Authors: Christine Feehan
Tags: #Fiction, #Paranormal, #Horror, #Vampires, #Love Stories, #Occult & Supernatural, #Occult fiction, #Fantasy, #Romance
Gerald looked around him, then back up at the mountain, now quiet and still. White mists swirled, but the voices were gone. Overhead the clouds grew heavier and darker, but the mountain looked pristine—untouched—certainly not as if anyone had climbed it and been attacked.
"Lara?" He sounded as puzzled as he looked. "I can't remember where we were. I can't remember how these snakes attacked Terry. Don't snakes need warm weather? What's wrong with me?"
"It doesn't matter right now. What matters is getting these teeth out of Terry's leg and getting him to the inn where someone who knows what they're doing can help him." Someone with natural healing skills, more than doctor's skills. If they were in the vicinity where she had been held as a child, then it stood to reason someone would know how to treat a mage wound.
She closed her eyes to block out the sight of Terry's gray face and Gerald's anxious one. Deep inside, where that wealth of knowledge lay, she found her calm center. She could almost hear the whisper of her aunts' voices, directing her as the information flooded her mind. The curved fangs had a barb at the tip.
Severed head that now does bite, fangs be removed with heat and light. Draw the poison that would remain, holding the harm, stop the pain.
"There might be someone much better at taking these out," Lara said. "We can get you to the inn fast and the couple who own it might be able to find someone for us who has dealt with this before."
Terry shook his head. "I can't stand it, Lara. If you don't take them out now, I'm going to rip them out. I really can't stand it."
She nodded her understanding and reached beneath her jacket for the knife on her toolbelt. "Let's get it done then. Gerald, get in the backseat on the other side and hold Terry's shoulders." More than anything, she didn't want Gerald where some of the tainted blood might spatter onto him. The tiny microorganisms were dangerous to everyone.
Gerald obeyed her without question and Lara studied the first snake head. The hybrid was part plant, part living animal and all frightening. It was meant to take over a person, no matter what the species, and bring them under the dark mage's control. It hadn't been just Carpathians and humans he had tortured, but his own people as well. No one, not even his own family, was safe, as Lara could attest to.
She closed her eyes and swallowed hard, slamming the door on memories that were too painful, too frightening to remember when she had such a complex task before her. She had rarely used her healing abilities on anyone else in the last few years. In her childhood, she'd made the mistake several times, traveling with gypsies. She'd knit broken bones. Healed a wound from a blade that would have killed a man. Removed harmful bacteria from children's lungs. At first people would be grateful, but inevitably they would come to fear her.
Never show that you are different. You must blend in wherever you are. Learn the language and the customs. Dress the way they dress. Speak as they speak. Cloak who and what you are and never trust anyone.
She liked Gerald and Terry—very much. They'd worked together for several years, but she'd been very careful never to intrude on either of them, or to show them that she was different in any way.
Terry's pleading voice forced her thoughts to the task on hand. She steadied herself and gave him a reassuring nod. They were used to following her lead and it was natural to look to her now. She took another breath and let it out, pushing down the revulsion welling up.
The words to the healing chant rose out of that same bank of knowledge and she repeated them under her breath as she slid the razor-sharp knife beneath Terry's skin and found the barb.
Kunasz, nélkül sivdobbanás, nélkül fesztelen löyly. Ot élidamet andam szabadon élidadért. O jelä sielam jorem ot ainamet és so?e ot élidadet. O jelä sielam pukta kinn minden szelemeket belso. Pajnak o susu hanyet és o nyelv nyálamet sívadaba. Vii, o verim so?e o verid andam.
The ancient Carpathian language she'd learned as a child came easily. She might be rusty, having never used it other that to murmur it to herself before she fell asleep, but the words, spoken in a chant, were always soothing to her.
As she whispered the healing words, she blocked Terry's pain. The fang was wicked—and nasty. It curved into the skin growing wider, digging deep, and at the end, near the point, was a small barb, curving in the opposite direction. She had to slit the skin carefully to allow the points on either side to become loose enough to slide out without further damaging Terry's leg.
At first she used her human sight, blocking all other ability to see until she had the barb out. Only then did she allow herself to look with the eyes of a mage. Tiny white worms writhed and burrowed, swarming to the cells to reproduce as quickly as possible. Her stomach lurched. It took tremendous effort to shed her awareness of her own thoughts and physical self and become a blaze of healing white light pouring into Terry's wound to burn the organisms as quickly as she found them.
The wormlike creatures tried to hide from the light, and they reproduced quickly. She tried to be thorough, but Terry squirmed and moaned, distracting her, all at once reaching down to his other ankle, trying to yank the snake head free.
She found herself abruptly back in her own body, for a moment disoriented and panic-stricken. "Terry! Leave it. I'll take it out."
She was too late. He screamed as he yanked at the foul snake's head, tearing it loose from his ankle. The barb ripped through his skin and muscle. Blood sprayed the backseat of the car and shot across the seat, splattering Gerald's chest.
"Don't touch the blood with your hands!" Lara yelled. "Use a cloth. Get your jacket off, Gerald."
She clamped both of her hands over the wound, pressing hard, ignoring the burning pain as the blood coated her skin, burning to the bone. She fought past her own fear and panic to reach for the cool, centered place inside of her, calling healing light, burning white-hot and pure to counteract the acid of the snake blood. The way her birthmark was burning there had to be vampire blood mixed in the foul brew.
Gerald ripped his jacket open and threw it away as the material smoldered with a grayish smoke.
Terry grew quiet as Lara sent healing light streaking through his body to the gaping wound in his leg. Bleeding slowed to a trickle and the tiny wormlike creatures retreated from the spreading heat Lara generated. She cauterized the wound, destroying as many of the parasites as she could before bathing her hands and arms in the same hot energy.
"Did you get any blood on you, Gerald?"
He shook his head. "I don't think so, Lara. It felt like it, but I wiped my hands and face and there aren't any smears."
"Once we get Terry to a healer, take a shower as soon as you can. And burn your clothes. Don't just wash them, burn them. Everything."
She backed out of the seat, helping Terry to swing his legs out of the way of the door so she could close it and rush around to the driver's side. Terry's coloring was terrible, but more important, she didn't like the way he was breathing. Part of his distress could be shock, the shallow, too fast breathing of panic, but she feared she hadn't stopped the parasites from assaulting his body. He needed a master healer immediately.
She drove as fast as she could over the narrow, pitted mountain road, sliding through some of the sharper turns and bumping over the muddy holes. Dirty water sprayed into the air as the car fishtailed through mud and snow. All around them, the peaceful countryside seemed a sharp contrast to their terror and desperation.
Haystacks and cows surrounded them. Small thatched houses and horse-drawn carts with huge tires gave the impression of stepping back in time to a much slower paced and happier era. The castles and abundance of churches lent the area a medieval look, as if knights on horses might come charging over the hills at any moment.
Lara had traveled all over the world searching for her past. She remembered little of her journey from the ice cave and once the gypsies had found her, she'd traveled all over Europe. Passed from family to family, she'd never been told where they'd found her. Coming to the Carpathian Mountains had been like coming home. And when she had entered Romania, she
at home. This place was still wild, the forests untamed and the land alive beneath her feet.
The car slid around another corner and they were out of the heavier forest and into the peat bogs. The trail narrowed even more, winding on solid ground while the smell of the bog permeated the air around them. Trees swayed and drooped under the heavy weight of snow. Lights in the distance heralded farms and for a moment she thought to stop at one of the nearest ones for aid, but Terry had been bitten by a mage-bred snake carrying vampire blood. Healing a mage wound was difficult enough, but a hybrid with vampire blood—that required skills far beyond her knowledge or that of a human doctor.
Their one hope lay with the innkeepers. The couple had been born and raised in the area and had lived their entire lives there. Lara couldn't imagine that they wouldn't have some knowledge of the danger lying beneath the mountain. Over time, it became difficult to tamper with the same memories. And there had been something about the inn—something that had drawn Lara to it. A suggestion of power, as if perhaps there was subtle influence at work, encouraging tourists and visitors to stay at the homey, friendly inn.
Lara had allowed herself to be susceptible to the flow of power because it was the first time since the dragon had shoved her onto the upper cavern ledge that she had encountered the light, delicate touch of flowing energy. She had forgotten what it was like to bathe herself in the crackle of electric power, to feel it surrounding her, flowing through every cell until her body hummed with it. The inn and entire village gave off the amazing feeling, although it was so subtle she had nearly missed it.
"Lara," Gerald called from the backseat. "My skin is starting to burn."
"We're almost there. Go in and take a shower first thing." She didn't want to think what Terry was suffering. He was very quiet, other than making a soft moaning sound. "Gerald, when we get to the inn, we'll need to talk to the owners and ask who the village healer is."
"The owner's name was Slavica and she seemed very nice."
"Hopefully she's very discreet as well. She certainly seems to know everyone."
"Wouldn't it be better to ask for the nearest doctor?" Gerald asked.
Lara tried to sound casual. "Sometimes the local healers know so much more about plants and animals in the area. Although we've never encountered this particular species before, it's a good bet the villagers have and the local healer probably knows exactly what to do to extract the poi—" She broke off and hastily changed her description. "Venom."
Lara pulled the car up the twisting road to the inn on the edge of town. The large, two-story inn faced the forest with its long porch and inviting balconies. She parked as close to the stairs as she could get and raced around to help Gerald get Terry out.
Shadows lengthened and grew as the clouds overhead thickened with the threat of snow. The wind howled and the trees swayed and rustled in protest. Lara glanced around her with sharp, wary eyes as she opened the door to the backseat and reached inside for Terry.
"I'll come back for the snake heads to show the innkeeper. Don't touch them," she cautioned.
Terry was nearly deadweight as he hung between them. Gerald had to practically carry him as they stumbled through the snow. The walkway was clear, but they took a shortcut, tramping across the front slope to get to the porch faster.
A tall, dark-haired man opened the door for them and reached to help. Even under the dire circumstances, Lara found him handsome, compelling even.
"Don't get the blood on you," she warned. "It's highly venomous."
The dark-haired man's gaze swept up to her face and froze, locking on to her. For one moment there was shocked recognition in his eyes and then it was gone as he got his shoulder under Terry to relieve her of the weight.
Lara whirled around, back toward the car. "Get him inside and ask the innkeeper to find a healer. I'll get the snake heads."
She rushed back down the steps, crossing the distance to the car in a run. As she yanked open the door, her birthmark, the one shaped like a dragon, began to burn hot against her skin. There was only one thing that brought forth the dragon's warning: Vampire. And he had to be close. She hastily donned her wraparound skirt and a cloak to cover her weapons. She closed the door and looked carefully around her, one hand sliding beneath her thick red cloak to find the knife on her belt.
The night was bitter cold. He shouldn't be feeling it—Carpathians could easily regulate body temperature, but he wanted to be cold. It was a feeling. Not emotion—but
. Cold was like bitterness maybe, and bitterness was an emotion. Maybe that was the closest thing to a feeling he would have before his death.
Nicolas De La Cruz walked the length of the village with long, slow strides, his face turned from the people who shared the walkways with him to prevent them from seeing his eyes. He knew the normally dark, midnight-black color glowed a deep ruby red. Icy cold swirled in the pit of his gut, and deep inside, where his soul should have been there was only a small black piece left—and that, too, was filled with holes. The centuries of hunting and killing the vampire had long since taken their toll.