Dark Wolf Page 23

Dimitri let out his breath. Skyler always brought comfort. She was a young woman, yet her soul was old, and matched his perfectly. She could play and tease, but there was always that distance in her, that part of her that knew monsters lived in the world. Human monsters, vampires and wolves. She already had experiences no young girl should ever have had and now she was facing brutal wolves—the ones declared to be good.

The Lycans surrounding him were no rogues. They didn’t hunt and kill humans for food. They lived among them. They even protected them. Yet . . . None of it made sense. Dimitri could tell it didn’t make sense to Zev either.

Be safe, sívamet. Without you . . . Would he stay the man she believed him to be? The one she saw and had such faith in?

If they killed her, would he become the very thing they detested to give himself a chance to kill them all? Or would he follow her to the next life and go to her clean and with honor? He wished he knew the answer. He was weary beyond endurance. Sometimes, his mind played tricks on him. He knew he was close to the end. If she didn’t succeed, he honestly didn’t know how much longer he could hold on without going mad.

Skyler felt Dimitri’s despair. She had known all along that the brutal torture had sapped his strength. With his lack of sustenance for over two weeks and no rejuvenating sleep, it was only Dimitri’s will of iron keeping him going.

The night breeze felt good on her face. Her nerves had been all over the place, but once Josef had returned for her and she was on her way, all she could think about was reaching Dimitri, freeing him, and holding him close to her. Nerves were gone. They would live or die this night—but they would do it together. If they didn’t make it, Dimitri would know she loved him enough to risk everything for him, and she would know she’d done her absolute best. She couldn’t ask for anything more.

Josef put her down in the middle of a thick stand of trees, exactly where she directed him. He kept his arms around her, holding her tight against his body, saying without words how much she meant to him, the family he didn’t really have. She hugged him just as hard, conveying her love. Neither risked telepathic or verbal communication. She didn’t feel any Lycan close, but all the same, they preferred their silent exchange. Josef dropped a kiss on the top of her head and left her abruptly.

Skyler let her breath out. She was on her own now. Dimitri’s escape depended solely on her. This was her time. When a woman tied herself to a man like Dimitri, she knew he would be a dominant, no matter how gently or tenderly he treated you. She might never be able to give of herself the way she could in this moment. She was his equal here. She could fight with him. She could save him.

She let her senses stretch out, slowly, a quiet stealth, reaching into the night, searching for the markers that were Lycan. She knew their origins. She knew their birthplace. Like Mother Earth she could discern their heartbeats and their primal needs. She knew how the pack thought and worked.

Skyler lifted her hand, palm facing down, and moved it slowly just above the ground. Like a magnet, the pull went to her right. She put her booted foot on the untraveled grass. At once she felt the grasses urging her to move forward. She jogged, the soil cushioning her footfalls, preventing sound from traveling through the night.

She knew the Lycans so well now. Their sense of hearing and their sense of smell were so acute that it was important to remain absolutely silent. As she jogged, she used a small spell to mask the sound of the air moving in and out of her lungs.

That which is my breath

Now may not be heard.

That which is my body,

Now must be silent.

She trusted Mother Earth to keep her footsteps silent. The Lycans actually could feel the footsteps of those they hunted through the vibrations. They had so many gifts, but they had a few weaknesses, just like every species, and she intended to exploit each one.

The pack hunted together and few were comfortable without their pack-mates. Even among the elite hunters, those who chased down rogue packs, the members rarely were without their companions. Only a few, like Zev, were able to rise above that driving force to be safe and comfortable within their group.

Lycan packs had a tendency to position their guards in a way that best protected the center of their group, mainly to protect their children. Like the Carpathians, children were a rarity, and guarded closely. Although there were no women or children in this camp, the formation had worked for centuries and had become instinctive. She knew the approximate location of every guard surrounding the encampment. In this case, with no children, Dimitri had been placed in the center of the camp. The Lycans had set up around him and the guards were on those outer boundaries.

She knew how many meters out each guard would go before they considered it too far. The very footprints of the Lycans were etched into the land and the land shared information with Skyler. She jogged, careful to keep her clothes from brushing branches, moving toward Dimitri. She could feel him now, and her heart sang. Adrenaline flooded her body and she wanted to weep with joy. This had been a long, arduous journey. She’d been so afraid for him. Now, she was close to freeing him.

As she approached the quadrant of the first guard, she slowed her pace. The ears and nose of a Lycan were so much better than her own. She knew if a vampire was near—her Dragonseeker blood assured that—but wolves were different. Now it was Mother Earth she relied on, and the hints were subtle.

She felt the slight check of the ground beneath her feet, almost as if the surface switched from a carpet of soft grass to sand. She halted immediately and drew in long, slow breaths. She’d tied her hair back and slipped the braid inside the dark, mottled clothing Josef had provided for her. The weapons she’d requested were in the pockets of her cargo pants. She had come prepared to fight Lycans and she knew every weapon she would need. She also had brought along the tools necessary to protect the Lycan in Dimitri.

The back of her neck tingled, another subtle alarm. She sank down behind a shrub and went very still. The guard patrolled but clearly he didn’t really think he was going to find anything. He relied exclusively on his sense of smell and his hearing. They were expecting Carpathians to attempt to rescue Dimitri and they believed they would feel aggressive energy coming at them before the Carpathians arrived.

She circled around in the opposite direction of the guard’s movements in order to get in front of him. Behind her trotted a curious little fox. This time he followed exactly in Skyler’s footsteps, marking his territory quite thoroughly, masking any scent she might have left behind. She noticed the moment the sandy soil turned back to a welcoming grass carpet and she picked up her pace again. The next circle would be closer, but she was inside.

She felt a burst of triumph and had to tamp down the desire to share her success with Dimitri. So far the Lycans hadn’t detected their strange brand of telepathy or become suspicious, but after meeting Zev, Skyler didn’t want to take any chances. She hurried along the faint trail, winding in and out of the trees. She walked fast, resisting the urge to jog. The inside guards were always stationed in a vee formation from the outside guards, to better keep out the enemy.

The path veered to her left. She slowed down even more, moving cautiously along the cushion of grass, dark now in the thick of the trees. Her feet felt the way more than her eyes saw, but still she trusted the way Mother Earth had provided.

A twig snapped off to her right and she held her breath. The guard had changed direction and was moving toward her, not away. The little fox trotted off in his direction. She heard the little creature bark a warning and the Lycan gave an explosive burst of laughter. Almost immediately the guard turned back, certain he had come close to a fox den and the male had given him notification that he’d better go away.

Lycans were essentially wolves, children of the forest, and they guarded the wildlife as carefully as Dimitri always had. She found it ironic that he had cared for wolves and given them sanctuary for most of his life, and yet the Lycans had turned on him.

She inched past the second guard’s quadrant and now she was deep in the inner circle. This was where the main pack would be scattered, camping, perhaps using the few cabins, but any could be out for a walk.

She felt the pull of her lifemate now. Strong. So strong. His agony burst through her like an inferno out of control. She crouched low and fought down the need to vomit. She hadn’t counted on feeling his pain just because they were in close proximity. She should have thought of that possibility. There was no way she could get closer without some sort of protection. Again, she called on her mage blood to aid her.

Mother of my blood,

I call upon you,

Surround me, cloak me,

Abolish this pain,

So that I may continue.

Drawing several deep breaths, Skyler continued to follow the path. Twice, it veered away from where the pull to Dimitri was the strongest, but she trusted the earth to guide her and she kept to the path. Both times, she caught a glimpse of a small cabin sheltered beneath trees.

Then she saw him. She hadn’t prepared for that sight either. Nothing could have prepared her. He was still a distance from her, hanging by hooks and nothing else from a thick tree branch. The sight was sickening. His body was blackened, burned from the silver chain that literally ate into his flesh. His neck had at least three loops around it, his forehead one. But his body was chained all the way down so that he appeared to wear a robe of silver.

His face was so ravaged with pain, she wanted to cry. There were dark circles under his eyes. His skin was pulled tight around his skull, his cheeks hollow. Clearly they had been afraid to unwrap the chain long enough to cut away his clothing, so they’d just slipped a knife inside and along each winding wrap slashed at the material in an effort to keep the silver in contact with his skin. They hadn’t cared whether or not the blade of the silver knife had cut open his flesh. She could see where he had bled in hundreds of places onto the chain.

She wanted to drop to her knees, cover her face and sob. How could one living being do such a thing to another? How much would you have to hate? Shaken, she pressed her hand to her mouth and forced herself to study him.

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