Authors: Christine Feehan
Isai wanted to knock the snake and scorpion from her arm, but it was a birthmark, and there was no way to stop its reaction when it knew what she planned.
Julija pulled out the little ceremonial knife. Curling her fingers around the hilt, she cut into her wrist and then she offered the knife to him and he did the same. They immediately allowed the blood to splatter across the book, the two streams mingling together. Julija began to invoke the spell.
Those whose lives were ended by blood, hear my voice.
Be at peace. Return to your resting places.
There are no more fights to fight.
No more fears to face.
Be at peace with yourself.
Now lie at rest.
Now, Isai could hear the wailing of the dead—one from each species sealing the book closed against any unworthy intruders. Only someone of the high mage’s line could open the book and only with the blood sacrifices of each of the species.
The head of a large wolf rushed off the cover, teeth filling its jaws, eyes that of a man. He looked around him and then, as if satisfied, the Lycan was gone in the same way the shadow warrior had dissolved. Next was a human. A man of good physical strength, his intelligence showing in his eyes. He nodded to Isai and bowed toward Julija before the shadows tore him apart.
The moment the mage appeared, Isai felt the difference. This being was filled with rage and immediately flew at Julija. He was an insubstantial mass of roiling shadows, spinning and churning, gathering strength. He fastened his hands on her neck and sank his teeth into her to anchor himself.
Isai couldn’t let go of the book. Swearing, he tried with one hand to remove the apparition, but his hand just went through it.
Julija surprised him. There was no panicking. “I’ve got this.” Clearly, she had been expecting something like it, although he didn’t see how. Mage magic was always complicated because of the twists and turns.
That which is born of darkness, anger and hate,
May the fires of darkness forever seek to purge you.
May your soul seek rest among the lost.
May you forever be judged for the sins you have committed.
I send you back from whence you have come.
May you never walk this plane again.
With a shriek, the mage was torn apart by the wind, spinning away from them until he was nothing but small threads of gray. Those, too, disappeared.
“He volunteered to guard the book. Xavier gave him permission to study all the spells so when Xavier once more brought him from hell, he would be a powerful mage.”
“Xavier was never going to do that, was he?” Isai asked.
“Of course not, and he should have known.” She turned her attention to the jaguar emerging. He was roped with muscle and had thick dark hair. Faint dark rosettes appeared in his skin. He regarded them suspiciously.
She waved her hand to dismiss him; the jaguar hesitated and then the shadows pulled him apart.
Isai’s attention was on the approaching army of creatures coming toward them. They were so close he could feel the heat from the mass. The ground trembled, not liking the unnatural beasts treading over the miles of meadow. He sent a wave through the earth, so that the floor rippled violently, sending anyone in its path to the ground. A roar of rage went up, and then Isai’s army of shadow soldiers were clashing with the horrific beasts. It would delay them, but not stop them.
The last guardian of the book was clearly Carpathian. Isai winced inwardly when he saw a boyhood friend. This was a powerful Carpathian and yet he’d been trapped by the mage. That gave Isai warning that he couldn’t get arrogant or smug. He thought mages tricksters, using illusion to get their way. Seeing an ancient warrior trapped on the cover of a book was not only shocking but alerted him to the real danger they were facing—two high mages—both from the most powerful bloodline the mages had.
The Carpathian warrior looked Isai over for what seemed forever, those eyes piercing through him, judging him. Then he turned his attention to Julija. She bore his scrutiny, not bowing her head under that intense inspection. Lastly, he looked at the mark on her arm, the vicious stinging and biting taking place. Julija’s arm had blood trickling down it and droplets hitting the open grave.
Without warning the warrior leaned down and tasted the blood leaking from her arm. He pulled his head back before the scorpion and snake could attack him. Once more his gaze shifted, so that he was looking out into the night, into the blinding snow. He looked at Isai.
I would help if you have need.
Julija shook her head.
We cannot accept his offer. That would be selfish. He needs and deserves rest.
They needed and deserved help, but Isai wasn’t going to tell her that. He looked the warrior in the eye. “
Old friend”—Isai’s voice was filled with admiration and respect—“you fought a long battle and held on to your honor against all odds. You deserve to rest.
Return with honor.”
The Carpathian warrior inclined his head and then was gone. The moment the last of his shadow had been swallowed up by the night, Julija caught Isai’s wrist and mingled the stream of his blood with her own once more, sending it over the entire top of the book, using a grid pattern to make certain she dripped their blood from corner to corner.
The scorpion on her arm went into a frenzy, plunging its stinger into her viciously. The snake tried to slide down her arm in an effort to get to her heart, but it was caught by the coils wrapped around the belly of the scorpion and couldn’t get loose. It had to be content with feverishly striking at her with its fangs.
In the midst of the hordes coming at them, shrieks of protest, wild wails of rage rose into the air, the sound so ugly it hurt their ears.
Julija ignored all of it. She lifted her hands and once again sketched patterns in the air. She invoked the spell of protection for the two of them, asking for aid to accomplish this difficult task.
I call to light, surround us.
Bring forth your shield, encircle us with your light.
Keeping us safe from that which would do harm.
Provide us with your strength and ability to accomplish our task.
As is above, is below, so mote it be.
She continued, her blood dripping steadily over the book, mingling with Isai’s.
It’s now or never, Isai. I love you. No matter what, know that you were loved.
Before he could answer, she began her spell.
That which is aged. Old.
Bearing the burden of power untold.
Bound by years of destruction.
I now undo you. May your bindings rot.
May your pages crumble.
May you become dust in the wind.
Holes began to appear in the cover of the book. At first the cover was dotted with tiny pinpricks, but little by little they began to enlarge. It seemed the process was too slow. The army had nearly reached them. The book shrieked, adding hideous voices of protest to those rushing to stop them from their task.
“When is it safe to go?” he demanded.
“The book has to dissolve.”
“Can you touch it now?” She’d managed to put up with her own birthmark attacking her; he figured she was strong enough to endure the pull of the book.
She swallowed hard but nodded, holding out her hands for it. The tome was heavy. He coated both of her trembling hands in hyssop oil and then carefully placed Xavier’s spell book into her open palms. As he turned toward the approaching enemy, he saw the holes in the book grow into gaping wounds. Blood poured from the pages. Insects rushed up Julija’s arms.
“Sun scorch that book from hell,” he snapped and tried to take it from her.
“Just go,” she hissed. “Hurry. Keep them off of me until this book has disappeared.”
She had no idea tears were running down her face. She looked exhausted. Her arm was chewed up and bloody. Her wrist still dripped blood. She tried to keep her wrist over the book, holding the spine of the book with one hand, but she looked as if she could collapse at any moment.
It was one of the hardest things he’d ever had to do, but he turned back to face their enemy.
Just know, Julija, that you are very loved. You are everything to me. My heart. My soul. And I am prouder of you than I can say.
He poured the truth into her mind, sending her as much strength as he could spare.
She sent him a watery smile and immediately switched her attention back to Xavier’s spell book. As he was turning to go, he caught a glimpse of the hand beneath the book, only because the wind had blown the snow onto the ground, covering it completely. Great drops of bright crimson blood fell in globs onto the snow. Her hand was welded to the spine of the book with several sharp hooks that had pierced right through her skin.
“Just keep them off me,” she hissed, concentrating on spreading the blood over the cover of the book. She began to whisper softly, as if talking to her birthmark.
I call to snake, you who are of my blood.
Through you I am reborn, transformed.
Heal me. Renew me.
I call to scorpion, whose wisdom runs through my mind, my body.
Rid me of all poisons, protect me from unseen attack.
Guide me as I fight.
Three now become one together. We are whole.
The gaps in the book widened. With every minute growth, more mutant bugs and vile wormlike creatures that snapped sharpened teeth at her as they crawled up her arm emerged. Isai couldn’t take it. He turned back to help her. As he did, the scorpion switched allegiances, ceasing to fight Julija’s will and suddenly joining with her. The arachnid attacked the worm creatures, stinging them repeatedly. The snake joined in, devouring the insects as they raced up her arm.
“Go,” Julija insisted. “They can’t reach the book before it is fully destroyed.” She couldn’t let it go. It had wrapped roots into her hand and wrist, trying to feed off her blood, fighting to stay alive. The fate of his mage and the book were tied together.
Fetid smoke rose in the air as the book tried to fight back. He gave it one last shot of his blood, snared the nape of her neck and kissed her, and then loped off, whistling softly.
Blue. Give me a report.
He shared the request with all the cats.
Hellhounds are held in check. Anatolie has sent the shadow warriors to you. We have surrounded them, but there is no way to kill them. There are others mixed in, mage followers he has sent to bring Julija back to him.
The images the cat sent back at first were difficult to decipher. He was getting better at it the more the cats communicated with him.
We are picking the mage followers off one by one.
That explained the occasional bloodcurdling shriek he’d heard. He
knew the moment his warriors engaged with the shadow warriors. The night erupted with the sound of metal clashing as swords struck swords or shields.
Do not take any chances. Any of you. Whatever you do, do not get close to the hellhounds or the mages.
All six cats gave a little sniff of disdain, as if his order was ridiculous. Who knew shadow cats could be rebellious? He couldn’t think about anything right now but slowing down the approach to Julija.
He moved into the swirling snow, coming up on the first of the combatants. Anatolie had forced the shadow warriors to rise. They were decent men who had been ripped from their resting places and forced to serve the high mage. He had come across them at various times. Fighting them did no good. Nothing stopped them from their appointed task. They could be duped, but not killed.
He had escaped such as these on occasion by tricking them, but their ultimate goal was the recovery of Xavier’s book and he couldn’t allow them to get the unholy tome. He had been sharing Julija’s blood often. If he merged his mind with hers and spoke from that place, was it possible to mislead them again?
As they came close to him, still fighting his mythical warriors, he held up his hand. “Be at peace, shadow warriors.”
The moment he spoke, the moment he moved, all eyes found him. Red. Glowing. They looked like snow monsters, yet various shades of gray shadows swirled around them, giving their position away in the world of white as nothing else could. They were silent, but they moved quickly and purposefully, always driving forward toward Julija and the book no matter how many times Isai’s warriors sliced through them, trying to slow them down in vain.
Now he had their attention. He knew better than to physically fight them. He had to gain control of them. They came toward him, fighting through his warriors. They were struck down over and over, but always, they reformed and continued forward.
He held up his hand to check them. “Brothers. I am both mage
and Carpathian. My blood calls to you.” He hoped that Julija and he had exchanged enough blood that they would feel the pull of mage blood. He knew their creator, Anatolie, had used a blood sacrifice to enslave them. Julija had her father’s blood in her veins. Isai had hers.
Most stopped moving, as if confused. A few shuffled forward a few steps and then halted. He sent a silent command to his shadow warriors to cease and they, too, went still.
Hear me now, great shadow warriors,
Torn from your resting place without your permission.
I call on earth, fire, water, wind and spirit and bind them to me.
I invoke the law of the shadow.
I invoke the law of all true warriors.
I ask for release for these men who fought with honor.
Spirit, wrest them from the dark mage’s bindings.
As he spoke the snow rose around the warriors in columns of white mixed with gray and black and now purple.
Water, cleanse them from the dark blood of sacrifice.