Julija Brennan linked her fingers behind her head and gazed up at her unimpeded view of the stars. With the absence of light from cities and the lack of pollution from industry, the sky over the Sierra Mountains was absolutely clear giving her an unparalleled view of the milky way that, despite all her travels, she hadn’t seen before.
She barely noticed that she was shivering in the night air. It was cool in the Sierras at night and with winter coming on, the temperatures promised snow in the next few days. She’d hoped her errand would have been completed before the first snowfall, but that didn’t look as if it was going to happen. Any other time, finding herself under the night sky would have been just perfect.
She didn’t mind being in a beautiful mountain range far from everyone else. She liked solitude. She even craved it. Unfortunately, she was in the race of a lifetime. She’d been out in front and now she’d stalled. She had no idea where to go or what to do to get back on track. The range was four hundred miles long and seventy miles wide. To find anything as small as a book in it with no idea of where it was located was impossible. Impossible, but it was a matter of life or death, although she hated drama and the last thing she wanted to do was be dramatic, even to herself. Still, it was a fact she couldn’t avoid. She had to find the book before anyone else did and there were several looking.
Strange how such a small thing like a book could have the power to destroy lives. Corrupt them. Twist otherwise good people into monsters. Power corrupted. She stared up at the constellations, wishing she could ride on those stars, or slide down the comets instead of trying to find traces of a book no one should ever see or know existed. Riding stars and sliding on constellations might prove far easier than hunting in four hundred miles of wilderness for a mythical book.
She preferred the places in the world closest to the stars with the least amount of people around her. She loved these mountains. The Sierras. Who knew they would rival the Carpathian Mountains for her affection? She was a nomad with no home and she’d accepted that she was a castaway. A traitor. In her world, a criminal. It had taken some time to come to that place of acceptance. Places like this one had helped her get there.
Julija didn’t believe she would ever have a home or family. Her one friendship had been formed solely out of desperation. She had seen what no one else could. Elisabeta. A woman held prisoner, beat into submission, so afraid, after lifetimes of captivity, to be free. In all those years of being caged, no one had ever managed to see through the layers of illusion her ruthless captor had surrounded her with until Julija’s sight had penetrated through the shields to find her.
Julija had reached out to her in spite of Elisabeta’s fears and tried to instill hope. There was no giving the woman anything but that one thought.
Sighing, she closed her eyes to block out the millions of flickering lights overhead. Sometimes, having gifts was more of a curse than a blessing. Finding a friend had been the blessing, leaving her to her fate once she was safe, had been a curse. Elisabeta needed her desperately, but she had to complete her mission. She had to. She could only hope that Elisabeta would understand and forgive her.
Julija stared overhead, grateful for the clear night, although clear meant the temperature had dropped. She shivered a little and snuggled deeper into the sleeping bag. It would be nice to be able to regulate her body temperature in the way she knew Carpathians did. There were things she could almost do in the way the Carpathians could, but unfortunately, regulating temperature was not one of them.
Carpathians were a species of people, nearly immortal who fed on the blood of others, but could not kill while feeding or they would become vampire. They slept in the rejuvenating soil and could not be out during the day, but they had tremendous gifts, powers that allowed them to shift shape and become what they willed.
Elisabeta was fully Carpathian and she came from a very powerful bloodline, yet she had been taken at a young age, given up for dead and lived her life at the whim of her captor. That just proved to Julija that she had to be more careful than ever. If someone as strong as a Carpathian could be overcome, then so could she.
She didn’t live in a cage in the way Elisabeta had, but in a sense, she was just as much a prisoner as her friend had been—and would probably always be. One couldn’t take centuries of conditioning and throw it away because they were free. It didn’t work that way anymore than it worked that way for Julija. She’d broken away from her family and friends because what they were planning—and doing—was wrong. She knew it was wrong in every way, but so did they. They just didn’t care. Now she had no one and nowhere to go, just like Elisabeta. Freedom didn’t always mean free.
A star shot across the sky and fell towards earth, glowing as it raced in a spectacular explosion of glory. The beauty of nature always took her breath, but no matter how stunning or amazing her surroundings, she was still alone with no one to share it with. No matter how right she was, morally or otherwise, she was still alone. Elisabeta, at least, had been left with strangers, but they would all look out for her. It wouldn’t be the same as having someone she loved close, but there were people who cared.
Elisabeta had a brother she hadn’t seen since she was a young woman and wouldn’t recognize after all the years, but at least he would want to take care of her. Julija had two brothers, but they wanted to kill her. They would kill her if they caught up with her— and they weren’t alone. More, they would come after her. Most likely, they were already on her trail.
She closed her eyes on the stunning sight overhead, trying to force herself to fall asleep. She loved the night and spent most of it awake as a rule. Until she’d found Elisabeta and eventually was surrounded by Carpathians.
She sighed and turned on her side restlessly. Clearly, word hadn’t yet filtered down to those living in the United States, that she was an enemy of the Carpathian people. She had desperately wanted to help Elisabeta through the coming months, when she would most need a friend. But she’d run across her while searching for the book, and although she’d been instrumental in freeing her, she couldn’t stay. She knew sooner or later word would reach the Carpathians in the United States that she was an enemy. She didn’t want to be taken prisoner herself—and the Carpathians were powerful—probably every bit as powerful as she was.
Julija touched the scar running along her throat. Her voice had been forever changed, but at least she had one. She knew, although thankfully no one else did, that her throat had been specifically targeted for a reason. Sergey, the man who had captured Elisabeta so long ago, was well aware of Julija’s potential and he hoped to kill her or keep her from her destiny. Neither scenario sounded good to her. She was a mistress of her own fate. She made up her own mind and followed her own rules. She had done so ever since she’d made the decision to split from her family and warn the prince of the Carpathian people what was being planned behind his back.
She’d been too late. Things had already been set in motion by the time she realized the ultimate goal and now here she was in a race of a lifetime. She accepted she might not come out of it alive, but she refused to accept defeat. She couldn’t lose. There was too much at stake, too many lives depended on her completing her task. Perhaps an entire species of people.
Overhead, the stars stared back at her. A long sweep of what looked like stardust left a comet-like trail through the brightest stars. It was wide and curved gracefully through the night leaving the brilliant white specks behind to mark its passing. Even the stardust had other particles close to it. Neighboring stars twinkled and danced as if talking to the long trail of dust.
“Way to feel sorry for yourself,” she muttered aloud when she realized she was comparing her lonely life to the stars overhead. “Sheesh, girl, you’ve really lost it this time.”
She should have gotten a pet. A dog. A big dog. But then when the others came looking for her, what would she do with a pet then? Especially a big dog. It would get killed or left behind to starve. Either way, it wasn’t a good scenario for a dog.
The stardust trail seemed to move. It was subtle, just a shifting of the particles to make it seem as if the wide swath of dust began to change course. Her breath caught in her throat. She blinked several times to make certain she had the filmy constellation in focus. There was no question, the entire path of milky stars was subtly veering from one angle to another. The change was happening so slowly she wouldn’t have noticed except that she’d been staring up at it nonstop for the last hour.
Nothing could actually change the course of the stars, so the movement had to be an illusion. And that meant someone was looking for her. She turned her head very slowly so as not to draw the eye of whoever was searching for her. It could have been anyone. Her family would come after her. The Carpathians would send someone. A shiver went through her. Just a few short days earlier she had been with them, ensuring Elisabeta had others surrounding her who would take care of her. Julija had simply walked away from them, torn throat and all. By now, their prince would have sent the message that she was an enemy and to stop her at any cost.
Her family or a Carpathian hunter? Did it matter which? Both would try to stop her, and she couldn’t allow either one to interfere. She inched downward until she was completely covered up to her eyes. There was no fire to draw attention. Campers were everywhere on the John Muir Trail and in Yosemite, but she had known her quarry would never have gone near other people. He would have sought out the wildest places in the Sierra possible.
At first, she had been able to ‘feel’ him. Sometimes she’d known his thoughts. He was Carpathian. An ancient hunter, Iulian Florea, who was the last of his family. He had been searching for his lifemate—that one woman who held the other half of his soul—but by the time he had discovered her, she was already dying of old age.
He had held her for all of a few minutes and she had never spoken, never restored his emotions or color, although holding her he had felt grief. She had opened her eyes and looked up at him right before she passed. Something like peace had stolen into her. So fragile, her body worn with age, but her spirit indomitable, she had given him a half-smile and succumbed. Julija had cried even though the Carpathian could not.
The woman had never married and ended her life alone in a nursing home. Iulian held her a long time, pressing her body to his chest, her face over his heart, before lowering her body with exquisite gentleness to the bed. The workers were busy with their many patients and while they were looking the other way at his command, Iulian had taken the body and disappeared into the night. He brought her to a cavern high up in the Carpathian Mountains and buried her deep. He stood for a long while over her and Julija had read it in his mind that he planned to meet the dawn the next morning.
What had changed his mind? Why had he left the cave suddenly and gone to the home of his prince? What had possessed a Carpathian hunter, a man who had lived honorably for centuries to suddenly turn on his entire species and put their very existence in jeopardy? He hadn’t gone into the thrall when his lifemate died. It was impossible. She hadn’t restored his emotions or color, not to mention, the glimpses Julija had caught of his mind hadn’t been filled with chaos. It had been filled with purpose.
She kept her eye on the constellation above her as she tried to puzzle out what her quarry was up to. She’d been on her way to warn the prince of the Carpathians, Mikhail Dubrinksy, that there was a conspiracy building against him and that she had found out almost too late. Things had already been set in motion and she’d had to adjust within minutes, make a decision, and follow it through.
A book of demonic spells had been created by Xavier, the high mage. Every spell recorded in his deadly tome had been the blackest and darkest of what he wrought. Death. Destruction of species. Everything he had created over the years to destroy or command every other species. He had wanted complete power and his spell book could give that to anyone knowing how to use it. She was one of those who could use it. Her father and two brothers would know how to use it as well.
Julija had abandoned her idea to warn the prince and she’d tracked Iulian instead. That book could never see the light of day. The Carpathian people believed the book had been sealed with the blood of three species, jaguar, mage and Carpathian because that had been seen in a vision of Xavier actually sealing the book. She knew it was more than that. The blood sacrifice of a werewolf had been made with a different ceremonial knife. She didn’t know for certain, but it stood to reason that Xavier had included the sacrifice of a human as well.
Xavier had grown extremely paranoid over the years he was alive. He wanted immortality and complete rule over every species living on earth. He thought himself superior to everyone, incapable of making mistakes, yet she knew that he had. She’d studied him carefully, brought up every recorded scene she could find from everyone who had memories of him—specifically, her father and two brothers. They had been privy to his work. She was female and expendable. They were not. Still, she had studied the great mage through her family members. They believed it was harmless to share information with her.
Julija was a mistress of illusion. That was why she knew someone had built that sky to look as if it was the real deal. The constellation, with infinite slowness, was turning toward her location. She countered with her own illusion. She was no lone camper that would draw scrutiny. She was a dark series of low, rounded boulders sitting amongst so many other larger and smaller rocks. Up on the bluffs overlooking the valleys, beautiful rock formations were everywhere. It wouldn’t raise the least suspicion to have a few more. She would have to create an illusion each time she stopped somewhere to rest.
Julija had followed Iulian from the Carpathian Mountains in Romania to the United States. He had traveled in a private jet. She didn’t have that luxury. Her family was wealthy, but when she’d broken from them, she was cut off from the money as well. That didn’t mean she was penniless, she had prepared, but it did mean she couldn’t overspend on luxury items like private jets.
Iulian had gotten ahead of her and gotten into the Sierras before she had. She’d connected with Elisabeta and had allowed herself to be captured by those holding the woman prisoner in the hopes of breaking her free. That had taken precious time and she’d been wounded. Still, she’d gotten on the trail again fairly quickly.
In spite of that she always seemed to be one step behind no matter how hard she tried to get in front of things. Twice she’d made a guess as to where her quarry was going and both times she’d been wrong and had to backtrack. Fortunately, she could ‘feel’ his presence and the draw was much like a magnet—until unexpectedly—that too had disappeared.
Did he know she was following and that she could catch glimpses into his mind? Had he deliberately tricked her? It was possible. She was strong and had endless power and talent, but she wasn’t as adept as she’d like or needed to be. Not when it came to dealing with a Carpathian ancient. She was a direct descendent of Xavier, the high mage. Treacherous, greedy blood ran in her veins. She knew Xavier had committed far greater sins than anyone knew about, and she didn’t want those sins to come to light, but if it meant being able to stop those in a race to find the book, then so be it. Let the world find out about Xavier and the unholy things he’d done.
She remained very still as she stared up at the clear night sky. The breeze ruffled the hair on top of her head. She made certain it looked as if a small plant had attached itself to the rock just in case that small movement brought attention to her. Studying the stars overhead, she tried to find one small thing about the near-perfect illusion that would allow her to identify the one producing it.
She actually admired the work. Both of her brothers were excellent at spells, but illusions, although seemingly easy to do, were actually difficult to use when dealing with anyone skilled in the art of spells. Illusions were simply images that could mislead those who saw them, a misperception of realty—of actual nature. The overhead deception was nearly flawless. If she hadn’t been studying the stars, she would have missed it.
The fact was, Julija loved the night and in particular, the night sky. Her family knew that about her. If it was dark and clear, she was outside. She had a very good telescope up on the roof of their home to better study the stars. She could name every constellation. She was a walking encyclopedia of facts about the universe and everything in it. Her brothers would know that, and they would be careful in their choice of what instruments to use to find her.
They also knew she was a master of illusion. She knew there were better, but in her family, with the power running through their veins, there was a time her brothers considered her the best within their family. That had changed over the years. Now, they believed she’d been beaten so far down she could barely do any magic anymore. Still, they wouldn’t choose the stars unless they wanted her to know they were chasing her. It wasn’t to their benefit for her to know. She would make it all the more difficult for them—which—of course—she was already doing.
She knew her brothers were somewhere down below in the valley, looking for her. Not because there had been evidence, but she ‘felt’ them in the way she felt the Carpathian she hunted. That was a gift she’d been born with, just like so many others. That was how she knew Elisabeta was close even when she couldn’t see her. Elisabeta’s captor had put her in a small cage and made her part of the rock and dirt inside an underground chamber. She’d been hidden in plain sight. But Julija knew illusion and she also could ‘feel’ other living creatures.
She could almost always tell just how far someone was from her and in what direction she needed to go to find them. It wasn’t always the best thing, but she felt what they did. That was most likely the reason she couldn’t go along with her siblings on their plan to follow in Xavier’s footsteps and take over the domination of the world.
If her brothers weren’t using the stars to find her, it had to be a Carpathian, a very skilled one. The thought made her heart pound faster. She knew what the prince would think once they discovered who she was. She’d been in the vicinity of the book right before it was taken. They might even blame her and think Iulian was chasing her, trying to get the book of black art spells. That would make more sense than the other way around. The prince would know his Carpathian hunter hadn’t given in and become vampire.
A delicate little shudder went through her. She’d seen her fair share of vampires and she’d rather deal with a mage any day of the week. Elisabeta had been taken by an old family friend and then he’d deliberately turned vampire. She’d spent centuries in captivity, trained through violence and pain to do whatever she was told. She’d lived. She’d survived.
The Elisabeta from her childhood was long gone. In her place was a woman terrified of life. Of living on her own. Of making a single decision. She didn’t dare for centuries and now, just the thought was terrifying and overwhelming. Julija knew she wouldn’t be able to do it and would need help. She had intended to help her. Now, she wasn’t certain when she could get back to her only friend.
Julija knew the Carpathians were hoping to heal Elisabeta by leaving her in the ground as was their custom. The earth’s properties, especially minerals aided the species to heal faster, as well as rejuvenating them each day as they slept. The earth might heal Elisabeta’s body, but not her heart, not her soul, nor could it help with the emotional toll those centuries had taken on her. She would be utterly lost.
Julija couldn’t imagine that any of the omnipotent Carpathian hunters would have any understanding of how completely Sergey Malinov, the man who had kidnapped her, had shaped her life. Elisabeta had been young then and he’d shaped her into a woman who was totally submissive and had no idea how to be anything else. Julija knew the chances of her becoming anything different were slim to none—not with centuries of developing that character.
What was she doing here in the mountains on an impossible quest when the only friend she had in the world needed her desperately? She couldn’t help herself. She was telepathic and very, very powerful. Elisabeta was hundreds of miles away and in the ground, but Julija reached out to her anyway, knowing Elisabeta was just as powerful.
Elisabeta. Can you hear me?
The Carpathians all were telepathic and used a common pathway to talk to one another. Julija was well aware of that pathway and wanted to avoid it at all costs. Elisabeta and she had created their own conduit of communication to keep their vampire captor from knowing that they talking. At the time, they were focused on Elisabeta escaping. She had been terrified to do so for many reasons.
Julija had only then realized the extent of the problems the other woman would be facing if she got away. She had been cared for since she was only seventeen and before that, her family had watched over her. Elisabeta remembered that much about her childhood. She’d been so young, and she’d followed Sergey, a childhood friend of her family. He had built a wall in memory of his missing sister and she’d gone willingly to see it. Instead, she found herself taken prisoner by a madman.
Julija pushed more power into her query, sending it out toward the location she knew Elisabeta to be. Can you hear me? Are you awake? Out from the under the ground yet?
She waited, counting the most prominent stars overhead, wishing on them like a child. When had she been a child? She didn’t even remember. Elisabeta was at times very child-like still and yet she’d been through more than any being should ever have to be.
The voice was faint, not from the distance, Julija was providing the bridge and she was immensely powerful. She could manage the distance and it helped that she knew exactly where her friend was. Elisabeta was uncertain. Frightened. Julija didn’t like that.
Are you alone, my friend?
Yes. Elisabeta relayed that without hesitation. Underground. I don’t want to face the world yet. Not ready.
I will come as soon as possible. This errand is taking longer than expected.
There was a small silence while Julija’s heart pounded. She pressed her hand, beneath the cover of the sleeping bag, to her heart. She wanted to wrap her arms around Elisabeta. She was still that young girl, never given a chance to blossom and grow into the woman she should have been.
Are you safe?
Julija didn’t know why that simple inquiry coming from Elisabeta brought tears to her eyes. Was she? She stared up at the constellation slowly shifting position in the sky. How did she answer that? I’m not certain. Someone is hunting me. I told you about my brothers and what they wanted.
The two women often had talked to one another when Sergey had thought they couldn’t. Julija had told Elisabeta all about her brothers and what she had discovered they’d been up to over the years and why. In turn Elisabeta had told her about her life with Sergey. Julija had known she never would have gotten any explanation out of the woman without giving up personal information. She was far too scared to talk to anyone without Sergey’s express permission.
And yet you stay on your course. I’ve never met a woman like you.
Julija couldn’t help but hear the admiration in Elisabeta’s voice. There are many like me, and many in this world like you.
Her statement to Elisabeta was true when she thought of women in other countries without the chances she’d had to become what she wanted to be. Julija had studied at the best Universities just because education appealed to her. Knowledge was power, her teachers always said, and she agreed. They just didn’t agree on what kind of knowledge gave one power.
The world has changed considerably while you were held captive.
He calls to me.
Julija’s heart skipped a beat, then thudded wildly. Sergey calls to you?
Yes. I’m afraid I will go to him if I go above ground. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to be anything but what he wanted from me.
Elisabeta’s voice dripped with tears, although Julija knew she wasn’t shedding any. That wasn’t Elisabeta’s way. Tears had been beat out of her along with any fight.
You know you can’t go back to him. You detest him.
More than anything. With every breath I draw. I just don’t know how to live without him. Until I can figure that out, I am staying right where I am. He gave me everything, Julija. I did what he said and in return he would supply me with the blood I needed to live. He especially liked to take my blood, so he would bring me blood from others.
There was a moment of silence. Julija could feel Elisabeta gathering her thoughts and those thoughts were distasteful to her.
I suspected he murdered those he used for blood. This time the sorrow was not only heard but felt.
Julija hesitated, searching for the right words. You know you couldn’t do anything to stop him, Elisabeta. You still can’t. Please don’t throw your freedom away. I know it’s terrifying but give yourself time. The Carpathians there can’t wait to help you. And you have a brother.
Everyone tells me that. I don’t remember much of my childhood, just bits and pieces and I’m uncertain if they’re real or whether Sergey planted those pieces in my head. This time there was reluctance. If he comes, he will expect things from me I can’t give him. I feel so afraid and alone. At least I was protected from everyone by Sergey.
Julija closed her eyes, her distress level rising. She had hoped Elisabeta was in safe hands, but she was hiding from everyone. That made Julija feel all the worse that she wasn’t there to shield her friend and help ease her into some kind of a life. But what? What was there for someone like Elisabeta? The modern world would never understand her. They would expect her to go to counseling and be ‘cured’. That was never going to happen. Centuries of abuse couldn’t be swept away. Hundreds of years of submission couldn’t suddenly turn her into a fiery independent woman. Julija knew that and feared for her friend.
Small steps, Elisabeta. Remember? We talked about this. You can’t expect to be on your own right away, if ever. You have to depend on those people who reach out to you, the ones that feel right to you.
There was silence. Rejection. You didn’t.
Julija cursed the fact that she’d ever told so much about her life to Elisabeta. I don’t know how to make friends easily. I didn’t have anyone to rely on.
She was the direct descendent of the high mage and her parents never allowed her to forget it. They didn’t want her befriending anyone else, mage or otherwise. She studied every spell, practiced casting and creating illusions and whatever else her stepmother insisted on her doing. There wasn’t time to learn how to be friends, or to have a childhood one could look back on and laugh about. Her brothers often viewed her as a rival, pathetic as a mage and more of a food source than anything else.
You’re afraid of your brothers.
My parents as well. Don’t forget them. They were all involved in what my brothers were doing. Breeding cats to make them shadow creatures. It was inhumane and wrong. The cats suffer. They need blood to survive just as you do, but unless they cooperate, they aren’t fed.
That’s exactly the way Sergey did me. Some nights I went until I was too weak to see. He would get so angry he would beat me with a cane or a whip. Then I wouldn’t be able to stand. He would come to me, treating me so gently I would be confused. So confused. Not understanding it was the same man.
My brother did the same with the cats, conditioning them to return to them always after their orders are carried out.
Why are people so cruel?
I don’t know, Elisabeta. Money. Power. Just because they can be.
He said I would never survive without a master. He said he made certain of that and then he would laugh so cruelly. He’s right though. I will never be able to survive alone.
No one has to be your master, he’s wrong about that. I’ll help you as soon as I can return. It shouldn’t be much longer.
They are pushing me to rise. There was a little sob in Elisabeta’s mind, but not in her voice. I can hold out against them. I did learn to use silence and to be stubborn when I didn’t want to do something. I don’t believe they will beat me.
No, they won’t beat you. Why do I get the feeling you are not telling me everything?
There is always more to tell. You haven’t told me everything. What is this quest?
Julija tapped her chin with the pad of her index finger. Would Elisabeta worry too much about her if she didn’t explain.? Probably. Elisabeta had been shaped into a pleaser. She nurtured others—even those evil. Sergey had taken all the sweet, compassion Elisabeta had for others, amplified and twisted those traits into what he wanted from her. It was possible Elisabeta had always had a submissive nature, but her self-esteem would have been high and her ability to read others and trust them would have been developed as she grew older as well.
Elisabeta didn’t hurry her decision or try to persuade her, one way or the other. Like Juilja she was just happy to have a real friend, someone to talk with and bounce ideas off of.
Do you remember hearing the name Xavier? He was the high mage and offered classes for Carpathians to learn spells for safeguards.
Yes, of course.
Xavier was secretly conspiring to bring down the Carpathian people along with every other species of power. He’s pretty much succeeded with the Jaguar race. He turned the men against the women and they have all but died out. The werewolves remain strong, but a war was barely averted between Carpathians and werewolves. That alliance is still shaky at best. Mages are regarded with suspicion by all species.
Elisabeta gave a small gasp. As if the vampires weren’t enough.
The vampires, under the Malinov brothers have been forming armies as you well know. Sergey has slivers of Xavier in him. At least two, perhaps three. He has a sliver of his brother in him as well.
I know this, but how do you?
The same way as you do, Elisabeta. I can feel even the vampires. When Sergey got close to me, even to kill me, I felt Xavier in him. Xavier’s presence is very distinctive and I’m a direct descendent.
Xavier kidnapped Rhiannon.
She disappeared. No one could find her. I thought, after Sergey had taken me, that perhaps one of his brothers had her. It was years after for me, but maybe she was still alive, and we’d find one another. I didn’t want to be alone. The last was said shamefully.
That is a very natural feeling. Especially given that Elisabeta was still a young girl. In Carpathian years, she was very young. Again, Julija wanted to wrap her arms around the women and comfort her. Had anyone ever done that for her? It was Xavier who had taken Rhiannon. He wanted to be immortal. He was able through spells to keep her from calling out for aid, or to help herself. He had three children with her. Triplets. Soren, Tatiana and Branislava.
Elisabeta sighed. Poor Rhiannon. I had no idea Xavier was such a monster.
He kept the children and killed Rhiannon, feeling safer without her conspiring to find a way to kill him. He seemed to have tried to raise them somewhat as his children, but Rhiannon had already told them the truth. He imprisoned the two girls in an ice cave after they had shifted into dragons. At first, he did the same with Soren, but he wanted to use him, so he punished the two girls if Soren went against Xavier. Soren quickly fell into line.
Elisabeta gave a delicate shudder. Watching someone you love get punished for your sins is very difficult. I was fortunate in that for a long time, Sergey didn’t allow anyone else near me. When he finally did, I found it was a nightmare. He liked the results because I could take his beatings for myself but detested when he hurt others.
Julija knew Sergey employed that method often with Elizebeta, making her watch him destroy entire families and claiming it was her fault. The human puppets he created ate the flesh from living beings, mostly children. Elisabeta would do anything Sergey asked of her as long as he stopped them.
Xavier kept Soren separated from his sisters unless he needed to punish him. He allowed him to be with a mage, one of Xavier’s choice. She gave birth to a son and they were told the baby died at birth. The infant was given to another mage to raise away from Soren and the birth mother was killed by Xavier in front of Soren because she had ‘failed’ them. A few years later Soren married a human, I think her name was Samantha, another experiment and Sergey didn’t want any children to be more powerful than Soren’s firstborn. They had twins, Razvan and Natalya.
Elisabeta gasped. Xavier is every bit as bad as Sergey.
I think they are close in their depravity. Soren’s first born son, Anatolie, was raised to be a powerful mage, one that would aid Xavier in wiping out their enemies. Anatolie married a mage woman of Xavier’s approval. It wasn’t a love match because I don’t think either know how to actually love. They had twins, boys. The boys were to be their greatest asset, including giving blood to keep Xavier alive.
Mages have longevity, Elisabeta remembered. But they aren’t immortal.
Technically, neither are Carpathians because they can be killed. Still, to accomplish what they wanted, Xavier had to live, to be immortal. The twin boys were far more mage than Carpathian and their blood didn’t sustain the others. The three mages conspired to find a Carpathian female. They set the Malinov brothers on a Carpathian family, killing the male first and then the female. They took the girl. She was no more than sixteen. She gave birth to me. I’m mage and Carpathian. I fed them all with my blood. Apparently, my blood did sustain them.
Julija. Elisabeta breathed her name. She had given blood to Sergey nearly every day of her life since she was seventeen. She knew what it felt like to be used cruelly.
Julija stared up at the constellation. It was directly over her now and she felt as if a thousand eyes watched her. She stayed very still, part of the landscape. She was high up in the Sierras in a particularly rocky area. Large cliffs rose above her and more were below. Her ‘rocks’ were just a few of many. She was usually very confident in her illusions but for some reason, maybe the conversation, she was a little anxious.
Xavier had this book of spells. He had recorded every dark spell possible. It was truly evil and held the means to destroy every species. The book was sealed until Xavier could get in place the powerful mages he needed to aid him. Soren stole the book and hid it in a bog. Xavier sent his demon warriors after him and tortured him to find out where it was. Soren’s daughter, Natalya saw the entire thing in a vision and was able to find the book. In her vision from holding the ceremonial knife, she saw Xavier sacrifice a dark mage, a jaguar and Carpathian. The Carpathian was Rhiannon. Natalya thought that provided the entire seal. From things I’ve overheard, I believe she didn’t see anything more because she didn’t have access to all of Xavier’s prize ceremonial knives.
Elisabeta was silent a moment, trying to comprehend everything Julija was telling her. Natalya got to the book before Xavier.
That is correct. The book was given to the prince of the Carpathians.
Unfortunately, no. It couldn’t be opened, which is a good thing, and it can’t be destroyed so easily. But the Carpathians thought it safe with Mikhail.
Elisabeta might not want to strike out on her own, but she was intelligent. She put it all together very fast. The shadow cats your brothers bred. They were bred specifically to get the book.
Exactly. My brothers took the cats to various countries to train them, so no one would put it together what they were planning. They had other mages and humans set up just in case they were caught and in a couple of countries, that did happen, but my brothers were able to get away without ever being seen or suspected. When they were able to get the perfect cat, they sent him to get the book.
Something went wrong.
That guess was easy enough. Julija had told Elisabeta that she was on an important quest, one that was necessary and now she was saying she wouldn’t make it back at the three- week mark.
A Carpathian warrior, one who had just lost his lifemate.” Julija’s heart contracted remembering how she felt the warrior taking the woman into his arms and holding her. How he brushed her eyelids and mouth with kisses so gentle they were soul stirring.
His name is Iulian Florea. His intention was to meet the dawn and then all of a sudden, he changed his mind. I had the impression of the book. For a moment I thought he was going to try to bring his lifemate back to life. I didn’t want him to try, I knew, even if he could do it, anything coming from that book would be pure evil.
He took the book?
He wounded the shadow cat and took the book. I followed him here. I could feel his presence, that’s how I tracked him, but now I can’t.
She was suddenly very uneasy. The constellation remained right over her as if somehow spotlighting her. She had the urge to throw back the sleeping bag and run. The need to flee was so strong she found herself gripping the edges of the bag. The compulsion strengthened. She forced herself to breathe through it.
She couldn’t tell Elisabeta that she’d been discovered. She didn’t know who it was that had found her, but it didn’t really matter. Iulian, her brothers and any of their many allies, vampires and their puppets, or Carpathian hunters. They knew she was in the race to find the book. Even if she got there first none of them would ever let up until they got her. The sensible thing to do was to join Elisabeta and help her. If the Carpathians already had gotten word she was mage and a traitor, she would look innocent helping one of their own.
Julija couldn’t abandon her mission. She wanted to, but it was impossible. She couldn’t allow her brothers to get their hands on that book. Not now, not ever.