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~DARK BLOOD: CHAPTER ONE~
Last Updated: March 06, 2015 11:14:48

Note: This is an unedited version of Chapter 1.

Dark Lycan by Christine FeehanSound came to him first. A low drumming beat growing louder. Zev Hunter felt the vibration of that rhythmic booming throughout his entire body. It hurt. Each separate beat seemed to echo through his flesh and bone, reverberating through his tissue and cells, jarring him until he thought he might shake apart.

He didn’t move. It was too much of an effort even to open his eyes and figure out what that disturbing, insistent call was—or why it wouldn’t go away. If he opened his eyes he would have to move, and that would hurt like hell. If he stayed very still, he could keep the pain at bay, even though he felt as if he was floating in a sea of agony.

He laid there for a long time, his mind wandering to a place of peace. He knew the way there now, a small oasis in a world of excruciating pain. He found the wide, cool pool of blue inviting water, the wind touching the surface so that ripples danced. The surrounding forest was lush and green, the trees tall, trunks wide. A small waterfall trickled down the rocks to the pool, the sound soothing.

Zev waited, holding his breath. She always came when he was there, moving slowly out of the trees into the clearing. She wore a long dress and a cape of blue velvet, the hood over her long hair so that he only caught glimpses of her face. The dress clung to her figure, her full breasts and small waist, the corset top emphasizing every curve. The skirt of the dress was full, falling over her hips to the ground.

She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. Her body was graceful, fluid, an ethereal, elusive woman who always beckoned to him with a soft smile and a small hand gesture. He wanted to follow her into the cool forest—he was Lycan, the wolf lived inside of him preferred the forest to the open—but he couldn’t move, not even for her.

He stayed where he was and simply drank her in. He wasn’t a man clever words came easily to, so he said nothing at all. She never approached him, never closed the distance between them, but somehow, it never mattered. She was there. He wasn’t alone. He found that as long as she was close to him, the terrible pain eased.

For the first time though, something disturbed his peaceful place. The booming beat found him, so loud now that the ground lifted and fell with an ominous, troubling thump. The water rippled again, but this time he knew it wasn’t the wind causing the water to ring from the middle of the pool outward. The drumbeat throbbed through the earth, jarring not only his body, but everything else.

The trees felt it. He heard the sap running deep in the trunk and branches. Leaves fluttered wildly as if answering the deep booming call. The sound of water grew louder, no longer a soft trickling over rocks, not a steady drip, but a rush that swelled with the same ebb and flow as the sap in the trees. Like veins and arteries flowing beneath the very earth surrounding him, making its way toward every living thing.

You hear it now.

She spoke for the first time. Her voice was soft and melodious, not carried on the wind, but rather on breath. One moment she was on the other side of that small pool of water, and the next she was sinking down into the tall grass, leaning over him, close to him, her lips nearly skimming his.

He could taste cinnamon. Spice. Honey. All of it on her breath. Or was it her skin?

His Lycan senses, usually so good at scent, seemed confused. Her lashes were incredibly long and very dark, surrounding her emerald eyes. A true emerald. So green they were startling. He’d seen those eyes before. There was no mistaking them. Her bow of a mouth was a man’s perfect fantasy, her lips full and naturally red.

The booming continued, a steady, insistent beat. He felt it through his back and legs, a jarring pulse that refused to leave him alone. Through his skin, he seemed to follow the path of water running beneath him, bringing life-giving nutrients.

You feel it, don’t you? She insisted softly.

He couldn’t look away. Her gaze held his captive. He wasn’t the kind of man to allow anything or anyone to ensnare him. He forced his head to work—that first movement that he knew would cost him dearly. He nodded. He waited for the pain to rip him apart, but aside from a little burst through his neck and temples, that quickly subsided, the expected agony never came.

What is it?

He frowned, concentrating. The sound continued without a break, so steady, so strong and rhythmic, he would have said it was a heart, but the sound was too deep and too loud. Still, it was a pulse that called to him just as it called to the trees and grass as if they were all tied together. The trees. The grass. The water. The woman. And him.

You know what it is.

Zev didn’t want to tell her. If he said the words, he would have to face his life again. A cold, utterly lonely existence of blood and death. He was an elite hunter, a dealer of death to rogue packs—Lycans turned werewolves and preying on mankind—and he was damned good at his job.

The booming grew louder, more insistent, a dark heralding of life. There was nowhere to hide from it. Nowhere to run even if he could run. He knew exactly what it was now. He knew where the sound originated as it spread out from a center deep beneath him.

Tell me, Hän ku pesäk kaikak, what is it you hear?

The melodic notes of her voice drifted through his pores and found their way into his body. He could feel the soft musical sound wrapping itself around his heart and sinking into his bones. Her breath teased his face, warm and soft and so fresh, like the gentlest of breezes fanning his warm skin. His lungs seemed to follow the rhythm of hers, almost as if she breathed for him, not just with him.

Hän ku pesäk kaikak. Where had he heard that before? She called him that as if she expected him to know what it meant, but it was in a language he was certain he didn’t speak— and he knew he spoke many.

The drumbeat sounded louder, closer, as if he was surrounded on all sides by many drums keeping the exact beat, but he knew that wasn’t so. The pounding pulse came from below him—and it was summoning him.

There was no way to ignore it, no matter how much he wanted to. He knew now, that it wouldn’t stop not ever, not unless he answered the call.

It is the heartbeat of the earth itself.

She smiled and her emerald eyes seemed to take on the multi-faceted cut of the gems he’d seen adorning women, although a thousand times more brilliant.

She nodded her head very slowly. At long last you are truly back with us. Mother Earth has called to you. You are being summoned to the warrior’s council. It is a great honor.

Whispers drifted through his mind like fingers of fog. He couldn’t seem to retain actual words, but male voices rose and fell all around him, as if he were surrounded. The sensation of heat hit him. Real heat. Choking. Burning. His lungs refused to work, to pull in much needed air. When he tried to open his eyes, nothing happened. He was locked in his mind far from whatever was happening to his body.

The woman leaned closer, her lips brushing against his. His heart stuttered. She barely touched him, feather-light, but it was the most intimate sensation he’d ever experienced. Her mouth was exquisite. Perfection. A fantasy. Her lips moved over his again, soft and warm, melting into him. She breathed into his mouth, a soft airy breath of clean, fresh air. Once again he tasted her. Cinnamon. Spice. Honey.

Breathe, Zev. You are both Lycan and Carpathian and you can breathe anywhere when you choose. Just breathe.

He was not Sange rau.

No, not Sange rau, you are Hän ku pesäk kaikak. You are a guardian.

The breath she had exchanged with him continued to move through his body. He could almost track its progress as if that precious air was a stream of white finding its way through a maze until it filled his lungs. He actually felt her breath enter his lungs, inflating them.

I’m not dreaming, am I?

She smiled at him. A man might kill for one of her smiles.

No, Zev, you’re not dreaming. You are in the sacred cave of warriors. Mother Earth called the ancients to witness your rebirth.

He had no idea what she was talking about, but things were beginning to come back to him. Sange rau was a combination of rogue wolf and vampire blood mixed together. Hän ku pesäk kaikak was Lycan and Carpathian blood mixed. He wasn’t certain what or where the sacred caves of warriors was and he didn’t like the word ‘rebirth’.

Why can’t I move?

You are coming to life. You have been locked away from us for some time.

Not from you.

She had been with him while he was locked in that dark place of pain and madness. If there was one thing he knew for absolute certain, she had been there. He couldn’t move on, because he hadn’t been able to leave her.

He remembered that voice, soft and pleading. Stay. Stay with me. Her voice had locked them both in a sea of agony that seemed endless.

Not endless. You are awakening.

He might be waking, but the pain was still there. He took a moment to let himself absorb it. She was correct, the pain was subsiding to a tolerable level, but the heat surrounding him was burning his body. Without the air she’d given him, he would be choking, strangling, desperate.

Think what body temperature you wish. You are Carpathian. Embrace who you are.

Her voice never changed. She didn’t seem impatient with his lack of knowledge. Before, when she was a distance from him, she hadn’t been aloof, she simply waited. Now she felt different, as if she expected something from him.

What the hell? If she said to think about a different body temperature other than the one burning his flesh from his bones, he could give her that. He chose a normal temperature and held that in his mind. She spoke to him without words, telepathically, so she must be able to see he was doing as she asked.

At once, the burning sensation ceased to be. He took a gasping breath. Heat filled his lungs, but there was air as well. He knew her. Only one woman could speak to him as she did. Mind to mind. He knew her now. How could he have ever forgotten who she was?

Branislava.

How had she gotten trapped with him in such a terrible place? He sent up a small prayer of thanks that he hadn’t left her there. She had been the one to whisper to him. Stay. Stay with me. He should have recognized her voice, a soft sweet melody that was forever stamped into his bones.

You recognize me. She smiled at him again and he felt her fingers brush along his jaw and then go up to his forehead, brushing back strands of hair falling into his face.

Her touch brought pleasure, not pain. A small electrical current ran from his forehead down to his belly, tightening his muscles. The current went lower, coiling heat in his groin. He could feel something besides pain and wouldn’t you know it would be desire?

It seemed absurd to him that he hadn’t known all along whom she was. She was the one woman. The only woman. The woman. He’d known women, of course. He’d lived too long not to. He was a hunter, an elite hunter and he was never in one place long. He didn’t form attachments. Women didn’t rob him of breath, or put him under spells. He didn’t think about them night and day. Or fantasize. Or want one for his own.

Until her. Branislava. She wasn’t Lycan. She didn’t talk much. She looked like an angel and moved like a temptress. Her voice beckoned like a siren’s call. She had looked at him with those unusual eyes and smiled with that perfect mouth, inciting all sorts of erotic fantasies. When they danced, just that one unforgettable time, her body had fit into his, melted into his, until she was imprinted there for all time, into his skin, into his bones.

Every single rule he’d ever made about women in the long years he had lived, had been broken with her. She’d robbed him of breath. Put him under her spell. He thought of her day and night and fantasized far too much. He wanted her in every way possible. Her body. Her heart. Her mind. Her soul. He wanted her all for himself.

How did you get here? In this place?

It alarmed him that he might have somehow dragged her down into that sea of agony because he’d been so enamored with her. Could a man do that? Want a woman so much that when he died, he took her with him? The idea was appalling. He’d lived honorably, at least he’d tried to, and he’d never hurt a woman who hadn’t been a murdering rogue. The idea that he might have taken this woman into hell with him was disturbing on every level.

I chose to come with you, she replied, as if it was the most normal thing in the world to do. Our spirits are woven together. Our fate is entwined.

I don’t understand.

You were dying and there was no other way to save your life. You are precious to us all, a man of honor, of great skill.

Zev frowned. That made no sense. He had no family. He had his pack, but two of his pack members, friends for so many long years, had betrayed and tried to murder him. He was mixed blood now and few of his kind would accept him.

Us all? He echoed. Who would that be?

Do you hear them calling to you?

Zev stayed very still, tuning his acute hearing to get passed the heartbeat of the earth, the flow of water beneath him, reaching for the distant voices. Men’s voices. They seemed to be all around him. Some chanted to him in an ancient language while others throat-chanted as the monks from long ago had done. Each separate word or note vibrated through him, just as the heartbeat of the earth had.

They summoned him just as the earth had. It was time. He couldn’t find any more excuses and it seemed no one was going to let him vegetate right where he was. He forced himself to open his eyes.

He was underground in a cave. That much was evident immediately. There was heat and humidity surrounding him, although he didn’t feel hot. It was more that he saw it, those bands of heat undulating throughout the immense chamber.

Great stalactites hung from the high ceiling. They were enormous formations, great long rows of teeth of various sizes. Stalagmites rose from the floor with wide bases. Colors wound around the columns from the flaring bases to the pointed tips. The floor was worn smooth with centuries of feet walking on it.

Zev recognized that he was deep beneath the earth. The chamber, although enormous, felt hallowed to him. He lay in the earth itself, his body covered by rich black loam. Minerals sparkled in the blanket of dirt over him. Hundreds of candles were lit, high up on the walls of the chamber, illuminating the cavern, casting flicking lights across the stalagmites, bringing the muted color to life.

His heart began to pound in alarm. He had no idea where he was or how he got there. He turned his head and instantly his body settled. She was there, sitting beside him. Branislava. She was truly as beautiful as he remembered her. Her skin was pale and flawless. Her lashes were just as long, her lips as perfect as in his dream. Only her clothes were different. He was afraid if he spoke aloud, she would disappear. She looked as ethereal as ever, a creature from long ago, not meant for the world he resided in. The chanting swelled in volume and he reached for her hand, threading his fingers tightly through hers before he turned his head to try to find the source—or sources—of that summons.

There were several men in the room, all warriors with faces that had seen too many battles. He felt comfortable with them, a part of them, as if—in that sacred chamber—they were a brotherhood. He knew their faces, although most he’d never met, but he knew the caliber of men they were.

He recognized four men he knew well although it felt as if a hundred years had passed since he’d seen them. Fenris Dalka was there. He should have known he would be. Fen was his friend, if someone like him could have friends. Beside him was Dimitri Tirunul, Fen’s brother and that too wasn’t surprising. The brothers were close. Their last name was different only because Fen had taken the last name of a Lycan in order to better fit in during his years with Two figures stood over another hole in the ground where a man lay looking around him just as Zev was. The man in what could have been an open grave, looked pale and worn, as if he’d been through hell and had come out the other side. Zev wondered idly if he looked the same way. It took a few moments before he recognized Gary Jansen. Gary was human and he’d waded through rogue wolves to get to Zev during a particularly fierce battle. Zev was very happy to see him alive.

He was familiar with Gregori Daratrazanoff. Usually Gregori wasn’t far from his prince, but he hovered close to the man who struggled to sit up. Gregori immediately reached down and gently helped Gary into a sitting position. The man on the other side of the ‘grave’ had the same look as Gregori. This had to be another Daratrazanoff.

On the other side of Gregori, a short distance from him, stood two of the De La Cruz brothers, Zacarias and Manolito, both of whom he knew and had joined with him in a battle of some kind. The actual facts were still a little fuzzy. A third man stood between them.

In the center of the room, were several smaller columns made of crystals forming a circle around a blood-red formation with what looked to be a razor-sharp tip. Standing beside it was Mikhail Dubrinsky, prince of the Carpathian people. He spoke very low, but his voice carried through the chamber with great authority.

Mikhail spoke in an ancient language, the ritual words to call to their long gone ancestors. “Veri isäakank— veri ekäakank.

To his absolute shock and astonishment, Zev understood the words. Blood of our fathers—blood of our brothers. He knew that was the literal translation, but the language was an ancient one, not of the Lycans. He had been born Lycan. He had heard the language spoken by Carpathians down through the centuries but he shouldn’t have understood the words so clearly.

Veri olen elid.

Blood is life. Zev’s breath caught in his throat. He understood. He spoke many languages, but this was so ancient he couldn’t have ever learned it. Why was he understanding it now? Nothing made sense, although his mind wasn’t quite as foggy as it had been.

Branislava tightened her fingers around his. He turned his head and looked at her.

She was so beautiful she took his breath away. Her eyes were on his face and he felt her gaze penetrating deep. Too deep. She was already branded in his mind. She was coming far too close to his heart.

Andak veri-elidet Karpatiiakank, és wäke-sarna ku meke arwa-arvo, irgalom, hän ku agba, és wäke kutni, ku manaak verival,” Mikhail continued. The power of his voice rang through the chamber, raw and elemental, bringing Zev’s attention back to him.

Zev interpreted the words. ‘We offer that life to our people with a blood sworn vow of honor, mercy, integrity and endurance’.

What did that mean? This was a ritual—a ceremony that he felt part of—even though he didn’t know what exactly was going on. The appearance of Fen and Dimitri was reassuring to him. The longer he was awake, the more his mind cleared. The two were of mixed blood, although both had been born Carpathian.

Mikhail dropped his palm over the very sharp tip of the dark red column. At once the crystals went from dark red to crimson, as if Mikhail’s blood had brought them to life. Verink sokta; verink ka?a terád. Mikhail’s voice swelled with power.

Zev saw sparks light up the room. He frowned over the words Mikhail had uttered. ‘Our blood mingles and calls to you’. He was mingling his blood with someone of power, that much was obvious from the way the columns throughout the room began to come alive. Several gave off glowing colors, although still very muted.

Akasz énak ku ka?a és juttasz kuntatak it.

Zev interpreted again as the columns began to hum. ‘Heed our summons and join with us now.’ The columns throughout the room rocked, the multi-colored crystals illuminating, throwing vivid, bright colors across the ceiling and over the walls of the chamber. The colors were so dazzling, Zev had to shade his sensitive eyes.

Crimson, emerald, a beautiful sapphire, the colors took on the strange phenomenon of the northern lights. The humming grew louder and he realized each took on a different note, a different pitch, the tone perfect to his ear. He hadn’t noticed that the columns appeared to be totems with faces of warriors carved into the mineral, but now they came to life, the color adding expression and character.

Zev let out his breath slowly. These warriors were long dead. He was in a cave of the dead and Mikhail had summoned the ancient warriors to him for some purpose. Zev had a very bad feeling that he was part of that purpose.

Ete tekaik, sa?eak ekäakanket. ?a?3katlanak med, kutenken hank ekäakank tasa.

Zev swallowed hard when he translated. ‘We have brought before you our brothers, not born to us, but brothers just the same.’

Zev had been born Lycan and he’d served his people for many long years as an elite hunter who traveled the world seeking out and destroying rogue wolves who preyed on mankind. He was one of the few Lycans who could hunt alone and be comfortable and confident doing so. Still, he was Lycan and he would always have the need to be part of a pack.

His own kind despised those of mixed blood. It mattered little that he became mixed blood giving service to his people. He’d been wounded in hundreds of battles and had lost far too much blood. Carpathian warriors had more than once come to his aid as they had done this last time.

Zev looked up to find Fen on one side of him and Dimitri on the other. The two De La Cruz brothers stood with the stranger between them.

Gregori and his brother stood on either side Gary who now was getting to his feet with Gregori’s help. Zev took a breath. He would not be the only man sitting on his ass while the others stood. He was getting up or would die trying.

Zev let go of his lifeline, and the moment he did nearly panicked—another thing men like him didn’t do. He didn’t want her to disappear. His eyes met hers. Don’t you leave me.

She gave him a smile that could allow a man to live for the rest of his existence on fantasies. We are tied together, Zev. Where you go, I go. Only the ancients can undo a weave of the spirits.

Is that what this is about? He wasn’t certain he wanted to continue if it was.

Not even the prince can ask for such a release. Only me. Or you.

She gave him the information, but he had the feeling she was a little reluctant. That suited him just fine. He wasn’t willing to relinquish his bond with her just yet.

Fen, I don’t have a stitch on and I want to stand up. I’m not going to lie in this grave like a baby. For the first time he realized he was absolutely naked and Branislava had been beside him the entire time holding his hand—even when his body had stirred to life she hadn’t run from At once he was clean, and clothed in soft trousers and an immaculate white shirt. He struggled to get to his feet. Fen and Dimitri both reached for him at the same time, preventing him from falling on his face and making a fool of himself. His legs were rubber, refusing to work properly. For a Lycan, that was embarrassing, but for an elite hunter, it was absolutely humiliating.

Mikhail looked over at him and nodded his approval, or maybe it was relief at him being alive. Zev wasn’t certain yet if he was relieved or not.

Aka sarnamad, en Karpatiiakak. Sa?eak kontaket ?ama?ak tekaiked. Tajnak aka-arvonk és arwa-arvonk.

‘Hear me, great ones. We bring these men to you, warriors all, deserving of our respect and honor.’ Zev translated the words carefully twice, just to make certain he was correctly interpreting the prince’s discourse with the ancient warriors.

Gary, standing between the two Daratrazanoff brothers straightened his shoulders as if feeling eyes on him. Zev was fairly certain that somehow, those spirits of the dead were watching all of them, perhaps judging their worth. Colors swirled into various hues and the notes blended together as if the ancient warriors questioned the prince.

Gregori, és Darius katak Daratrazanoffak. Kontak ?ama?ak sarnanak hän agba nókunta ekäankal, Gary Jansen, hän ku olenot küm, kutenken olen it Karpatii. Hän pohoopa kuš Karpatiikuntanak, partiolenaka és kontaka. Sa?eak hänet ete tekaik.

‘Gregori and Darius of the great house of Daratrazanoff claim kinship with our brother, Gary Jansen, once human, now one of us. He has served our people tirelessly both in research and in battle. We bring him before you.’

Zev knew that aside from actually fighting alongside the Carpathians, Gary had done a tremendous amount of work for the Carpathians, and had lived among them for several years. It was obvious that every Carpathian in the chamber afforded him great respect, as did Zev. Gary had fought both valiantly and selflessly.

Zacarias és Manolito katak De La Cruzak, käktä enä wäkeva kontak. Kontak ?ama?ak sarnanak hän agba nókunta ekäankal, Luiz Silva, hän ku olenot jaquár, kutenken olen it Karpatii. Luiz mänet en elidaket, kor3nat elidaket avio päläfertiilakjakak. Sa?eak hänet ete tekaik.

‘Zacarias and Manolito from the house of De La Cruz, two of our mightiest warriors claim kinship with our brother, Luiz Silva, once jaguar, now Carpathian. Luiz saved the lives of two of their lifemates. We bring him before you.’

Zev knew nothing of Luiz, but he had to admire anyone who could stand with Zacarias De La Cruz claiming kinship. Zacarias was not known for his kindness. Luiz had to be a great warrior to run with that family of Carpathians.

Fen és Dimitri arwa-arvodkatak Tirunulak sarnanak hän agba nókunta ekäankal, Zev Hunter, hän ku olenot Susiküm, kutenken olen it Karpatii. Torot päläpälä Karpatiikuntankal és piwtät és piwtä mekeni sarna kunta jotkan Susikümkunta és Karpatiikunta. Sa?eak hänet ete tekaik.

‘Fen and Dimitri from the noble house of Tirunul claim kinship with our brother, Zev Hunter, once Lycan, now Carpathian. He has fought side by side with our people and has sought to bring an alliance between Lycan and Carpathian. He is of mixed blood like those who claim kinship. We bring him before you.’

There was no mistaking the translation. Mikhail had definitely called his name and indicated that Fen and Dimitri claimed brotherhood with him. He certainly had enough of their blood in him to be a brother.

The humming grew in volume and Mikhail nodded several times before turning to Gary.

“Is it your wish to become fully a brother?”

Gary nodded his head without hesitation. Zev was fairly certain, that like him, Gary hadn’t been prepped ahead of time. The answer had to come from within at the precise moment of the acting. There was no prepping. He didn’t know what his own answer would be.

Gregori and Darius, with Gary between them approached the crystal column, now swirling a dull red. Gregori dropped his hand, palm down, over the tip of the formation, allowing his blood to flow over that of the prince.

“Place your hand over the sacred bloodstone and allow your blood to mingle with that of the ancients and that of your brothers,” Mikhail instructed.

Gary moved forward slowly, his feet following the path so many warriors had walked before him. He placed his hand over the sharp tip and allowed his palm to drop. His blood ran down the crystal column, mixing with Gregori.

Darius glided just behind him with the same silent, deadly way of his brother and when Gary stepped back, Darius placed his palm over the tip of the bloodstone allowing his blood to mingle with Mikhail’s, Gregori’s, Gary’s and the ancient warriors who had gone before.

The hum grew louder, filling the chamber. Colors swirled, this time taking on hues of blue, green and purple.

Gary gave a little gasp and went silent, nodding his head as if he heard something Zev couldn’t. Within minutes he stepped back and glanced over to the prince.

“It is done,” Mikhail affirmed. “So be it.”

The humming ceased, all those beautiful notes that created a melody of words only the prince could understand. The chamber went silent. Zev became aware of his heart beating too fast. He consciously took a breath and let it out. The tension and sense of anticipation grew.

“Is it your wish, Luiz, to become fully a brother?” Mikhail asked.

Zev took a long look at Zacarias and Manolito. The De La Cruz brothers were rather infamous. Taking on their family as kin would be daunting. Only a very confident and strong man would ever agree.

Luiz inclined his head and walked to the crystal bloodstone on his own, Zacarias and Monolito behind him. Clearly Luiz had not been wounded. He was physically fit and moved with the flow of a jungle cat.

Zacarias pierced his palm first, allowing his blood to flow down the stone, joining with the ancient warriors. At once the hum began, a low call of greeting, of recognition and honor. Colors swirled around the room as if the ancients knew Zacarias and his legendary reputation. They seemed to greet him as an old friend. There was no doubt in Zev’s mind that the ancient warriors were paying tribute to Zacarias. Many probably had known him.

When the humming died down, Luiz stepped close to the stone and pierced his palm, his blood flowing into that of the eldest De La Cruz. Manolito came next and did the same so that the blood of all three mingled with that of the ancient warriors.

At once the humming of approval began again and the great columns of both stalagmites and stalactites banded with colors of white and yellow and bright red.

Luiz stood silent, very still, much as Gary had before him, and just as Gary, Luiz nodded his head several times as though listening. He looked up at Zacarias and Monolito and smiled for the first time.

“It is done,” Mikhail murmured in a low, carrying tone of power that seemed to fill the chamber. “So be it.”

Zev’s mouth went dry. His heart began to pound. He felt tension gather low in his belly, great knots forming that he couldn’t prevent. There was acceptance here—but there could also be rejection. He wasn’t born Carpathian but Fen and Dimitri were offering him so much more than that—they stood for him. Called him brother. If these ancient warriors accepted him, he would be truly both Carpathian and Lycan. He would have a pack of his own again. He would belong somewhere.

The feeling in the great chamber was very somber. The eloquence of the long dead slowly faded and he knew it was time. He had no idea what he would do when asked. None. He wasn’t even certain his legs would carry him the distance and he wasn’t going to be carried to the bloodstone.

“Is it your wish, Zev, to become fully a brother?” Mikhail asked.

He felt the weight of every stare. Warriors all. Good men who knew battle. Men he respected. His feet wanted to move forward. He wanted to be a part of them. He was physically still very weak. What if he didn’t measure up in their eyes?

You aren’t weak, Zev. There is nothing weak about you.

Her voice moved through him like a breath of fresh air. He hadn’t realized he was holding his breath until she spoke so intimately to him. He it let, braced himself and made his first move. Fen and Dimitri stayed close, not just to walk him to the bloodstone, but to make absolute certain he didn’t fall on his face. Still, he was determined it wouldn’t happen.

With every step he took on that worn, stone floor he seemed to absorb the ancients who had gone before him into him. Their wisdom. Their technique in battle. Their great determination and sense of honor and duty. He felt information gathering in his mind, yet he couldn’t quite process it. It was a great gift, but he couldn’t access the data and that left him even more concerned that he might be rejected. Somewhere, sometime, long ago, he felt he’d been in this sacred chamber. The longer he was in it, the more familiar to him it felt.

As he approached the crystal column, his heart accelerated even more. He felt sheer raw power emanating from the bloodstone. The formation pulsed with power and each time it did, color banded, ropes of various shades of red, blood he knew collected from all the great warriors who were long gone from the Carpathian world, yet, through the prince, could still aid their people. Mikhail understood their voices through those perfectly pitched notes.

Fen dropped his palm over the tip of the stalagmite. His blood ran down the sacred stone. The colors changed instantly, swirling with a deep purple through dark red. He stepped back to allow Zev to approach the column.

Zev wasn’t going to draw it out. Either they accepted him or they didn’t. In his life, he couldn’t remember a single time when he cared what others thought of him, but here, in the sacred chamber of warriors, he found it mattered much more than he wanted to admit. He dropped his palm over the sharp tip so that it pierced his palm and blood flowed over Fen’s, mingling with the one who would be his brother, and the great warriors of the past.

His soul stretched to meet those who had gone before. He was surrounded, filled with camaraderie, with acceptance, with belonging. His community dated back to ancient times, and those warriors of old called out to him in greeting. As they did, the flood of information through his brain, adhering to his memories was both astonishing and overwhelming.

Zev was a man who observed every detail of his surroundings. It was one of the characteristics that had allowed him to become an elite hunter. Now, everything seemed even sharper and more vivid to him. Every warrior’s heart in the chamber from ancient to modern times matched the drumming of the earth’s heart. Blood ebbed and flowed in their veins, matching the flow of the ancient’s blood within the crystal, but also the ebb and flow of water throughout their earth.

Dimitri dropped his palm over the crystal and at once, Zev felt the mingling of their blood, the kinship that ran deeper than friendship. His history and their history became one, stretching back to ancient times. Information was accumulative, amassing in his mind at a rapid rate. With it came the heavy responsibility of his kind.

The humming grew loud, and he recognized now, that what those notes meant— approval—acceptance without reserve. Colors swirled and banded throughout the room. Those ancient warriors recognized him, recognized his bloodline, not just the blood of Fen and Dimitri who claimed kinship, but his own, born of a union not all Lycan.

Bur tule ekämet kuntamak. The voices of the ancestors filled his mind with greetings.

Well met, brother-kin. Eläsz jeläbam ainaak. Long may you live in the light.

Zev had no knowledge of his lineage being anything but pure Lycan. His mother had died long before he had memory of her. Why would these warriors claim kinship with him through his own blood line and not Fen and Dimitri’s? That made no sense to him.

Our lives are tied together by our blood. They spoke to him in their own ancient language and he had no trouble translating it, as if the language had always been a part of him and he had just needed the ancients to bridge some gap in his memory for it all to unfold.

I don’t understand. That was an understatement. He was more confused than ever.

Everything including one’s lifemate is determined by the blood flowing in our veins. Your blood is Dark blood. You now are of mixed blood, but you are one of us. You are kont o sívanak.

Strong heart, heart of a warrior. It was a tribute, but it didn’t tell him what he needed to know.

Who was my mother? That was the question he needed answered. If Carpathian blood already flowed in his veins, how was it he hadn’t known?

Your mother’s mother was fully Carpathian. Lycan’s killed her for being Sange rau. Her daughter, your mother, was raised wholly Lycan. She mated with a Lycan, and gave birth to you, a dark blood. You are kunta.

Family, he interpreted. From what bloodline? How? Zev knew he was taking far longer than either Gary or Luiz had, but he didn’t want to leave this source of information. His father never once let on that there was any Carpathian blood in their family. Had he known? Had his mother even known? If his grandmother had been murdered by the Lycans for her mixed blood, no one would ever admit that his mother had been the child of a mixed blood. The family would have hidden her from the others. Most likely her father had left his pack and found another one to protect her.

The humming began to fade and Zev found himself reaching out, needing more.

Wait. Who was she?

It is there, in your memories, everything you need, everything you are. Blood calls to blood and you are whole again. The humming faded away.

“It is done,” Mikhail said formally. “So be it.”





CHRISTINE FEEHAN, #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR

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