Dark Wolf Page 35

Fen abruptly commanded the wind, sending a capricious blast that sent the little flag in all directions. The Lycan lifted his head and waited. He had the patience of a marksman, Fen noted, his gut tightening.

From his vantage point in the tree, Fen got a better look at what was happening in the clearing. The Lycans were no longer paying any attention to the Carpathians trapped inside the safety structure. They barely glanced at the dead Lycan whose head remained separated from his body so close to the edge of the ring. The Lycans surrounded the two combatants, and they had gone wild. Fen had seen the behavior before, a frenzied madness that swept through a pack during a challenge for leadership.

Gunnolf and Convel had counted on that trait in their fellow wolves. The animal came out when they were in combat with one another, especially during a challenge. Few thought clearly. They cheered and yelled and paced back and forth, their adrenaline and untamed nature taking over their more civilized half.

Fen could see the recruits to Gunnolf’s army surrounding the others, a subtle move that no one would notice inside that circle. They shifted from one spot to another, closing ranks so that Zev’s supporters were entirely ringed. A massacre? Or did Gunnolf believe that if he defeated Zev by any means, the pack would accept him?

We’re in trouble, Zev. He’s got an army surrounding your fighters, Fen announced.

11

I think we’re nearly in the clear, Skyler, Dimitri whispered softly into her mind. You’re so amazing. Thank you for giving me your trust.

That light right in the center of the warmth he had surrounded and protected so diligently there in the nether world glowed just a bit brighter. She hadn’t retreated. She’d fought to stay with him. She just had to hang on a little bit longer.

He sensed how weary she was. She had accepted the pain, allowing it to flow through her, not once trying to fight or resist. They were bound together, intertwined tightly, both feeling the pain rising like a wave and crashing over them. He concentrated on breathing for both of them, pushing air through her lungs, through his lungs.

If this lasted much longer he would lose her. Fen has arrived. He is somewhere close. I know, because Tatijana—your sister-kin—heals my body even as I am with you in yours.

The pain was worse than ever, robbing him of breath, of the ability to think for a long moment. He couldn’t compartmentalize it for her. He couldn’t distance either one of them from it. The agony really was as bad or worse than the silver snaking its way through his system, burning him from the inside out. Her body shuddered with the memory of it.

Strangely, instead of dimming, the light in the very center of her warmth stretched out, spreading through the darkness there in the icy cold world, reaching for his light. Comforting him? Only Skyler, on the very edge of death, already in another world, would think to reach out to him. She had come for him when he thought there was no hope. Against all odds, she had stayed for him, when he doubted any other would have done so under the circumstances.

The wave subsided, and he sensed that it was the right time to attempt to reunite body and spirit. Dimitri surrounded Skyler’s warmth and began to move very slowly away from the icy darkness.

Come with me now, csitri. Your spirit cannot be away from your body for too long. I must take you back.

His light moved, but that small warm consciousness that was Skyler didn’t. She stayed hovering in the limbs of the tree of life. The moment his spirit ceased to touch hers, the light in the very center of her warmth dimmed and then flickered on and off as if she couldn’t keep the spark going without him.

His heart jerked. He had nearly lost her. He forced calm. He needed to be confident and sure. Skyler needed to know she could rely on him through anything. Once again he surrounded her with his light, stopping to examine what held her in the nether world.

Just a few more minutes in the dark and cold, Skyler. I’m with you. You aren’t alone, he assured her. She never would be again. If she couldn’t make it out of the darkness with him, back into her own body, he would go with her to light her way to wherever the next life was.

Her spirit seemed caught in the branches and he had to pause to figure out how to get her free. It was only then that he realized Skyler had somehow attached herself to the branches. She was a daughter of the earth and the tree of life had recognized her great need.

Release her to me, Dimitri murmured softly. I give thanks to you for holding her for me, but we need her back in our world.

He didn’t have the skill Skyler did when it came to communicating with all things earth, but he had sincerity. He opened himself up to attack from the greedy creatures waiting below in the darkness, crouched, just waiting for an unsuspecting soul to drift down, unaware of the danger lurking in the dark. He knew what was down there, but still, he wanted the tree of life to understand his great need.

The moment he opened his mind there in the nether world, he heard and felt the blast of greed and hatred coming at him from every direction. He remained where he was, his light surrounding Skyler’s warmth, between the upper branches. Below him, he detected the sounds of the living dead clawing their way up the tree toward him.

He was Hän ku pesäk kaikak, and he would not falter. His spirit was bright, and he had newfound hope that his lifemate would not leave him. Tatijana, a Dragonseeker and sister-kin to Skyler, was above ground, guarding their bodies. He felt her strength and her brightness, that white-hot light of healing.

Skyler, sívamet, my heart and soul, come back to me. The worst is over. Let me help you return to the land of the living. He kept his voice calm, soothing, refusing to hurry her, or frighten her.

He had committed an unpardonable sin in possessing her body, but he felt no remorse. He had gone through the conversion, ensuring, if he could bring her back, that her Carpathian body waited and would heal naturally beneath the earth.

They were bound together, soul to soul. After what he had done, they would be bound mind to mind. She had trusted him, given her permission, but she hadn’t known the consequences. He hadn’t been able to give her up and he’d chosen for both of them. She would be as he was eventually—mixed blood—and their minds would be forever connected.

That should have been the worst of the sacrifices, but she would have to live with the knowledge of every single kill he’d ever made. The sorrow and guilt of hunting friends would weigh on an empath like Skyler. She would know his every dark secret, all those endless years after he had discovered he had a lifemate. He had fought the crouching darkness on each rising, but still, she would know how truly difficult it had been. He wouldn’t be able to shield her from those terrible nights. Most lifemates left those memories alone; she wouldn’t have that choice.

The tree vibrated, a subtle movement, and then shook a little harder as if attempting to dislodge her. He felt her warmth push against his light, and then into it. The moment they merged, he began the climb.

That’s my girl. There’s nothing to fear. Except perhaps an entire Lycan army surrounding them, but he refused to think about that. Tatijana’s presence meant Fen was there. Fen would fight with his last breath to save them. He would have brought others with him.

He still felt Skyler’s warmth and the small light that was her very essence flickered valiantly, but she needed blood and she needed to go to ground—if he could get her back into a body her spirit might not recognize after the conversion.

I don’t know if I’ve ever told you how beautiful you are to me. Not just your looks, but what I see inside of you, and that was before I knew how courageous you were. You came for me, Skyler, and even when I was foolish and tried to turn you away, you refused to give up on us.

He wouldn’t give up on her. He was prepared to do anything, fight any battle. No matter if the act was forbidden or not, if he could get her back, he would humble himself, put himself in any kind of jeopardy or fight any battle to save her.

Can you hear me, csitri? You cannot leave me. I have such need of you.

He felt no shame in pleading. She showed no outward signs of growing stronger. Her light was exactly the same, but it was there. She couldn’t have lost her way in the other world as some souls had done, because she had been anchored to the top branches of the tree.

Dimitri didn’t yet know if she had pleaded her cause and asked for aid, or if the tree recognized her as a daughter of the earth and had stepped in to save her. He wanted to believe, even in her dying moment, Skyler had thought to secure herself to those upper branches in the certain knowledge that he would come for her.

They floated together to the very surface. This was his moment. Could he bring her warm spirit and faltering light back into her body? He kept his movements gentle, his voice calm. He didn’t want her to feel fear or experience any more trauma than she already had. If he could stay calm and instill his belief that both of them would be fine, she might take this transition as entirely natural and not try to retreat from him.

She had been more than aware of her body dying, of the pain of conversion, but she hadn’t let go. She had stayed with him, clinging to life when it should have been impossible. He was beginning to realize, with Skyler, all things were possible.

I have always been secretly amused that others continually underestimated you, my love, he confessed, but I have found these last few nights have taught me that even I underestimate you and your strength.

For the first time, he felt the familiar stirring in his mind, that beloved touch that signaled the love of his life had ever so gently merged with him. How she found the strength when there was so little blood left in her body, he didn’t know.

Dimitri.

His body came to life. His heart. His soul. That gentle touch, the brush of her voice across the scars in his mind held so much love he ached inside. She set up cravings with her soft gentle ways. Hunger. She found a well of tenderness in him that had been buried and forgotten for centuries.

You scared me, he admitted. You can never do this again.

She didn’t reply in words, the effort to talk even telepathically was too much in her weakened state, but she stroked a caress over the sorrow and fear he’d been holding inside.

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