Authors: Christine Feehan
Tags: #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Horror, #Vampires, #Love Stories, #Occult & Supernatural, #Occult fiction, #Fantasy, #Romance
It was a beautiful sight, the two women performing an ancient ritual of cleansing the earth, and calling on Mother Nature to help save their children. Lara listened to the introductions, but all the while she was watching the ceremony, her heart swelled, and her mind followed every graceful sway of hands and feet. She knew the ceremony, in some part of her mind. The phrases were familiar to her, the rhythm and patterns, as if long before she was born she had been given the tools to cleanse the earth.
Her feet ached to join the two women, her hands fluttered, rising to trace a flowing arc in the air. She felt the pulse of the earth beneath her. Her heart began to change rhythm to match the song and the beat. Oh yes, the words were there, ancient and beautiful and filled with the power of women.
Oh, Mother Nature, we are your beloved daughters
. Lara dipped low, bowing out of respect, her feet turning of their own accord to pick up the graceful spin Syndil and Skyler completed on two of the four corners surrounding Raven and Savannah. Instinctively, Lara took the third corner.
We dance to heal the earth. We sing to heal the earth. We join with you now. Our hearts and minds and spirits become one
The music was already there in her soul. But they needed a fourth. The other women danced and sang, their voices growing in strength, but they needed one more voice. They weren't strong enough. Lara looked to Syndil, a faint frown on her face. They needed to adjust their footing. "Do you feel it?"
A hush fell over the women. The warm cave pulsed with the suspension of power. Lara should have felt embarrassed to have all eyes on her. She had never done this before. She wasn't certain she was right, but something felt—off. She looked to Syndil. Power emanated from the woman, vibrated in the air around her. Her aura even pulsated.
Syndil frowned. "The dance is off balance, but there is little we can do about that." She glanced at Skyler. "What do you think?"
"It's working, but it's not exact." The teenager shrugged. "We can only do the best we can do. We need four and we have only the three of us."
Syndil nodded. "I adjust the dance and notes of the song by the amount of toxins I feel through the soles of my feet. With this soil we have to be especially careful because we're preparing it for the babies."
Lara nodded, still frowning. She raised her hand to feel the power pulsating through the room. "Some of the weaves are off a bit. We need a fourth weaver."
"There is no one. The others can contribute to the power, but they can't produce the healing song of the earth."
"There is no other from your lineage?" she asked Syndil.
Syndil shook her head. "Not that I know of. We suspect Skyler is of the Dragonseeker line, but we don't know. She heard the earth screaming, so if she isn't, she, like me, is empathic toward the earth."
"She has Dragonseeker eyes," Lara agreed.
Skyler's eyes were too old in her young face. And Lara could see traces of Razvan there. This then, was probably one of the children Xavier had forced Razvan's body to produce in order to feed off of her blood. Somehow, the girl had ended up with the Carpathian race. The thought was unsettling and for a moment she wanted the comfort of Nicolas's arms. Without thinking, she reached for him. At once he was there.
You have need of me?
She felt foolish. She wasn't about to lose a child, yet she was shivering because a teenage girl had the eyes of her father.
No. No. Everything is fine
You have only to touch my mind with yours, Lara. I am with you.
His reassurance made her feel safe and comforted and for the first time in her life she felt as if she belonged.
. This time she said it with conviction. She spoke directly to Raven, meeting her troubled gaze squarely. "We need Natalya."
The women all looked at one another. "Natalya is a warrior. She says she cannot feel the earth," Shea said. "She doesn't have the sensitivity for it."
Lara's eyebrow shot up. "Really? Is that what she said?"
Shea and Raven exchanged a long look and then Raven frowned. "Mikhail told me she could not heal the earth in the way her family could. Is that not true?"
Lara pursed her lips. "Natalya pulses with power. I would be shocked if she could not."
"Call her in," Raven said.
"She's at the warriors' council, speaking for us," Shea reminded.
"Call her back," Raven said again, and this time it was a command. "If there is hope to save these children, then this is far more important than the discussion going on with the men. In the end, Mikhail will come to a decision on whether women will fight with their men or not and we will all abide by it."
No one was going to point out that the reason they needed Natalya at the meeting was to make certain their voices were heard. Raven rarely—if ever—pulled rank as Mikhail's wife, but there was no doubt she wanted Natalya
Raven's face was streaked with tears, and her anguish weighed heavily on the women. Raven had survived one loss, and now another child was slipping away. Beside her, Savannah was pale and drawn, closing her eyes, concentrating on holding her babies to her.
Both women could communicate with their unborn children, which made the loss all the more difficult to face. The babies were real, with personalities already developing.
"Call her now, Shea," Raven insisted.
Shea reached out to Razvan's twin.
"Why is Shea reluctant to call her back," Lara whispered to Syndil.
"Natalya is different," Syndil answered. "She's the oldest surviving female Dragonseeker and as such, her blood is extremely powerful. Beyond that, she is a force to contend with in every other way and she walks her own path. I think having to hide from Xavier, she became a loner over the years. She's always pleasant and respectful, but she has a tendency to keep to herself. One rarely sees her without Vikirnoff."
Lara wasn't surprised that Natalya was a loner. Natalya exuded the air of a very confident woman, but she was Razvan's sister and the granddaughter of one of the most evil men ever born. She'd most likely spent her earlier years looking over her shoulder and afraid to trust anyone at all. Lara wasn't certain she could overcome her own traumatic childhood in order to commit fully to Nicolas. She could certainly understand her aunt's reticence.
Natalya strode in with her easy, casual grace, her blue-green eyes wide with questions. "Raven? You have need of me?"
Raven nodded. "Lara and Syndil feel you are the only one to aid us in this and I am—we are—
to save our children."
Natalya glanced around the cave and then to Lara. "I don't have any experience in healing rituals, but if you tell me what to do, I'll do my best."
Raven let out her breath. "Thank you, Natalya."
Savannah's long lashes lifted. Her eyes were swimming with tears. "My daughters thank you as well. They're trying to hold on, but my body is rejecting them." She wrapped both arms around her middle and rocked gently. "I tell them I want them to stay with me, but they feel my body attacking them."
Raven nodded. "I can't bear to lose another child."
The naked sorrow in her voice tore at Lara's heart. A tall, elegant woman with waist-length thick black hair immediately knelt between the two pregnant women, laying a hand on either of them.
"Francesca," Natalya supplied. "Lifemate to Gabriel, healer, and adopted mother to Skyler. She's an amazing woman. Now tell me what you want me to do."
Lara was happy to have her there. She didn't know any of the women, and looking at Skyler was like looking at herself as a young girl. A little lost. Very much alone. Traumatized. The teenager made her feel exposed. Natalya was clearly a puzzle to the women, although it was obvious they admired her.
"This is about healing the earth first," Syndil explained. "We've found the richest soil we could and have coaxed more minerals in it, but we have to heal it from all toxins."
"And parasites," Lara muttered under her breath.
Shea spun around. "What did you say?"
Lara wished she hadn't spoken, but they were all looking at her expectantly. She pressed her fingers against her suddenly throbbing temple. "I'm sorry. I was thinking out loud."
"No, I need to know what you said," Shea insisted.
Lara shrugged. She didn't want to talk about her childhood, or even think about it. "Xavier always experimented with parasites. He was never satisfied with them and always looked for ways to use them. He once said they had been more useful than any of his most gifted mages. I can't imagine that he would do anything without that being his first thought. He could create toxins for the soil, but what if he created a parasite that entered the host body and prevented pregnancy?"
Francesca stood up slowly, her eyes meeting Shea's over the tops of both Raven's and Savannah's heads.
"We checked for foreign microbes. We scan the bodies of the women all the time," Shea said. "Gregori would never miss something like that."
"Maybe," Lara said, "but Xavier is a master at working with microscopic amoebas. And when you're dancing to heal the earth, you're looking for modern-day toxins."
Shea frowned. "Do you have any idea how many toxins are found in a newborn's umbilical cord or in breast milk? The soil is what we live in, what rejuvenates us, yet our children can't go to ground with us or use the most perfect nutritious milk nature can provide. I could name every chemical we've found in the soil, most of which cause cancer and…"
Raven laid a restraining hand on her sister-kin's arm. "Lara, our water supply and our soil are fed from the purest of sources, the glacier. Even with that, Syndil has to heal the earth."
"I'm just saying maybe your glacier isn't the purest of sources. Xavier owns the ice caves. The caves run for miles beneath the mountains, an entire city really. His mountain is above your homes and his glacier feeds your water supply and seeps into your soil. You've discounted him because you think he's dead. Well, he's not. No one is going to kill him. And he hates the Carpathian people. If he could have, he would have found a way to introduce something into your systems to make your bodies reject a pregnancy."
Lara ran a hand through her hair. "I'm not saying it isn't modern toxins, I'm only saying you might want to look to your past for answers as well."
She couldn't believe she was voicing her opinion to the circle of women. Growing up outside the ice caves, she had stayed under the radar by remaining as quiet and meek as possible. She had learned that if she wanted to remain with a family or in a camp, she had to keep from being noticed—not too easy when her hair banded with color and her eyes changed as well. The gypsies she had been with had been kind to her, but they were superstitious and her strange appearance along with her psychic abilities often made her unwelcome.
"Don't be uncomfortable," Francesca encouraged. "We need as many new ideas as possible."
"Well, Xavier isn't just a possibility as far as I'm concerned, he's done something to cause this. He might be spreading toxins to the land, and the water, but I would bet my life that he introduced something to Carpathian women that cause them to reject their children."
"We checked the women thoroughly," Francesca said. "And not everyone has the problem."
"Let's get this started again," Syndil said. "Raven and Savannah need rich soil to aid them in strengthening their bodies."
"Oh, my God!" Shea spun around, wide-eyed, her gaze meeting Francesca's. "We've checked the women, but men determine the sex of the child, both in human and in Carpathian. We didn't check the men. Our problems started with a disproportionate number of male children."
Francesca obviously tried to suppress her own excitement, opting for caution after so many disappointments. "Maybe. It's logical, but we have to continue to explore every avenue open to us."
Shea nodded her head several times, but squeezed Raven's hand. "We're going to help Syndil and the others make this the best soil possible for you and Savannah," she said. "And then I'm going to my laboratory and figure this out. All you have to do is hold on a little longer."
Raven nodded, but there were white lines around her mouth and desperation in her eyes. Lara had to look away from the open grief on her face.
Some of the other women must have seen Raven's face. They once again formed their loose semi circle. A fire in the corner held a large pot and Francesca put several large stones of various composition into the water along with bunches of the small blue flowers and the bitterroot mandragora. While she added other herbs and ingredients, several other women lit aromatic candles. At once the scents of lavender and jasmine filled the air. The women began to sing the Carpathian lullaby.
Lara found herself joining them, lifting her voice, feeling the overwhelming sense of love for the unborn children, calling to them to stay in the womb, safe and protected, waiting until the moment they were born and could be held in loving arms.
Power surged in the room and it held a subtle difference. Feminine energy was every bit as potent as male, but it held roots of nurturing and compassion. Part mage as she was, Lara was very sensitive to the differences, sorting through individual threads and finding that the layers being woven around Raven and Savannah held genuine love and absolute harmony. The women had come together with one purpose—to save the babies—and no matter how each was different, from different backgrounds, their minds and hearts held the exact same objective and intent.