Authors: Christine Feehan
When Julija was around the age of ten, after Crina had been particularly mean, beating Julija until she couldn’t stand up straight, her stepmother had come out of her own bedroom, that sacred place no one was allowed to go, and when she’d emerged, every inch of her skin had been covered in an ugly yellowish-gray color. Her face had been lined and aged with deep wrinkles. Her hair was thin, white and stringy with bald spots showing through on her bumpy scalp. Julija had cast a spell on the room, asking it to show Crina in her true form, what she should look like if she wasn’t greedily gulping Carpathian blood from Julija’s wrist continually.
Crina had been hysterical. Completely hysterical. She’d rushed to Anatolie, furious, but no one thought the ten-year-old they didn’t believe had much mage in her could possibly have cast such a complicated spell. They hadn’t realized at first that the spell was on the bedroom, not on Crina. She would fix herself, and then each time she went to her room, the phenomenon would happen again.
Julija showed her retaliation to Isai, who burst out laughing. He actually leaned down and kissed her.
“You are perfection.”
“It wasn’t in the least bit nice, Isai,” she scolded, trying not to laugh. “I’ve never felt one iota of remorse.” She bit her lip. “Okay, that isn’t exactly the truth. Crina cried and cried and I did feel bad, but then she slapped me for looking at her when she looked so horrible and I forgot about feeling sorry for her.”
He rubbed his thumb over her cheek. “Purity of heart and soul does not mean you cannot ever feel anger or the need for revenge. You did not consider killing her. Or permanently damaging her.”
“Of course not.” She frowned at him. “That’s not normal, Isai. People don’t think about killing others they don’t like. It isn’t done.”
“Anatolie no doubt killed often if someone was in his way. I imagine your brothers did as well.”
“I come from a murderous brew, but
people do not think of killing. Mages are, I think, for the most part, good people. They stayed away from Anatolie and Crina, and they kept their children from Vasile, Avram and me.”
“That must have hurt.” He walked her to the entrance. He had widened the crack enough for her to look out and see the night sky. It was scattered with stars and very beautiful.
“It did . . . at first. I learned to accept it and later, when I got older, I realized it was a good thing. Anatolie was a lot like Xavier. He was very driven to experiment and he was always looking for power. He still is. It doesn’t matter that the modern world has caught up with us and he lives in it now, even comfortably. He still craves power and is determined to get it.”
“Merge with me.”
She knew he wanted her to learn from him. To use her Carpathian skills rather than her mage gifts. She did as he asked. He was so fast at everything, visualizing exactly what he wanted and moving almost before it had a chance to happen. In his mind the crack widened to accommodate them and as he pictured it, the fracture in the rock obeyed. The actual operation was so smooth she was shocked at how quickly it was accomplished. She could have done the same thing, but it would have been much slower.
“Both talents have their uses, Julija,” he assured. “I love the mage in you. I want you to love that part of you as well, but you need to work on your Carpathian skills and bring them up to the level of your mage abilities.”
“I’ve had a tremendous amount of time to practice my mage skills. I don’t think in Carpathian the way you do, Isai.”
. In battle, most likely, you will need to think and act
as Carpathian. Had you tried to come up with a spell to give you the ability to fly when you were falling, you would have hit the ground before you recited it, even in your mind. Visualizing what you need and having it take place immediately is an asset,
odam wäke emni
“What are you calling me now?” she demanded, hands on hips, but she was looking at the peaceful scene below her. The blue lake, the mountains rising around it. The meadow with the wind creating waves in the tall, green grass.
“Mistress of illusions,” he interpreted immediately. “You knew the answer. You are learning more and more, taking what you need from my memories. The more you do that, Julija, those things you see in my experiences will aid you when you need them.”
“It feels a little like invading and stealing.”
He turned his head to look away from the scenery to meet her gaze. “That is why, right there, you are Dragonseeker. I am your lifemate. We share every memory—every experience, good or bad. I have opened my mind to you because there is no one in this world I trust more than I do you.”
She put her hand on his arm, needing to touch him, to feel close to him while she expressed her one concern. “You know that Barnabas and I exchanged blood. I didn’t look at it in those terms, but that’s what actually occurred. It was that exchange that allowed us to speak to each other telepathically. Can he still reach out to me and find me? Speak to me?”
“Before you went to ground with me, you said you had nightmares. Those nightmares were of Barnabas.”
Julija closed her eyes and leaned into him for comfort. Immediately his arm swept around her, locking her tight to his tall, powerful frame. He felt invincible and right then, when she was feeling fragile, she needed invincible.
“Yes. He was hurting me. Smiling while he did it. Happy to see my tears and very aroused. It made me sick. I would force myself to wake up.”
“He spoke to you.”
She heard the grimness in his voice. It was very rare for Isai to take
that tone around her. He was always gentle, his voice like velvet stroking her skin.
“Yes,” she whispered as realization came to her. “He was reaching out to me, deliberately putting those things in my head, wasn’t he? It wasn’t so much a nightmare as Barnabas talking to me.”
“That is so. He cannot reach you in Carpathian sleep. He will eventually become angry, Julija, and you have to be prepared for that. As soon as he contacts you, and he will, if I am not with you, you must reach for me. We will share the burden whatever he says.”
Automatically, she shook her head, rejecting the idea before she could stop herself. “The things he proposes, the things he has done to me are too foul for you to know, to see.”
“I have seen them, my little mage. There is no need to try to hide these things. He made them public in his class. He did that to humiliate you, and in that he succeeded. He made you ashamed. He thought that would bring out the darkness in you, but there is no darkness. That was what he never understood. You had no recourse but to attempt to take your life.”
“He found me. There was so much blood. I thought it was an offering as I watched it flow out of me. I never had seen him like that before. He was frantic. Shocked. Almost beside himself. He stopped the flow instantly and forced his blood into me. He called for Anatolie and demanded he give me blood. Then my brothers. He held me.”
“Julija. It is enough.”
He wiped at her face with his thumb, little brushstrokes. She hadn’t realized she was crying again. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m so emotional. If I watch sad movies I cry.” She looked around for the cats. The animals always made her feel better. “They can’t kill off an animal in a movie or I completely fall apart.”
He laughed softly. “Naturally. You are very softhearted. Something I am not. I can deal with this dark mage, Julija. I know the things he did to you. He should feel shame, never you. He had to tie you to control you. Tie you not only with actual physical chains, but with his mage spells. He didn’t ever get you to cooperate. That is your triumph. As I have said, you
are Dragonseeker. He cannot steal your light, and that is what he craves, just as Sergey craves the light in Elisabeta.”
Her heart jumped. “I never once considered that idea. I hadn’t really understood exactly what it was that Sergey wanted from her. I know that he held her prisoner for centuries, but I didn’t truly understand the point.”
“Sergey had vision. Actually, all the Malinov brothers did, but he thought ahead to those long, empty years and planned for them. Elisabeta was his plan. He took her knowing as long as he could merge with her, he would have access to her light. To her emotions. She would never lose them even when his were long gone. That allowed him to feel. In some ways, she saved him from the worst of being a vampire.”
The wind touched her face and she raised it to feel more. It was a cold bite, crisp with the feel of snow on it. “And you think that’s what Barnabas saw in me? He feels emotion. When he walked into that room and saw all the blood, he actually went pale, Isai.”
“Barnabas no doubt feels emotion. He is mage, not vampire. But he is dark inside. All darkness is a tremendous burden to bear. You took that from him. It appears no one else ever has, and once he found you, he did not want to lose you. How could he? Just as Sergey desperately needs to reacquire Elisabeta to stay sane, Barnabas needs you back as well.”
“If they needed us so desperately, why didn’t they treat us better?” The cold air helped to clear the sick feeling just talking about Barnabas gave her. She let herself see the beauty again. The depth of that blue, blue lake. The rise of the mountain with the rocks jutting out and the scattering of brush and trees. The meadow with the sea of waving grass, beckoning her to take a walk. To just put down the burden of the dark world that surrounded her and drink in the true beauty of the sights.
“They both believe that fear controls everyone. It would never occur to them that loving can bring loyalty.”
She wrapped her arm around his waist. “What do we need to do now?”
“I need to know what you were thinking when you said to destroy the book we need purity of heart and soul. Once we figure out how to destroy it, we will find it and do so. Then we will leave this place and hope Barnabas follows us back to the compound the brethren guard.”
She rubbed her palm over the Dragonseeker mark on her left side. Low. Exactly where Isai had said it was. The mark never hid from him. It guarded her eggs, the Dragonseeker eggs, just as he’d said.
“You were reluctant to tell me when it came to your idea for destroying the book. Surely you do not think we would have to have a true blood sacrifice. There would be nothing pure about that, Julija.”
She frowned. “No, but there wouldn’t be cutting into a child’s arm and dripping blood over it, either. And I’m not certain that would be strong enough to destroy the spell Xavier wove around the book.”
“You are no child. You are the one. I am certain of it. Everything led you to this point as often happens when there is a call. This is your call.”
Julija shook her head, rejecting the idea, but she couldn’t quite get what he was saying to leave her mind. It did seem a big coincidence that she had become aware of Anatolie’s plan to continue Xavier’s work in destroying the Carpathians. She didn’t consider herself adventuresome, but she had lain awake for several days, considering what to do, how to warn the prince of the Carpathian people. She was mage. She also carried the birthmark of the high mage on her arm, in plain sight where anyone could see. She was fairly certain she wouldn’t be welcomed by the Carpathian prince, but she’d gone anyway.
She sighed and rubbed her lower lip with her thumb. What were the odds that she would connect with a Carpathian male losing his lifemate? That she would gain so much sympathy for him that she was pulled into his life and knew what he was doing? That had never happened before.
If she hadn’t left precisely when she had and traveled across the ocean to Romania and then hiked alone into the Carpathian Mountains, she never would have been in the right place at the exact time that Iulian was also traveling to the mountains. What were the odds that they would be so connected that they were traveling to the same place? He was taking his beloved to be buried in what he considered sacred ground. She was trying to warn another species that they weren’t safe.
Then there were the shadow cats. She had spotted blood, spots of dark crimson, and she followed those spots back to a small property just on the edge of the hills behind their home. A shed was there, and as she
approached it, she recognized a very strong spell that kept everyone away. This was definitely Vasile’s work and she unraveled the spell within minutes. She had found the dead, dying and severely injured cats. Immediately her heart went out to them and she came each night to try to heal them. In doing so, she developed an affinity for them and knew when they were on the move.
Once in the Carpathian Mountains, she had known the exact moment when Iulian hadn’t followed his lifemate to meet the dawn. She knew when the shadow cat stole the book and Iulian killed the cat and took the book, racing to get out of the Carpathian stronghold. Could all of that really have been complete coincidence, or, like Isai thought, had destiny placed her in the right place with all the knowledge she needed at the right time?
She looked toward the lake. The beautiful shimmering blue water held the most dangerous item in the entire world. Xavier’s book of spells. She didn’t want Isai to be right. She didn’t want to think that the fate of the Carpathian people might rest on her shoulders. She wasn’t a heroine by any means. She was terrified,
of Barnabas. She was afraid of Anatolie, but Barnabas was in another league.
“Where did he come from? Barnabas? The man you think worked with Xavier?”
Isai hesitated, and for the first time she realized they weren’t merged together. He also was looking at the lake.
“Isai, no matter how bad something is, if I have to be a part of this, I need to know the worst. I need to know what or who we’re facing. I already am very aware Barnabas isn’t the professor everyone sees. No one knows that better than me at this point.”
“It turns out Xavier was a triplet. He had two brothers, equally as corrupt and dangerous as he was. Not long ago, it came to light that one worked at wiping out the Jaguar species and has all but succeeded. The other worked to wipe out the Lycans. He tried to start a war between Lycans and Carpathians. His name was Xaviero. He was defeated and killed by Dragonseeker women. There seems to be a theme going on here with the Dragonseeker lineage. I think it is very possible that Barnabas is Xaviero’s son.”