Read Dark Curse Online

Authors: Christine Feehan

Tags: #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Horror, #Vampires, #Love Stories, #Occult & Supernatural, #Occult fiction, #Fantasy, #Romance

Dark Curse (3 page)

BOOK: Dark Curse
13.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

"Lara!" This time, Terry's voice was sharp with protest. "We have to get out of here."

Barely sparing him a second glance, Lara stood for a long moment studying the outcropping that jutted out from smoother rock. Thick snow covered most of it, but there was an oddity about the formation that kept drawing her gaze back to the rock. She approached cautiously. Several small rocks lay at the foot of the larger boulders, and strangely, not a single snowflake stuck to them. She didn't touch them, but studied them from every angle, observing carefully the way they were arranged in a pattern at the foot of the outcropping.

"Something out of place," she murmured aloud.

Instantly the wind wailed, the sound rising to a shriek as it rushed toward her, blowing debris into the air so that it shot at her like small missiles.

"It's the rocks. See, they should be arranged differently." Lara leaned down and pushed the small pile of rocks into a different pattern.

At once the ground shifted beneath them. The mountain creaked in protest. Bats took to the air, pouring out of some unseen hole a short distance from them, filling the sky until it was nearly black. The dark crack along the outcropping split wider. The mountain shuddered and shook and groaned as if alive, as if it was coming awake.

"We shouldn't be here," Terry nearly sobbed.

Lara took a deep breath and held her palm toward the narrow slit in the mountainside, the only entrance to this particular cave. Power blasted out at her, and all around she could feel the safeguards, thick and ominous, protecting the entrance.

"You're right, Terry," she agreed. "We shouldn't." She backed away from the outcropping and gestured toward the trail. "Let's go. And hurry." For the first time she was really aware of the time, the way the gathering darkness spread like a stain across the sky.

She would be coming back early morning—without her two companions. She had no idea what was left in the elaborate ice caverns below, but she wasn't about to expose two of her closest friends to danger. The safeguards in place would confuse them, so they wouldn't remember the location of the cave, but she knew each weave, each spell, and how to reverse it so that the guards wouldn't affect her.

Ice caves as a whole were dangerous at all times. The continual pressure from overlying ice caps often sent great frozen chunks of ice blasting out of the walls, fired like rockets, capable of killing anything they struck. But this particular cave harbored dangers far outweighing natural ones and she didn't want her companions anywhere near it.

The ground shifted again, throwing all of them off balance. Gerald grabbed her to keep her from falling and Terry caught at the outcropping, fingers digging into the widening crack. Beneath their feet, something under the ground moved, raising the surface several inches as the creature raced toward the base of the rocks Lara had realigned.

"What is that?" Gerald shouted, backpedaling. He thrust Lara behind him in an effort to protect her as the dirt and snow spouted into a geyser almost at his feet.

Terry screamed, his voice high-pitched and frightened as he tipped over backward and the unseen creature raced toward him beneath the earth.

"Get up! Move!" Lara called, trying to get around Gerald's sold bulk, to throw a holding spell. As he swung around, Gerald's backpack knocked her off her feet and sent her rolling down the steeper slope. Her birthmark, the strangely shaped dragon positioned just over her left ovary suddenly flared into life, burning through her skin and glowing red-hot.

Two dark green tentacles burst from the snow-covered ground, slick with blood, the color so dark it nearly was black, emerging on either side of Terry's left ankle. The sound of bubbling mud rose along with a noxious, putrid stink of rotten eggs and sulfur, so overpowering the three of them gagged. The bulbous tops of the tentacles reared back, revealing coiling snake heads that struck with brutal speed. Two curved, venomous fangs clamped from either side through Terry's skin nearly to the bone. Terry screamed and flailed in terror as his blood dripped into the pristine snow. The small gap in the ground began to widen into a larger hole a few feet from Terry. At once, the tentacles retreated toward the hole, slithering across the surface, dragging Terry by his ankle. His screams of fear and pain grew louder, shrill and panicked.

Gerald flung himself forward, gripping Terry under his arms and throwing his weight in the opposite direction. "Hurry, Lara!"

Lara scrambled to the top of the slope. The mist whirled and thickened around her, making it difficult to see. She spread her arms as she ran, gathering energy from the darkening sky, uncaring that her companions might see, knowing she was Terry's only chance for survival. Never once since leaving the ice caves had she used the knowledge inside of her, the wealth of information her aunts had shared with her, embedding memory after memory in her mind—indeed, she hadn't been certain it was real. Until that moment. Power flooded her. Her mind opened. Expanded. Reached into the well of knowledge and found the exact words she needed.

"It's too strong." Gerald dug his heels into the earth and held on to Terry with every ounce of strength he possessed. "Stop wasting your energy and help me, damn it. Come on, Terry, fight."

Terry ceased screaming abruptly and began to fight in earnest, kicking with his free leg in an attempt to dislodge the two snake heads.

The vine threw more tentacles out, the greenish-black stems writhing hideously, looking for a target. The teeth sank deeper into Terry's ankle, sawing at flesh and bone in an effort to keep their prey.

Lara flung herself forward, lifting her face to the sky as she muttered the words she found in her mind.

I call forth the power of the sky. Bring down lightning to my mind's eye. Shaping, shifting, bend to my will. Forging a scythe to sharpened steel. Hot and bright the fire be, guide my hand with accuracy.

Lightning zigzagged across the sky, lighting the edges of the clouds. The air around them charged so that the hair on their bodies and heads stood out. Lara felt electricity snapping and sizzling in her fingertips and focused on the thinner space between the long, thick bodies and the bulbous heads of the snake vines.

White light streaked across the short distance and pierced the necks of the creatures. The smell of rotting flesh burst from the vine. Both severed tentacles dropped limply to the ground leaving the teeth, with the heads attached, still sunk deep into Terry's ankle. The rest of the tentacles reared back in shock and then burrowed beneath the dirt and snow.

Terry grasped one of the heads to pull it out.

"No!" Lara protested. "Leave it. We have to get out of here right now."

"It burns like acid," Terry complained. His face was pale, nearly as white as the covering of snow, but beads of sweat dotted his forehead.

Lara shook her head. "We have to get off this mountain now. And you can't take chances until I can look at it."

She took his arm and signaled to Gerald to grab his other one. They steadied Terry between them and began to hurry from the slope to the well-traveled path off to their right.

"What was that?" Gerald hissed, his eyes meeting hers over Terry's head. "Have you ever seen a snake like that before?"

"Was it two-headed?" Terry asked. Anxiety made him hyperventilate. "I didn't get all that good a look at it before it struck. Do you think it's poisonous?"

"It isn't attacking your central nervous system, Terry," Lara said, "at least not yet. We'll get you back down to the village and find a doctor. I know a few things about medicine. I can treat you when we get to the car."

The mountain rumbled ominously, shivering beneath their feet. Lara glanced up at the swirling white mists. Above them, spiderweb cracks appeared in the snow and began to widen.

Gerald swore, renewed his grip on Terry and started sprinting along the thin, winding trail. "It's going to come down."

Terry gritted his teeth against the pain radiating up from his ankle. "I can't believe this is happening. I feel sick."

Lara kept her eyes on the mountain behind them as they raced, dragging Terry every step of the way. "Faster. Keep moving."

The ground shifted and rolled and small fans of snow slid in artful patterns toward the slope below them. The sight was dazzling, hypnotic even. Gerald shook his head several times and looked at Lara puzzled, slowing down to look around at the undulating snow. "Lara? I can't remember what happened. Where are we?"

"We're about to be creamed by an avalanche, Gerald," Lara warned. "Terry's hurt and we've got to run like hell. Now move it!"

She put every ounce of compulsion and command into her voice that she could muster on the run. Fortunately both men obeyed, concentrating on getting down the steep slope as quickly as they could and asking no more questions. The safeguards protecting the cave were not only lethal, but they confused and disoriented any traveler stumbling across them. The warning system usually was enough to make people so uneasy they left the area, but once triggered, the safeguards fought to erase memories or even kill to protect the entrance to the cave.

It was definitely the place she had been looking for. Now she had to survive in order to come back and discover the long buried secrets of her past. Gerald stumbled, and Terry screamed as the snake head slammed against a particularly dense pile of snow and ice, shoving the teeth farther into his flesh.

Lara felt the mountain tremble. At first there was silence and then a distant rumbling. The sound increased in strength and volume until it became a roar. The snow slid, slowly at first, but picked up speed, churning and roiling, rushing toward them. Lara forced down panic and reached into the well of knowledge she knew was deep inside of her. Her aunts had never appeared human to her, but their voices had been, and the immense wealth of information they had collected over centuries had been stored in Lara's memories.

She was Dragonseeker, a great Carpathian heritage. She was human, with courage and strength of the ages. She was mage, able to gather energy and use it for good. All of her ancestors were powerful beings. The blood of three species mingled in her veins, yet she belonged in none of those worlds and walked her chosen path—alone, but always guided by the wisdom of the aunts.

She felt strength pour into her, felt the crackle of electricity as the sky lit up with lightning. Once more looking over her shoulder, she sent a command to the wilds of nature to counteract the protective guard the dark mage had used on the mountain.

I summon thee water ice, fit to my hand, provide me with shelter as I command.

Snow stopped movement abruptly, spray in air, frozen in place, curled over their heads like a giant wave motionless in midair.

"Run!" Lara shouted. "Go, Gerald. We've got to get off the mountain."

Night was falling and the avalanche was not the worst they might face. The wind had stilled, but the voices remained, shrieking warnings she dared not ignore. They gripped Terry and half ran, half slid down the steep slope. Above their heads, the heavy mantle of snow had formed a wave, cresting over them, motionless like an ominous statue.

Terry left behind streaks of blood as they skidded over the icy surface. They were sweating profusely by the time they made it to the bottom. Locating their car was an easy task. In this particular area of Romania, most of the locals used carts with tires pulled by horses. Cars weren't a common sight at all and theirs, as small as it was, looked far too modern in a place centuries old.

Gerald dragged Terry through the meadow to where the car was parked beneath some naked branches. Lara turned back toward the mountain, let out her breath and clapped her hands together three times.

There was an odd, expectant pause. The wave rolled, snow dropped. The mountain slid, raising a cloud of white spray into the air.

"Lara," Terry gasped. "You have to get these teeth out of my ankle. My leg burns like hell and I swear, something's crawling inside of me—inside my leg."

He sprawled on the small backseat, his skin nearly gray. Sweat soaked his clothes and his breathing came in ragged gasps.

Lara knelt in the dirt and examined the hideous heads. She knew what they were—hybrids of the dark mage, bred to do his bidding. She'd seen the beginnings of them in her nightmares. The snakes injected a poisonous brew, including tiny microscopic parasites, into their victim's body. The organisms would eventually take over his body and then his brain, until he was a mere puppet to be used by the dark mage.

"I'm sorry, Terry," she said softly. "The teeth are barbed and have to be removed carefully."

"Then you've seen this before?" Terry gripped her wrist and held her close to him as she crouched beside the open door of the car. He was sprawled across the backseat, rocking in pain. "I don't know why, but the fact that you know what they are makes me feel better."

It didn't make her feel any better. She'd been a child, dragged into a laboratory. The sights and smells had been so hideous she'd tried to forget them. The stench of blood. The screams. The grotesque tiny worms in a putrid ball, wiggling in a feeding frenzy, consuming blood and human flesh.

Lara took a deep breath and let it out. They didn't have much time. She needed to get Terry to a master healer who could handle such things, but she could slow the deterioration down.

BOOK: Dark Curse
13.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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