Dark Wolf Page 34

“Of course we came,” Vlad said. “You’re my son, Josef. Our world. Our pride and joy. How could you ever think we wouldn’t come?”

Tears burned in Josef’s eyes and he quickly averted his eyes. “I’m different. I give you a lot of trouble.”

Byron laughed. “You’re supposed to give us trouble. You keep us from being old men.”

“Eleanor and I have always been proud of your ability to do things most of us can’t do,” Vlad said. “I had to handcuff her to the bedpost to keep her from coming,” he added.

Josef laughed, but even that familiar sound was a little watery and choked. “That’s just wrong, Vlad. I’m going to tell her you said that.”

Byron slung his arm around the boy’s shoulders. “You kept them all alive, Josef.”

Josef shook his head, looking down at Skyler’s body. Another ripple of pain across her face signaled a convulsion coming. “I don’t know if I did. She’s . . . gone.”

Vlad shook his head. “Dimitri’s fighting for her. He’s a powerful ancient.”

Tatijana pressed her lips together tightly. Her eyes met Josef’s across the two bodies. He knew. He knew exactly what Dimitri was doing. Her brother-kin must not have had any other choice. It was a desperate move, and one few would try.

She took another deep breath as Skyler’s body convulsed, pushing the last of the toxins from her system. Dimitri lay lifeless beside her, but his fingers were tightly threaded through Skyler’s. They both looked so battered and far gone from the world. Tears welled up. She pressed a hand to her mouth, pushing back a sob of despair. How could either survive?

She sat quietly beside the two bodies, undecided how best to help. She couldn’t attempt to heal Skyler as long as her body continued to go through the conversion. Dimitri’s spirit was gone from his body, but he was definitely alive, and more than anyone else, his body had taken a terrible beating.

With each convulsion that shook Skyler’s body, the earth beneath her trembled slightly and the two bodies sank a little deeper into the soil. She judged the movements were no more than a quarter of an inch each time, but the numbers were beginning to add up. Soil trickled from the edges of the sinking hole, pushing against the two bodies, working its way up their h*ps and legs in an effort to blanket them.

Tatijana wasn’t altogether surprised that Mother Earth was aware of Skyler’s plight and had reached out in the only way she could to try to aid her daughter and son. She couldn’t help herself, so she brushed her hand soothingly over Skyler’s hair, pushing the strands from her forehead.

“Hang on, little sister,” she whispered aloud. “Stay with him. Trust him to keep you safe.” It was all she could think to say. Dimitri had gone to great lengths to ensure Skyler didn’t die this night.

Skyler’s eyes suddenly opened as her body quieted. Tatijana felt a chill go down her spine. Both Skyler and Dimitri stared back at her, glacier-blue eyes swirling with color, sending an eerie, creepy feeling through her entire body.

“If you can hear me, we’re with you now,” she whispered. “I go now to heal Dimitri’s body as best I can. When he is successful and your body has finished the conversion, I’ll do my best to heal you as well, although Mother Earth is already standing in line to do just that.”

Tatijana sent her spirit seeking outside her own body and into Dimitri’s. She could see where Josef had made his attempt to push the silver from the Guardian’s body. He’d done a fairly good job for one so young and inexperienced. She made a mental note to herself to watch the boy. He had a gift to be able to accomplish so much when he was untrained.

There were traces of silver burning long thin lines along the bones, as if that precious metal had attached itself where it could hurt the most as well as do the most damage. Meticulously, taking her time when everything in her wanted to move fast, she began to work.

Tatijana, my brother? He has not moved. A conversion does not take this long.

Fen’s anxiety crept into her mind in spite of focusing completely on her task. Be patient, wolf man, she said. I’m healing Dimitri’s body and I need to concentrate.

Fen let out his breath. He should have known not to disturb her. He couldn’t keep risking glances through the transparent wall when the Lycans’ attention was so focused on the life or death battle between Gunnolf and Zev.

Convel’s body lay at his feet, cut in two by the precise silver sword. His task wasn’t finished, it rarely was, unless you knew how to kill a Lycan. Their bodies could regenerate given the opportunity. He slammed home a silver stake, driving it through the Lycan’s heart, and then severed the head.

Fen stared down at the body for a moment before wiping the blood from his blade on the traitor’s shirt and then replacing the sword back in the scabbard. Lycans moved out of his way as he strode through the thick circle to the inside where he could keep an eye out for others who thought to aid Gunnolf.

There had to be more of them—supporters of Gunnolf’s rebellion. Gunnolf would never have made his move against Zev unless he thought he had the advantage. If Zev was right, and Gunnolf had deliberately gone against the word of the council, then he had done so with enough followers right here in this camp to challenge Zev’s authority.

Two Lycans caught Fen’s eye. They would have blended with the large crowd but for the fact that their movements seemed furtive while everyone else shouted encouragement to Zev or Gunnolf, all fully focused on the fight. Those shouting encouragement to Gunnolf growled warningly at any of the Lycans who grumbled about Gunnolf’s methods.

It had gotten very brutal as fights between Lycans often did. Both men were bloody, shirts stripped off, muscles streaked with lacerations and dirt. Gunnolf’s left eye was nearly closed and he favored his left side, as if protecting a cracked rib. His wrist was broken for certain, although he used the hand, tough enough to get past pain.

The slice that had opened Zev’s arm worried Fen. It was bleeding too much, as if Gunnolf might have treated the blade on the dagger with an anticoagulant. Fen sniffed the air, allowing his mixed blood senses to flare out into the night. The scent of blood was strong. So was fear and treachery. And yes . . . there it was . . . that faint odor confirming his belief that Gunnolf had rigged even his blades against his opponent. There was no doubt that Gunnolf had come prepared to kill Zev.

Once again he started to move, making his way through the crowds of Lycans to intercept the two who were acting so shifty. One, a darker wolf with a square muzzle, pushed his way through the other Lycans, skirting around again and again, in order to come up behind Zev. The other was much stealthier, and he moved away from the Lycans. Away from the combatants.

Fen swore under his breath. He had to choose one of them to stay on, he couldn’t guard both. Get it over already, Zev, he snapped through gritted teeth. They had established a line of communication through Tatijana’s sister, Branislava. He followed that path now, trying to push his warning into Zev’s mind.

I’m a little busy here, Fen.

The ability to communicate gave them a bit of an advantage the other side wouldn’t see coming. Gunnolf couldn’t violate the code of Lycans without angering and bringing about retaliation from the Lycans not yet joined with him. If he succeeded in defeating Zev, he would be the top alpha over the pack and the others wouldn’t question his authority—his methods maybe—but not his authority.

You look like you’re playing with the bastard. Get it done. You’ve got about a hundred others waiting to kill you. Big oaf, dark fur, square jaw, working his way behind you.

Take care of it. I’ve got my hands full with this one. He isn’t the ringleader and I’d like to find a way to extract the information from him without his knowledge.

Kill him and keep his head intact. I’ll see what information I can get out of him. Fen kept his attention on the Lycan slipping away from the crowd and heading toward the edge of the forest.

That’s a dangerous practice. Zev caught Gunnolf and threw him to one side as the Lycan attacked, snarling, raging, beginning to lose control.

Zev moved with fluid grace, a ballet of lethal intent. He seemed not to move his feet, yet he was everywhere, flowing around Gunnolf, striking with punches, kicks and openhanded slaps. The fight was brutal, but the alpha managed to make it look more like a dance or a martial arts exhibition, than a fight to the death.

There’s a second threat, moving into the forest. I believe he has a sniper rifle on him. I’m just guessing here, but someone wants you dead. Don’t cut off Gunnolf’s head until I can get back.

Sniper rifle?

Fen heard the shock in Zev’s voice, even felt it in his mind. The elite hunter had told himself Gunnolf and Convel wanted to take over the pack for power. Perhaps in the back of his mind he believed the two had gone rogue and were recruiting followers, but a sniper rifle was a serious threat—one that smacked of a larger conspiracy.

Fen was on the move, fast, fading into the crowd but making his way quickly to the nearest point of the tree line. At the edge of the clearing there were fewer Lycans, and the stealthy one climbing the tree might be able to spot him. He blurred his image just enough to make it into the forest without detection.

There was always a fine line to walk when he was around the Lycans, but he’d been doing it for centuries and had a lot of practice. He couldn’t use the speed or senses of his mixed blood or his abilities as a Carpathian in front of them. At all times they had to believe he was fully Lycan. At times like this he felt handicapped.

He glanced at the sky, pulling in the storm clouds, building them fast so that they rose into the air like dark towers. Thunder rumbled in the distance and lightning veined the darker clouds. Sinking deeper into the trees, and using the darker sky as a cover, he streaked to the bottom of the tree he had seen the Lycan climb.

Knowing he was hidden from view and his mixed blood hid his energy from the Lycans, he shifted, going to pure vapor, racing up through the branches until he was behind the Lycan. This one had military training. He set up his rifle and scope with meticulous care. He’d tied a bit of cloth to an outside branch across the clearing to get a feel for the wind. Already he had his eye to the scope.

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