Authors: Christine Feehan
“Yes, of course.”
“Then remove it from her.” He stated it with complete confidence, as if there was no question that she could do it.
Julija stared straight into his eyes for a long time. She took a deep breath and then once more shed her body and entered the cat. She had to be exhausted by now. Just the act of removing one’s spirit from the body was tiring. She’d done so several times now. Isai turned his attention to Phantom.
“You will settle down. She’s trying to save your mate. No matter what, that bomb would explode, killing her and anyone near. It wouldn’t matter if you obeyed or not. Is there one in you?”
Phantom had been pacing and snarling, swiping his paw toward the larger males, but now he subsided. He shook his head and just stood. Waiting. Knowing even if he attacked and Isai was not telling the truth, it would be too late. Julija was already inside the body of his mate.
Isai left Phantom to Blue and Comet. He had remained merged with Julija to see how she was going to go about removing the bomb from the inside of the cat. She didn’t try to take the device off the spine. Instead, she used what she knew best—her mage spells.
Each word was a command. There was no plea. She didn’t leave anything to chance. She went after the parts, taking the bomb apart from the inside out.
Tick tock, sound of a clock,
Show me your workings so I might stop,
That which is enclosed and intended to harm,
Stop now and separate so I may disarm.
Each piece a puzzle, I surround you with light,
I dissolve you away without a fight.
It was slow work, because she feared at any moment Barnabas would find a way to override her, but she did it. When she came out of the cat and into her own body, she was shaking with weakness. Isai immediately wrapped his arms around her and gave her blood. He was going to need to feed before the night was over.
He rocked Julija gently, rubbing his chin on top of her head. “I am so proud of you. I know that was extremely difficult, but you did it.”
“It was actually easier than I thought it would be. I just went backward from where he ended and took apart everything. There is no chance it will work. The parts disintegrated, and the casing was being eaten away already by the cat’s blood. It was a good thing we found it.”
“You found it,” he pointed out. He looked out over the bluff toward the lake. “I still have to deal with our visitor this night, and I will feed as well.”
She lifted her head immediately. “Not without me. Just give me another minute and I’ll recover. I can feel my strength returning. Don’t worry, I listened to you. I’ll take the form of an owl and stay in the sky until you have things under control.”
He didn’t argue with her. She was becoming adept at shifting, holding the images in her head. The more practice she got, the better. He nodded and waited for her to get to the edge of the bluff. Both shifted at the same time, spread wings and flew over the campsite set well back from the lake.
Isai studied the camp. Although the tent was lit, it appeared deserted, but he knew better. The illusion was a good one, and any other time, if he had been unwary, he might have fallen for it, but it was too good. The landscape blended seamlessly, yet when he sent the breeze in, the leaves on the bushes didn’t follow the pattern or rhythm. He had flown over the tent, only once, not wanting to tip off the occupant that he was coming, but in spite of the fact that he’d been in the air, Blue and Comet followed on the ground. They were already there, in the deep rock, mere shadows, but keeping watch.
The tent was lit, so that shadows should have been thrown on the canvas, but it was impossible to see the occupant. He only knew there was one and she smelled female. Alluring. Deliberately alluring.
He stepped out from the trail side. “Hello to the camp.” He was a gentleman and didn’t want to startle any occupants. He wore a backpack on his back and made certain to look the part of a traveler just out hiking.
Inside the tent, he could see the woman as she deliberately sat up slowly, thrusting her breasts out, so that the image appeared on the wall of the tent. She shook back her hair and crawled out on her hands and
knees, another very sensual sight. Very slowly she stood. She was taller than he expected, very slender, with long legs and high breasts. She wore a ridiculous outfit, one that looked almost like a catsuit. It was one piece and clung to her body, fitting her like a glove, emphasizing every curve.
She put her hand on her hip and stepped back. “Well hello. I didn’t expect to meet someone so handsome on the trail.” Even her voice was a lure, sexy as hell, a temptation to bring him closer.
He took a couple of steps toward her, stopped with what appeared an effort and let his backpack sink to the ground. “I wasn’t going to bother you, but I ran out of food a few days back and was hoping you had some to spare.”
She didn’t have a campfire going so he couldn’t claim he was cold or wanted hot coffee. It had to be food.
“Are you camping for the night? There’s plenty of space and I’d be happy to share it along with my food. The animals get close and to be honest, I’m a little bit of a chicken.” She laughed, the sound like a velvet stroke over his skin.
“I’m looking for a good place,” he admitted, letting his gaze linger on her curves. The front of the catsuit was a sharp vee that stretched to accommodate her generous breasts.
She stepped closer to him so that her potent perfume reached him. Surrounded him. Cocooned him in the alluring fragrance. She was a web of temptation, drawing him to her.
Isai let her come close enough that she was able to run her hand up his chest and look up at him with her wide, blue eyes. She parted her crimson lips. He bent his head toward her and at the last moment, shifted just enough to lock her to him and sink his teeth in the pulse beating so steadily in the side of her neck.
She cried out, a call for help that sounded more like a muffled demand, but he ignored it, drinking his fill, taking as much from her as possible before dropping her to the ground without closing the twin holes. Blood trickled down her neck to stain her catsuit at the shoulder.
you,” she snapped and tried to scramble to her feet. She had both hands up as if to ward him off, but she was beginning to weave
a pattern. Her strength was gone so she couldn’t get to her feet, but it didn’t stop her mumbling insults while her hands created a weave.
“No, Crina, how dare
,” Julija said, striding into the camp. Her hair looked as if it had taken on a life of its own, crackling with electricity. “You know he’s mine and yet you tried, pathetically I might add, to seduce him.”
She lifted both hands and pushed air toward Crina’s uplifted arms. At once electricity leapt from her palms to Crina’s arms, snapping and crackling as the sparks bit into her stepmother.
Crina dropped her hands and yelled profanities, glaring at Julija. “You’re going to pay for that.”
“What are you even doing here?” Julija looked around cautiously.
She would never, under any circumstances, come here alone.
ulija, get off the ground.
Isai was uneasy. She thought in terms of mages. It was very possible that Crina was in league with Barnabas, even probable, but so far, Sergey had not made his presence known. There was no way the slivers of Xavier had not felt the call of the book. Every vampire and mage for hundreds of miles would have felt that call, at least that was Isai’s way of thinking. So far, no one had felt the call of the book, not even Julija, and she was actively looking for it.
Julija floated into the air, keeping her gaze fixed on Crina. She noted that her stepmother was tapping her finger in a steady rhythm against her thigh. Julija zapped her immediately, sending little sparks embedding into her fingers. Crina yelped and glared at her, putting her fingers in her mouth.
“Calling for your friend will do you no good,” Julija said. “But call away. We will be more than happy to get rid of him as well.”
Crina’s head went up, glaring, her blue eyes filled with rage. “You always were so smug, Julija. Anatolie thinks you can do anything. You’re so powerful. What a crock. My sons are a million times more powerful
than you will ever be. Anatolie just refuses to see that because he fears them. He knows that they will take all power from both of you.”
“They’re dead, Crina. Both of them. They came after me and I destroyed them.”
There was absolute silence. Crina stared at her, for the first time looking truly shocked. She shook her head. “That can’t be. You’re lying to me.”
“I’m not. I also removed Barnabas’s little surprise bomb from the shadow cat. Your lover didn’t do a very good job of securing it.”
“You’re lying, Julija. You could never defeat Vasile or Avram.” Her voice began to swing out of control.
“They are dead,” Isai said.
A peculiar noise much like the high-pitched shriek of a flock of birds or large bats moving fast through the air could be heard in the distance.
Crina smirked. “You’d better hope that you’re lying, Julija, although I can’t imagine that he would spare you.” She lifted her hands fast into the air and tried to shout a death wave.
Isai inserted his body between Crina and Julija with lightning speed, clapping his hands to reverse the direction, sending the shock wave straight at her. Her mouth was open, and the wave rushed down her throat, turning her insides to jelly, melting everything from organs to bones. A look of horror came over her and then her face collapsed in on itself. Her body followed suit, so that she looked like a shriveled paper doll.
Julija turned her face away. “Isai.”
“We have to go,” he said abruptly. He didn’t wait for her to shift. This was no training lesson. He caught her up and took to the sky. They needed shelter and he had marked but two places, neither of which he’d had time to examine. Inwardly cursing, he flew fast. There wasn’t time to think of the cats, he could only silently send out a call to them, warning of immediate danger.
Julija didn’t protest or fight him. She closed her eyes and lay quiet in his arms. She felt small, weightless but feminine cradled against his chest. Isai covered them with a concealing spell as he took her away from the lake where his brother had ended his life. There was no way to save
the two hapless campers, both of whom he’d liked, not unless he got his woman to a safe place. He hadn’t spent that much time with them, but they’d seemed genuinely nice people. If their bodies were found, the conclusion would be they had been attacked by wild animals.
He swore in his language. He was a Carpathian hunter first and foremost, and to leave a battleground when there was a master vampire to hunt went against everything he believed in.
He is part mage now.
Julija’s voice startled him. She was merged with him and knew his thoughts. That shamed him. He didn’t want her to ever think he was upset because he protected her.
The first crack was far too wide and easy for a vampire to spot. He couldn’t secret Julija there and expect her to be safe.
He has slivers of Xavier in him. To look for the book, he has to bring those to the forefront. Sergey won’t feel the book on his own.
It calls to all evil.
No, Isai, it doesn’t. Xavier would like you to think that, but if that was so, my father and brothers, Barnabas and Crina would have known where the book was. They followed me thinking the book was in my possession. Remember, I went to the Carpathian Mountains and someone stole the book from the shadow cat. The shadow cat was killed. They had no way of knowing who stole the book. When I left the Carpathian Mountains, the order was sent out by the prince to find me. What would you think?
He turned that over in his mind just as he found the second crack in a large outcropping. This one was close to the ground, not up high near the top of the rock. The crack was so tight that at first, he wasn’t certain it was actually an opening that led anywhere. He had to get her under cover before the bats reached them.
He took a breath and waved his hand toward the crack, murmuring to the earth to open for him. The crack widened enough that he could shift their bodies to paper-thin, so they could pass through. He had no idea what was inside, and he didn’t like that with Julija there, but it was better than exposing her to the bats that Sergey had sent.
Once inside, he began to close the crack and she caught at his shirt.
“No. The cats. They’ll be coming after us fast. If you shut them out, they’ll be exposed to the bats.”
He doubted if the bats would be able to see the cats as more than mere shadows.
Blue, I did not leave a trail.
He sent an image to all the cats of where they were.
You cannot reveal our hiding place. If it is not safe to join us, wait. Pay attention to anything moving over your head or under your feet.
“They’ll let us know when they are close,” he assured and set her on her feet. He waved his hand and sconces immediately lined the chamber, illuminating the small cave. There was little room compared to many of the caves he’d used as resting places. This looked about the size of a small bedroom. Or a sitting room. He could change it at will. Right now, he just needed a place for Julija to be safe while he went after the master vampire.
“Listen to me, Isai. I know what I’m talking about. Sergey can’t find the book on his own. There is no trace of it or Iulian. I didn’t feel the book, that’s not what brought me here. I followed Iulian. I was connected to him from that brief time when he was losing his lifemate. It was Iulian that brought me to this place, not the book. He’s masked the book. I don’t know for how long, but Sergey won’t be able to find it, not even if it tries to call to Xavier.”
“That is a huge jump, Julija.” He began to weave safeguards, changing them in the way the brethren did so that no trace of Xavier’s teachings showed. Sergey would not be able to get to her.
“I know it is true. Isai, you aren’t really going after him by yourself, are you?”
“There are two innocent men out there. I can’t just let them die.” He spoke more harshly than he intended. Any fight with a master vampire was dangerous. Sergey, perhaps, the most dangerous of all.
“Stay connected to me. He will try to bring Xavier to the forefront and use his mage illusions. I can counter every one of them if you just allow me to see what he’s doing and saying.”
She was terrified of Barnabas, but not of Sergey. That spoke volumes to him. She watched his every move intently, so she could replicate the safeguards as needed.
“Do not leave the safety of this place, Julija.” He made it a decree, uncaring if that made him a chauvinist in her modern woman eyes. “I cannot have my attention divided between your safety and destroying such a powerful being.”
Julija nodded. “Just don’t break our merge, even if it is getting bad, Isai.”
He turned from her and started toward the opening. She caught his sleeve. “Promise me. Give me your word.”
“Unless there is no other choice,” he agreed. She would have to live with that. He would do his best to keep his word, but if Sergey managed to defeat him, he wouldn’t allow Julija to experience his death.
Blue, Comet, if you reach the cave, you take care of her.
He gave the order as he took to the sky in the shape of mist.
Sergey would find his treacherous ally, Crina, dead in her tent and he would be angry. He didn’t like to lose. Julija had slipped out of his hands several times. If she was right and the vampire wasn’t able to hear the book’s call any longer, then it would be more important than ever to acquire Julija if he thought she could find it.
Isai had watched Crina’s face carefully when Julija had accused her of being Barnabas’s lover. It had been true. He had no doubt that both Barnabas and Crina could be in league with Sergey. Both wanted power. Crina had no love for her husband, Anatolie, nor apparently, he for her. Theirs had been a match all about power. When Anatolie hadn’t given her what she wanted most, it seemed she had aligned herself with Barnabas.
Barnabas appeared to be everywhere. Who was he really? What was he doing in every mix? Was he more powerful than Anatolie? Isai hadn’t considered that before. Now he had to answer the question of who Barnabas truly was and what kind of real threat he would be.
The sound of the bats rose to a fever pitch and a man’s voice cursed. The bats had found the two campers. He doubled his speed, streaking through the night sky to try to make it to them before the vicious bats had devoured the two. They wouldn’t have been afraid. Most likely, they’d even stepped out of their tent to witness the large, unusual migration.
There were seventeen species of bats in Yosemite, but these weren’t
any of those. These bats were servants of Sergey, mutations originally conceived of by Xavier. Xavier had used them as guardians of his caves. They were vicious and craved blood and flesh. Highly dangerous, they ate the flesh right off the bone while their prey was alive. He would have to find and kill the colony if he survived this night.
He dropped down from the sky like a bullet, throwing up a shield as he landed right in the middle of the melee. The blond, Mike had been his name, fought with a hatchet, swinging at the creatures attacking from all directions. Josh used a small machete, slicing through heads as the bats walked upright on their wings, looking macabre. More filled the air, darting in to take great chunks out of their skin.
Let me see them,
Isai joined the two men, maneuvering them under the shield so it was impossible for the bats to get to them from above. They had to come at them from either direction, but there appeared to be a sea of them surrounding them.
“What kind of bats are these?” Josh demanded, wiping blood from his face and then going back to swinging the machete.
Isai didn’t worry about what either man might think. He used his superior speed to fight off the bats. Even so, they were overpowering, more and more coming at them.
There are too many of them, Julija. I either have to try to fly the two men to safety or burn these creatures. I have seen these swarms before in memories given to me. They must be burned in order for us to survive.
He was calm. There was a solution. If necessary, he would try to outfly the colony of mutated bats.
Are you able to burn them without aid?
He had seen it done through the memories of others. It wasn’t easy. He had no device such as the one he’d seen used. It was the temperature he needed, even more than the flames.
I believe I can, sívamet. Do not try to aid me. If Sergey is near, I do not want him to find you.
While he puzzled out what to do, the three of them went back-to-back to protect themselves from the onslaught of lethal teeth and claws.
“I am going to have to burn them. It is the only way to stop them from coming,” Isai informed the two men.
“Tell me what to do,” Mike said readily. He was bleeding from dozens of places, his breath coming in gasping pants.
“I’m in,” Josh agreed. “These mothers are going to eat us alive.”
Isai didn’t waste time with explanations. He called up to the weather, stirring the clouds, sending cold air to each cloud so the top was freezing, forming small ice chunks within it. Because he kept the clouds moving, the ice pieces bumped into one another repeatedly, causing electrical charges.
“Work your way behind me and cover your eyes. You do not want to go blind on top of everything else,” he cautioned.
He took the forefront, slicing through necks as the bats came at him in force. He called down the lightning, strike after strike, using the white-hot sparks as a laser, mowing down the swarm of bats. Flashes of light in the darkness lit up the sky so that it looked like a bizarre dance of dazzling whips. The air smelled of roasted meat and burnt flesh. The bats had a peculiar, putrid smell.
Wave after wave of bats kept coming, as if they had been programmed and couldn’t stop flinging themselves into harm’s way.
Do you have any feel for these creatures? Who might be directing them? Does it feel like Sergey? Do you have his scent?
Every mage wielding magic had a particular scent or identifying marker. It was in the way they cast their spells. Wording, patterns, movement, stillness, all could identify a particular mage at work. Sergey wasn’t mage, but with the slivers of Xavier inside him, it was very possible he could cast the way Xavier did. He had access to those memories.
Julija decided after a few moments.
She broke off abruptly.
This feels like Barnabas, but just a little different. The same but older. Much older.
Isai searched his memories for one that felt the way the flow of mutant bats did. The ranks were thinning now, but some still crawled over the dead, charred bodies of those in their colony, using their wings to do so, staring with dark beady eyes.
There had been a student of Xavier’s. He’d been very close to the high mage, as close as any student could get. He was very much like Xavier, cruel and indifferent to those around him, yet brilliant and a very dedicated worker. He paid little attention to other students at the school and in truth, he seemed more of an aide than an actual student. Some thought him a companion of Xavier’s and there was plenty of sly speculation, although no one dared to ask him outright.