Dark Wolf Page 37

The crowd went silent as Zev dropped the lifeless body onto the ground. He palmed a silver stake and drove it down hard, directly through the heart of the fallen Lycan.

The crowd roared approval. Zev slowly straightened. As he did, the assassin made his move. He shuffled forward with others around him, gawking, seemingly trying to get a look at the dead body of Gunnolf. The moment he was close to Zev, his entire demeanor changed. There was nothing awkward about him. He was fast and smooth, keeping his knife low and covered with his fist, driving the poisoned blade straight at Zev’s kidney.

Fen caught him from behind, twisted him around, his grip like steel, thumb digging into the pressure point of the wrist, exposing the knife and the assassin’s intent. Zev spun around to face the killer. He caught the dagger as it fell from paralyzed fingers. Fen let the assassin go, and Zev stepped forward into the man’s attack, plunging the silver blade into the heart.

A hot breath of fire swept over the crowd. Everyone looked up. There were three dragons in the sky, all circling around for a run at them. The lead dragon was blue, the neck elongated, stretched toward that outer circle of Lycans. Fire rained down, a steady stream that burned the fur on the Lycans’ heads and shoulders.

Tatijana had learned from previous clashes just how high a wolf could jump. Her blue dragon was in the lead, staying high enough to keep out of harm’s way, yet low enough to singe fur. The dragons circled the outer ring of Lycans, flames shooting down in long, steady streams. The Lycans broke formation, abandoning whatever plans they had to kill Zev’s force.

The Lycans scattered, a few dropping to their knees to take aim at the impressive sight of dragons in the sky. They fired off several rounds, but the bullets seemed to bounce off the tough scales of the dragons. When the creatures flew over for another fiery pass, the rest of the Lycans took to the forest, sheltering beneath the canopy of the taller trees.

“I see you’re still hanging around that woman,” Zev observed. He hadn’t moved a muscle when the dragons flew over, spraying the Lycan ranks with fire. “I can understand why you want to hang with her, but seriously, what does she see in you?”

Fen grinned at him. “I’m smart enough to always play the hero, unlike you, who seems to get into trouble every time you open your eyes.”

“You like to play with fire, don’t you?” Zev asked with a wry grin. He had warned Fen more than once that a relationship with a Carpathian woman was trouble—forbidden even. The council had decreed centuries earlier that all Lycans should avoid Carpathians so there was no chance of creating the dreaded Sange rau.

“Ha ha. You’re very funny,” Fen retorted. As far as Zev knew, Fen was Lycan. He might understand Fen’s attraction to Tatijana, but he couldn’t condone a union.

Zev nudged Gunnolf’s body with the toe of his boot. “The really sad thing is, I liked him. I’ve known him for years.” He looked up at Fen. “What the hell is going on?”

Fen nodded toward Gunnolf. “I’ll ask him.”

Zev shook his head. “It’s too dangerous. I respect you as a fighter, Fen. I’ve told you that before. I can’t understand why you’re not running an elite pack, but questioning a dead Lycan, even for someone as strong as you, is not a good idea.”

Fen shrugged. “One of us has to do it, and I’m more expendable than you are.” And he had a lifemate, waiting to pull him back from the edge. It wouldn’t be his first time extracting information from a dead Lycan. Zev was right, it had been dangerous, but Tatijana was powerful and she would never fail to pull him back. He had complete faith in her.

Zev shook his head and made a movement toward his lifeless opponent. Fen was there before him, grasping the head between his two hands. The Lycan became aware of him almost instantly and mentally fought him, desperate to protect his secret. Black hatred poured over and into Fen. Rage took hold, a violent, churning cauldron of such fury that Fen’s body shook with it. The emotions of the dead wolf, still active in his brain, found a new home in Fen.

As if a great distance away, Fen heard Zev cursing, knew he’d drawn his sword and was close, very close. His hatred spread to the elite hunter like an infection. Why should he have to put up with the scout’s orders? Why, each time Zev returned to the pack, did Gunnolf have to relinquish authority?

Zev was a traitor. He mingled with the Carpathians. He danced with one of them, clearly smitten. He’d allowed the woman to enter his mind, take his blood. Every member of the pack knew he was pining for her. He had even committed the biggest sin of all—he’d argued that there was a difference between Dimitri—their prisoner—and any other Sange rau.

Worse, Zev had sided with Dimitri and had even given him blood. The Sange rau should have died within three days. Everyone who had ever been sentenced to the Moarta de argint had succumbed to the pain and writhed and moved until the silver had managed to pierce their heart. Not once had there been a survivor beyond the third day, yet Dimitri had lasted over two weeks. Zev had to have been helping him.

The Sange rau was weak, dying. They had a chance to destroy the monster. It was the woman with him who had somehow, through a dark practice, managed to protect the abomination. Revulsion spread like cancer. A disgust and loathing like no other. They had the scent of her blood, it permeated the meadow and the very air itself. She had to die. Her very existence was an outrage to humanity. What if the Sange rau began breeding? They had to be stopped. It was a sacred mission.

Kill. Kill. Kill him. Kill her. They both have to die. Kill Zev. He should die with the monsters, the abomination. Kill them all. The chant was loud in his mind, echoing through his veins with a need and hunger that shook him.

Fen let the savage emotion wash through him, but he refused to stay there and wallow in it as Gunnolf wanted. The Lycan would trap him there or Fen would be forced to leave to prevent the intensity of the hatred and rage from consuming him.

The feelings of superiority helped. The emotion flooded his mind and Fen caught at the opinion and nurtured it. He was more than Gunnolf. More than Zev. He was Guardian, and this Lycan who wished to trap him for all time in the black mire of prejudice and hatred would not do so. Fen was too strong to be ensnared by the Lycan. Too intelligent.

He was ruthless, refusing to back down but searching through the memories to find a thread that would lead him back to Gunnolf’s master. The Lycan reeked of fanaticism. His emotions were fiery, intense—and he believed in his cause with a single-minded purpose.

War. They had to wipe out the Carpathians to stop the spread of the mixed bloods. All Lycans who refused to join them, who frowned on the sacred code, would be wiped from the face of the earth as well. They were enemies of the great council—the great ones who had kept them alive and thriving for centuries. Those past moral compasses were slowly being forgotten or deliberately pushed aside by the new council who only wanted their own glory.

The zeal of devotion permeated every move and memory that Gunnolf had. It was difficult to find a single thread to get back to the one master who fed his extreme fervor. Fen couldn’t stay much longer. The intolerance and radicalism was slowly eating at him, threatening to consume him in spite of his strength. He’d never encountered such vehemence.

It wasn’t necessarily that Gunnolf was a bad man. He believed passionately that he was right. There was no other way, no other room for any other’s beliefs. He would not only die for his cause, but would kill for it. Those who opposed him were the enemy and not fit to walk the same earth.

The vehemence and ardor of the fanatic turned everything to red and black. Emotions took hold, fighting to poison him, to spread that infection to every cell in his body.

Lifemate. The light to his darkness. All darkness. Nothing this ugly could ever touch something so bright. One word. One breath. That was all it took. He had complete faith in her to call him back from the brink of madness.

She was there instantly, pouring into his mind, lighting every dark place, pushing out the stench of fanaticism and hatred, replacing those intense, damaging emotions with her unconditional love.

He released Gunnolf’s head, turning away, fighting down the terrible need to retch after being so consumed by the fervor of the Lycan’s need to kill every living creature who did not believe as he did.

Zev swung the silver sword, slicing through the Lycan’s neck, severing the head. There was a long moment of silence. “Was it worth it?” Zev asked quietly when Fen sank into the green grass.

At once Fen felt Mother Earth reaching for him, comforting him. He felt oily and dirty, shaking his head repeatedly to try to get Gunnolf’s emotions out of his head. He swept his hand over his face and it came away bloody. Tiny beads of blood had pushed through his pores. Not a good thing. Lycans didn’t sweat blood.

“You tell me,” Fen managed to say. “This is all about the Sange rau. Gunnolf felt you were becoming too close to the Carpathian people and he had to act to save all Lycans from the damage that would do. The ultimate goal is to start a war between the two species. If they do that, then all Lycans would side with his faction—those who believe in the old ways—the strict code of morality—he used the term sacred code.”

Zev sighed, wiped the blade clean and slipped the sword back into the scabbard before sinking rather abruptly into the deeper grass surrounding Fen. The laceration on his arm still bled, the wound all the way to the bone. “I’m going to pretend that I don’t notice that the ground responds to you just as it does with Dimitri.”

“Dimitri is my brother,” Fen volunteered. He was through lying to Zev. They had a problem—a huge one. Either they were going to stop a war, or start one right there. “I was born Carpathian. I am Hän ku pesäk kaikak—Guardian of all.”

“I’d like to say that comes as a huge surprise, but it doesn’t. Tatijana is tied to you in some way?”

“She’s my lifemate.”

Zev’s fingers played over the hilt of his sword. “I see. I’d cut off your head for you, but I’m too damned weak. You’ll just have to wait for another day. How did you get this way, and when?”

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