like a lifetime. Do you feel strong enough to come to the surface soon?

There was a small hesitation. That hesitation had been there for the last week. Julija had the feeling Elisabeta had made up her mind to stay in the comfort of the ground.

My dear friend, you can’t stay there forever. Come to the surface and be my friend.

Again, there was the slightest hesitation.
I must wait.

Julija frowned and turned her head to look at her lifemate. She had wanted to introduce him to Elisabeta, but this was new. Each rising Julija asked Elisabeta to come to the surface and she’d always refused. This was the first indication that she was waiting for a reason.
Wait for what? I don’t understand.

I must wait,
Elisabeta repeated.
Soon, I think. I wish to see you, Julija.

I have Isai with me,
she repeated, wanting Elisabeta to realize she meant he was right there listening.
I want you to meet him. He’s a wonderful man. My man. Everything I could have ever wished or hoped for.

Isai wrapped his arm around Julija and settled her more comfortably in his lap.
It is good to finally meet you, Elisabeta. Thank you for being such a good friend to my Julija.

There was a long silence.
May I speak?
Elisabeta’s voice shook.
I don’t know what to do in these circumstances. He hasn’t told me.

Julija felt Isai stiffen. His eyes went from warm to cold in seconds.

Elisabeta, you may speak,
Isai confirmed.
Who tells you? Who needs to give his permission for you to speak?

Julija put her hand very gently on his arm to restrain him. The last thing she wanted was for Elisabeta to shut down. She was deep beneath the earth, safe, where nothing could happen to her. She was fed and then allowed to go back to the healing soil. Julija wanted to coax her to the surface, not scare her into staying underground. She was very aware Isai’s first thought was that Sergey, the Carpathian who’d kidnapped her then
turned vampire, was spying through her. Julija was certain many of the Carpathians feared that very thing.

Elisabeta. Honey? It’s all right. You haven’t done anything wrong,
Julija insisted.

I don’t understand the rules,
Elisabeta whispered.
No one will tell me the rules.

Julija took a deep breath and turned a little helplessly to Isai. He kissed her fingertips in reassurance.

Have no worries, Elisabeta. Your lifemate will tell you the rules,
Isai assured.

There was silence again.
May I speak plainly?

Yes, of course,
Julija said immediately.

I will leave and allow you your privacy,
Isai said.
I enjoyed our brief encounter and look forward to meeting you in person, Elisabeta.

Thank you, sir.

Julija closed her eyes again and let Isai cuddle her closer to him. He always seemed to know when she was upset, and she appreciated his immediate response. He knew her reasons for identifying so much with Elisabeta. In retrospect, her time with Barnabas didn’t seem as if it could possibly reflect the time Elisabeta had spent with Sergey, because Elisabeta had been held captive for so long. Sergey hadn’t enjoyed torturing his captive. He wanted her to obey him and as long as she did, he was somewhat pleasant to her. Still, Julija would never think that she’d had anywhere near the difficult time Elisabeta had endured.

She didn’t like that Elisabeta felt subservient to all of them.
I am your friend, right?

My only friend.

You talk openly to me.

You gave me your permission when we first met, and you said you were going to find a way to unlock the cage he kept me in.

Isai is my lifemate. He will be your friend and neither of us wants you ever to feel as if you need permission for anything around us.
She was fierce about it because she felt fierce.

Thank you for sticking up for me.
As always, Elisabeta sounded gentle and sweet.

That is what friends do. I have something really important to tell you. Only Isai knows and for me, it’s a little scary. I am carrying a baby. What do you think about that?

There was a stunned silence. Julija took the opportunity to nibble up the side of Isai’s neck to his ear while her heart beat rapidly. He always tasted so good and hopefully could distract her from the panic she always felt when she acknowledged her pregnancy.

That is amazing news. I’m so happy for you.

Elisabeta was. Julija not only could hear it in her voice. Her friend spread waves of warmth and love easily, without trying.

I think I’m becoming happy as well.

Right away Elisabeta wanted to know why she was
becoming
happy instead of being happy. Julija told her about the mage and Barnabas in particular and how he so easily got away.
I know he will find a way to return. If not for me, then for a daughter of mine. He is patient. And he will not forget.

There was a small silence.
I have the same fear of Sergey, so I will not dismiss your fears as invalid. Do not allow him to mar your happiness. Live your life as fully and as happily as possible, Julija. You do not know when it might be taken from you.

It was good advice, especially coming from someone whose life had been yanked away from them.
I will do that.

I am tired, Julija.

Julija didn’t like that. Elisabeta was making herself tired by staying in the ground. She wanted to go to Elisabeta’s lifemate and shake him. He was too big. Too intimidating. When she tried talking to Isai he shrugged and said no one interfered with lifemates.

Good night, Elisabeta, I will talk with you soon.

She broke the contact and was silent, just absorbing Isai’s strength. They sat in silence and then she looked up at him. “What do you think?”

“I do not know. I did not feel any taint in her. Or a feeling of evil. Just the opposite. She radiates peace. I love that you worry so much about your friend, Julija, but she is Ferro’s responsibility. He will deal with whatever
it is or whoever it is that you think may be talking to her. In the meantime, I want to introduce you to my friends. We have been here a week and you have not met a single person.”

She hadn’t wanted to meet anyone, but she didn’t want to admit that. In any case, he was merged with her most of the time and probably already knew. She was being a coward. She could hear laughter and the sound of children calling to one another as they played. Normal sounds. She didn’t know normal. She’d been guarded her entire life.

Coming into Tariq Asenguard’s compound meant she would have to learn to live differently. She would have to accept people into her life and let them in. She didn’t know how to do that.

Isai leaned down and gently nipped her chin. “You are more frightened of meeting my friends than you were of facing the dark mage.”

“I don’t know that I would say that.”

“In any case,
sívamet
, Tariq has been more than patient. The prince needs to hear an account of the destruction of the book. That will involve an actual accessing of our memories to give him a true account.”

Julija heard the warning in his voice. She frowned at him. “What does that mean?”

“One of the men, most likely Tariq’s second-in-command, Gary Daratrazanoff, will conduct the inquiry. He will access our memories and send those to the prince.”

“We can’t just write down what happened like normal people?”

“There was nothing normal about our battle with that book,” Isai pointed out, amusement coloring his voice.

She shook her head. “What other memories can he see? I don’t want him to have access to anything to do with Barnabas. I won’t do this, Isai.” She tried to move away from him, but he was fast, tightening his arms like shackles. She held herself stiffly, refusing to give in.

“I will tell him he is only to access your memories of these last few weeks, since the moment you started your journey to warn the prince of the conspiracy your family was involved in.” When she didn’t relax into him he leaned forward and bit down gently on her earlobe. “I would not allow anything to hurt you. Those memories are not anyone’s but yours.”

She was silent a moment, turning over and over what he’d said, trying to come to terms with the fact that she now lived in a society where the members all worked with one another in order for their species to survive. She was part of that now. She lifted her face to look up at the man she loved. She was part of him.

BOOK: Dark Illusion
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