Razvan floated in a sea of pain. He had been there many times before, but nothing like this. His body felt as if all the parts weren't connected. He couldn't move. Maybe he was just afraid to move, to worsen the agony ripping through his body. He felt movement around him, as if insects and other nameless things crawled over him. Or through him. Even that wasn't enough to induce him to try to move.

He heard whispers, so low at first he thought he was hallucinating, but the voice grew stronger in his mind. Soft. Feminine. Determined.

I am with you. You are not alone. I watch over you and protect you. I will not leave you alone deep within Mother Earth. Do you feel her surrounding you? Holding you in her arms? Welcoming you? Feel her, lifemate. Feel her when all else seems lost.

He was certain he was hallucinating. Xavier would never allow him to sink into the rich soil to be rejuvenated. There was only pain and suffering. An endless life of it. He couldn't let go. He forced his will to obedience. No matter how much his heart stuttered or his lungs fought to draw breath, no matter the pain, he couldn't let go. He had promised-her.

He remembered her, although she might have been a dream, another hallucination. He considered that when he could get his mind to work through the waves of pain. He doubted he could have conjured her up even in his wildest imagination. He tried to picture her, but he found he couldn't think, so he just lay listening, trying to hear her voice again.

Far off he could hear a chant, spoken in the ancient language, voices raised, both male and female. It was impossible to sort through them to find one single voice, and he was certain she wasn't chanting with them. He felt her, not surrounding him, but merged with him, sharing his body. He didn't like the idea. If he felt so much pain, was she sharing that as well? He didn't know the answer.

Again his mind drifted, as if, because he couldn't do anything to prevent her from feeling the terrible pain, he didn't want to know if she was with him. He had spent too many years causing those he loved distress and he refused to think he was doing the same to her.

No, my love. I am with you by choice. I asked to be bound to you. I share your body willingly. Hear me, Dragonseeker, you must hold tight to me. Never let me go.

If he could have smiled, he would have. Where was he going to go? He couldn't move. He could only lie there, believing himself insane. The only consolation was her voice. He tried to remember if he'd dreamt it up when he was young.

After a while-and it could have been nights, or weeks, or even months-he became aware of a heartbeat. The sound was unusual, deep, echoing through his surroundings, so that it vibrated through his body, every muscle and organ, torn sinew and bone. Each beat shook him, yet soothed him. Each beat brought a twisting pain, but at the same time was strangely comforting.

After a long, indeterminate passage of time, he found he listened for that sound, enjoying the echo of it through his battered body. Now came a stirring of interest in his dark world. What are you?

I am Mother Earth, my son. You have become a part of me. My daughter begged me to accept you, to heal you. You are hearing the heartbeat of the earth moving through your body, making you one with me, with all of nature.

Now he knew he was insane. He was having a conversation with the earth. It was strange that it didn't bother him that he'd lost his mind. The pain was no less, but he had grown used to it, and he found the darkness and warmth a peaceful, restful place. He drifted further out on the sea of pain, letting it carry him as he had done so many times in the past.

His mind turned to his woman. Ivory. His lifemate. She was so beautiful she took his breath away. He knew if he'd met her a few hundred years earlier, their lives would have been so different. He had never dared to dream of her-never wanted Xavier to know for a moment that somewhere in the past or the future, there was a woman who held the other half of his soul. It was such an intimate gift, the sharing of souls, and he would never taint that bond with Xavier's evil.

Had he not died and been buried to suffer in this place, he would have taken her to his secret garden, the one place he remembered from his childhood where life had been good and filled with joy. He had played there with his beloved sister, Natalya. They had laughed together so often, running free through the fields of flowers and skimming stones over the placid waters of the lake. He would have brought Ivory there to share his one fond memory.

He felt the brush of fingers against his palm. Warm breath on his face. Take me there, beloved. Show me this place you dream of.

He had not expected that his desire for her was so strong that he could conjure her up. He skimmed his hand down her face, shaping the angles, tracing the pad of his thumb over her soft skin. I would take you there for our first courtship. It is part of me, the best part of me. Long before Xavier took my soul.

He no longer has your soul. You gave it to me, remember?

Razvan searched his memory. He remembered her face. So beautiful to him that when he closed his eyes she was still there. Her body, covered in those thin white lines, badges of courage, a living embodiment of the strength of will she possessed. He wanted to kiss every line, follow the map of them over her body until he knew each white jagged line intimately. Her skin, soft beyond all imagining, called out for him to simply touch her, to feel how extraordinary she truly was. He loved the way she moved. Just watching her, the sway of her hips and her purposeful stride, brought him a simple joy he'd never thought to feel. The way her face softened when she knelt to greet her wolf pack made him wonder how she would look when she held their child to her breast.

Dragonseeker. She called his wandering mind back to her. Do you remember giving me your soul?

Yes. To save me, Ivory. I have sinned lifetimes and cannot save myself, but I have touched you inside where no one else sees you, and you can do it. Put me on your wall with your brothers and carry my soul into the next life.

You are already safe, fel ku kuuluaak sivam belso-beloved.

Her voice poured over him like warm honey, and he lay quietly, listening to the beat of the earth's heart and feeling every wound throb and burn in tune to the steady symphony. He thought about her words. Fel ku kuuluaak sivam belso-beloved. He wished he was truly her beloved.

I would have walked through the garden with you. I have always wanted to grow my own flowers. I know exactly what they would have looked like and I would have named them for you. Ivory. Han ku vigyaz sielamet-keeper of my soul.

Show them to me, she entreated him.

Again he swore he felt those fingers moving against his palm, tangling with his own. He closed his hand tight to capture the feeling of closeness. He could drift along in the dream, or hallucination. Maybe he was on the other side, in a better place-although he could do without the agony rushing in waves over his body. He shoved the pain aside, settling deeper into the arms of Mother Earth and letting himself imagine the things he would show Ivory.

She looked carefree, with her long hair cascading down past her hips, a waterfall of silk that moved against his arm as they walked side by side. He liked that she was tall. He could see the length of her lashes, curling at the tips, two thick crescents that veiled her enormous eyes. He was thinking of leaning over and licking along the jagged seam of white that joined two pieces of her shoulder. Temptation was the way her skin was mapped into quadrants for him to explore.

I do not look like that. Embarrassment edged her voice.

Like what? He was puzzled that his dream woman could be embarrassed over his perusal. He could look at her forever-want to taste every square inch of her. He had a need to memorize every detail with the sensitive pads of his fingers, with his mouth and tongue, so he would forever remember the taste and feel of her.

As if these scars are sexy.

She ducked her head as she walked beside him down the narrow ribbon of stones that was the path winding through his garden. The long fall of hair hid her expression from him.

He stepped in front of her, effectively halting her, catching her chin in his fingers and lifting her face so he could hold her gaze captive with his. Everything about you is incredibly sexy, especially the way you fight. You take my breath away. The pad of his thumb rubbed over her full bottom lip. Sometimes I spend far too much time thinking about each of those lines on your body and wondering where they lead. What pleasures they can take me to-take us both to.

She blinked, her eyes going warm, then sultry. You think of me as a woman, then, not just a warrior.

How could I ever separate the two? Your traits make up the whole of who you are. His voice roughened with emotion. He searched in his mind for words to describe her, the way he saw her, but he could find little to express the way he felt, the beauty and light she brought to his soul, so empty and hollow and gutted by Xavier's evil.

Tell me. I need to know.

Words are not enough to explain a miracle, but I will do my best. You are tough, strong and skilled. Gentle. Kind. Compassionate. Fierce and formidable, with a will of iron. Sexy. Soft. Beautiful. Mysterious. Gentle and magnificent. You are all of these things. A miracle to me. A gift beyond any price.

Her lashes fluttered as she veiled her expression. The temptation of her mouth, the curve and soft texture, was too much to resist. It was a dream, nothing else, and it was his dream, the first one he had dared in a long time-since the betrayal of his sister. He hesitated, suddenly afraid. Could Xavier be tricking him? Was he now betraying the one woman who held his heart and soul?


The warm honey poured over him again, stirring his body. His heart jumped, beat for a moment out of tune with the heartbeat of the earth. Pain slammed into him from every direction, taking his breath, his ability to think, his very sanity. He thought he screamed when he'd been so stoic, but he had concentrated more than he knew on the natural rhythm of the earth, allowing the heartbeat to keep the pain at a distance so he could tolerate it. For a moment he couldn't breathe, couldn't think. It was impossible to live with such pain.

Do not leave me! Her voice was panicked.

He'd never heard Ivory sound anything but cool and under control. The note of alarm in her voice steadied him. He realized he was drifting away from the scent and feel of her, distancing himself to prevent Xavier from discovering her, but there was need in her that he'd never seen before. She'd been injured. He remembered that much. Horribly injured. He didn't feel as if he had much strength left, but what he had, he would gladly give to her.


I am here, Razvan, with you. In you. I hold you tight, my heart to yours, my soul to yours. Do not leave me. Give me your word. No matter how terrible it gets, give me your word of honor that you will stay with me.

If you need me.

I will always need you.

He could barely conceive of the pure honesty in her voice. Could she really have need of him? He would never, no matter how difficult the circumstances, turn away from her should she need him. I will be with you always, Ivory, if it is within my power.

Her voice came again, close, gentle, that warmth that seeped into the coldest marrow of his bones and heated from the inside out. Rest, then, fel ku kuuluaak sivam belso-beloved. Gain strength, but hold strong and endure for me.

It was no small task she asked of him. He allowed the pain to consume him, to wash over and into him, to become part of him. It was the only way to survive. His will-and acceptance. He would survive for her.

He woke again after an indeterminate amount of time had passed. Like all Carpathians, he knew the difference between night and day; even deep beneath the earth he knew it was dark and the moon was full and high. Sound had awoken him. Summoned him. Voices raised in the ancient tongue-the healing chant rising and falling with both male and female voices lifting toward the night sky, burrowing deep into the richness of the soil to find his shattered body to surround him and provide strength and healing power.

He felt the presence of a male, white-hot energy surging through him, burning together parts that had been torn apart. Excruciating pain burst through his body and he heard his own cry, the sound strangled and anguished. Ivory echoed his cry, her voice resonating with suffering. He tried to move, to get to her, and at once gentle hands stopped him.

You cannot move. Stay very still or you will undo what small repairs have been made.

Ivory? Razvan recognized the healer's voice. Save her first. I heard her distress.

She is merged with you, holding you to this earth, and she feels what you feel. Do not move, just let yourself sink into her, hold tight to her.

Gregori came back into his own body swaying with weariness. Small droplets of blood beaded on his skin and he actually slumped against Mikhail, unable to hold himself upright after the healing session. "How is it they live?" he asked the prince. "It is impossible, yet they survive. Each night I come to them, I expect to find them dead, yet they still live. How is it they endure? No one can live through such pain, yet this is not the first time for either to suffer such torment." He opened his eyes and looked at his friend. "It is difficult for me to feel and see the absolute suffering the two of them endure."

Mikhail laid his hand gently on the healer's shoulder. No healer could be of Gregori's caliber without being empathic. Each time he shed his body and joined the couple to speed the healing of those terrible mortal wounds, he felt what they did.

"You are saving their lives."

Gregori shook his head. "I am aiding the swiftness of recovery, Mikhail. There is a difference. They have wills such as I have never seen in any Carpathian, male or female, in all my years of healing. Believe me, it is only their sheer will keeping them alive, not me."

Mikhail's voice was comforting. "Take my blood to revive you and then go home to Savannah and allow her to soothe you. Night after night, subjecting yourself to their agony is wearing on you. You cannot continue without some respite."

"As long as they continue, so will I." Gregori looked up at his father-in-law, his face lined with weariness. "His body is actually knitting itself back together again. Three of the six spear wounds should have killed him, along with the sheer volume of blood loss, but somehow the earth itself is putting them back together."

"Along with your blood and care."

Gregori shook his head. "I do not understand what I am seeing when I attempt to heal them. It is as if most of their bodies are encased in mineral, hardened and impassable, while I have access only to a single part each night. Some nights it is the same part. I can enter an arm or leg and concentrate there, but the rest of their systems are blocked off to me."

"I don't understand."

Gregori frowned and rubbed at his chin. "Usually when I heal, I can enter an entire body and flow through it with ease, moving through every part, but when I enter Razvan or Ivory, only a small part of their bodies are accessible. It changes with each night."

"What could cause that?" Mikhail wondered.

"I don't know, but I'd like to find out. The soil has always aided healing. And when we're wounded and tired it rejuvenates us, but we've always used a healing spirit to go inside our bodies and repair from the inside out. Something is repairing their bodies, something other than me. It seems to be a slow process, but it is keeping them both alive. I think Ivory could have been saved, but she chose to bind her fate with Razvan's. She is fully merged with him and wherever he is encased, so is she."

"A type of magic? Something Xavier might have come up with?" Mikhail ventured.

Gregori shook his head. "There is no taint of evil. Rather it smells ancient to me, as if they have awoken something from long ago, before our time, and it works to save them. And you know me, I don't trust things we've never encountered. We are a people who have seen much over time."

"True," Mikhail said, "but not all."

"I need to understand how things work. I would like to speak with Syndil. She has been cleansing the earth of toxins for us and is very connected to the soil. I have never seen this, and I don't understand how they are surviving, let alone healing. Nor do I have an explanation for how their bodies are segmented. Perhaps she can explain it to me."

Mikhail frowned. "I don't want her to feel the agony they suffer. It is difficult enough for the two of us."

"She might speak to the earth and hear the answer. Perhaps if I understood, I could aid them, reduce the pain in some way."

"I'll talk to her," Mikhail agreed reluctantly. "Both Natalya and Lara are anxious to help, but I've asked them to stay away until we are certain Ivory and Razvan will live."

"I have no doubt they will live, Mikhail," Gregori said. "I just do not know how."

"You realize Ivory did this once before on her own, centuries ago. There was no one there to hold her spirit, to keep her safe as she keeps Razvan to her."

"She must have been in the soil hundreds of years," Gregori said. "Her body didn't knit back together perfectly. I tried to ease the scars internally as well as externally." He ran both hands through his hair in a gesture of weariness. "She took great care, or perhaps it was Mother Earth, to make certain she could have children. It is the one area where she has no scarring of any kind, and yet there was evidence that even across the womb, they had hacked her in half."

For one moment the air around them crackled with energy and then Mikhail took a breath, bringing himself under control. "I can't see how her brothers could ever have chosen to give up their souls knowing the vampires and Xavier conspired to kill her."

"They blamed Draven."

"It was an excuse and you know it. All of us have lived with betrayal and loss, with grief. They were not near the end; they made a deliberate choice. They have painstakingly pulled together vampires into a league to fight against us, and you know that has taken centuries of planning and even more time to implement. They have also allied themselves with our greatest enemy, the very mage who gave Ivory to the vampires."

"We will know what really happened when Ivory chooses to tell us." Gregori stretched and tried to stand. Dizzy from lack of blood he sank back down. "In the meantime, we can only hold to this course we are on and work to help the pair survive."

"They may be the key to destroying Xavier."

"I think you may be right, Mikhail."

The prince offered his wrist to his son-in-law. "Take what I freely offer. And Gregori, this time you heed what I tell you. You go home to Savannah and you rest. I have already sent her a message that you are on your way. I've asked Syndil to meet with you there."

"You sent word to Savannah?" Gregori glared at the prince. "She's going to fuss over me, and you know she's pregnant with the twins and needs to rest."

"She needs to feel as if she's helping her lifemate. Go home and rest. You said it yourself: these two will survive. Perhaps in talking with Syndil, she will find a way to enrich the soil even more in order to lessen their suffering."

Gregori made his way home, avoiding the two women and their lifemates waiting to speak with Mikhail. He didn't want to try to reassure them that Razvan and Ivory would live. He believed they would, but he didn't understand how, and he could barely function with the amount of pain washing over him each time he touched them. There would be no speaking to them, no getting answers, maybe even no recognition from Razvan for those women-he was too far gone. On top of the couple's pain, he didn't wish to feel the pain of a sister and daughter for the suffering of a loved one.

Savannah waited at the door for him, her beautiful face smiling, welcoming, her eyes so compassionate that for a moment he wanted to weep with joy that he'd been given such a miracle. He just gathered her silently into his arms and held her tight to him.

Savannah walked him inside. "You look tired."

"I am tired."

She tried not to be alarmed. Gregori never admitted to being tired, but this couple, so torn and mangled, fighting valiantly to live when anyone else would have chosen to go to the next life, had captured far more than his attention as a healer. She knew her lifemate well. He respected that couple, wanted-even needed-to find a way to end their suffering.

Savannah put her arms around him and held him, laying her head against his chest. Gregori's hand came up to stroke her hair.

"How are the girls behaving this evening?"

"Kicking a lot. We're getting closer. I don't think they're going to wait much longer."

"Maybe I should talk to them," Gregori suggested. "It is not yet time. They are too anxious and need to stay where they are safe."

Savannah laughed, the sound happy and bright, dispelling some of his tension. "I don't think you should talk to them again. You always sound gruff and stern, and the little one is a rebel. Whatever you order, she does just the opposite." She glanced mischievously up at him. "I have a feeling she's going to be a lot like you."

"Don't say that. I was a very bad child."

Savannah laughed again and Gregori found himself smiling. He dropped several kisses on her nose. "Have I told you that I'm madly in love with you?"

"Not recently."

"Well I am. I haven't quite forgiven you for twins, especially that they're female, but I'm so in love with you, sometimes I can't think straight."

The smile faded from Savannah's face. "Each time we go into the ground, I worry that the microbes will attack the babies again. And Lara is exhausted."

Xavier had found a way to use extremophiles to attack the Carpathian females and babies, very effectively reducing the population over hundreds of years so they were now on the brink of extinction. The pregnant women were terrified of losing their babies, and Lara, Razvan's daughter, could not be fully brought into the Carpathian world because, while the extremophiles could detect the Carpathians hunting for them, they could not detect Lara, as she was mage.

"She does a sweep on all the pregnant women each evening, and yet there's always a recurrence. Even though she makes certain the men are without the microbes, it doesn't take long before we're all infected again. She has to be converted soon. Neither of them complain, but it is difficult for Nicolas."

Gregori's fingers settled around the nape of Savannah's neck. "She has years before she will be in trouble, but yes, it is difficult on her lifemate. And if she gets pregnant . . ." He trailed off with a small sigh. "I am hoping Ivory and Razvan are the answer."

"How can they be?"

"I don't know, but I think your father does. He was too calm, too certain that Razvan wouldn't drive that knife into his throat."

"He is sure of his skills, Gregori."

"That is true, although he should take more caution with his life. Still, it was more than that. He trusted Razvan when he shouldn't have."

"You can't know everything, Gregori," she said gently.

His brooding silver gaze slid over her. "When it comes to your father, I should. He is my greatest responsibility. Without him, our species would fade away, lost as so many others have gone." He spread his fingers over her rounded womb, holding his children to him. "We have to safeguard their legacy, Savannah."

"We will," she replied, leaning into him.

Gregori lifted his head. "We are about to have visitors. They've spared our daughters another lecture from their father."

Savannah's laughter warmed him. She hugged him. "They are very grateful to our visitors, especially the little one. She gave the equivalent to rolling her eyes."

His silver eyes slashed at her. "You are not encouraging them, are you? I thought I would not have to deal with that behavior for another twenty years or so."

"She thinks you are very bossy."

"I am bossy because I know what's best for her."

Savannah laughed again. "You argue with her and she isn't even born yet."

Gregori huffed out another breath, a man driven beyond endurance by his stubborn unborn child, but his fingers lingered with loving strokes. Savannah laid her hand over his and they stood quietly a moment, feeling the presence of their daughters, surrounding the twins with love.

The knock on the door was expected and Gregori opened it to Syndil and her lifemate, Barack. One was never far from the other, he'd noticed. He welcomed both of them with a traditional Carpathian greeting. "Pesasz jelabam ainaak-long may you stay in the light."

Syndil and Barack responded in kind and stepped into the house. "How are you feeling, Savannah?" Syndil asked.

"Very pregnant," Savannah replied with a small smile. "If I get any bigger I might pop."

"It is good to gain, especially with twins," Gregori said. "You are right where you're supposed to be."

"He monitors me carefully to make certain the babies are growing properly," Savannah explained. She leaned in to kiss Barack on the cheek, ignoring Gregori's sharp reprimand.

There is no need for kissing.

Savannah laughed again and rubbed her cheek against Gregori's shoulder affectionately.

"Mikhail sent word that you wished to talk to me."

Gregori indicated for her to sit. Barack sank into the seat beside her and took her hand.

"I am certain you've heard the news, that Razvan has escaped Xavier and that Ivory Malinov is alive. You were not raised in the Carpathian Mountains, and did not know the rumors of these two, but suffice it to say it is a shock to everyone to find out all we believed of them is wrong."

Syndil tangled her fingers with Barack's. It always surprised Gregori to realize this one woman who wielded so much power was so shy and humble. She walked on the ground and new life sprang up after her. She danced and sang and toxic soil was restored to health. They had chanced on the knowledge, the prince spotting her healing an entire battlefield destroyed by vampire venom. She had been so quiet about her talent, so modest, no one would have ever known had Mikhail not seen her gift with his own eyes.

Syndil merely nodded her head, shifting just a little toward Barack. He moved closer to her, slipping his arm around her shoulders.

Gregori sighed. "I have no right to ask this of you. Indeed, it may be risky."

Barack frowned.

"The pair encountered a master vampire and took him on in order to save a family. While Razvan has little or no experience fighting, Ivory is an extraordinary warrior. Together they managed to hurt him and run him off, but at great cost to their bodies."

"You know I would aid you," Syndil said, her soft voice musical, "but I am no healer."

"I would disagree with that statement, Syndil." Gregori leaned forward. "You understand the earth better than most. You hear her talking to you, crying out when she's wounded, and you're able to fix every injury."

"That's different." Syndil waved a dismissing hand. "Not at all like healing a wounded Carpathian."

"I cannot do what you do," Gregori said. "I do not always hear our mother speaking to us. This couple, what is happening with them, I do not understand-and I've tried. I listen to Mother Earth, but she whispers and I can't comprehend what she is saying. They are suffering. In agony. Both of them." He hung his head and ran both hands through his hair in agitation. "I'm helping them, yes, but so slowly, and each night that passes and I go to them, they feel untold pain."

"What would you have Syndil do?" Barack asked.

Gregori shook his head. Savannah perched on the arm of his chair and slipped her arm around him, her fingers sliding into his hair to soothe him. "Just tell them, Gregori. Let them decide."

"I have never seen anything like what is happening. Razvan's body was hacked up, literally. He had his arm chopped off and in pieces. He had six spear holes, three fatal. His wounds were horrendous. Slices all the way to the bone, in many cases cutting through the bone. The blood loss was unbelievable. Instead of attending his wounds, he aided her in the battle."

Barack sat up straight. "And he survives?"

"So far-yes. I don't know how. She also had many wounds, and yet she managed to merge with him in some way; I do not know how. They are separate bodies, but their hearts beat as one, their minds are one. Even that is not the issue. If I have access to his arm, the rest of his body is encased completely in mineral, as if he is part of the earth itself. When I share their bodies, I hear the earth whispering. I can hear the rhythm of its heartbeat, but I can't understand what she is saying to them. Could this be? Could Mother Earth be healing them? Not just rejuvenating them?"

Syndil was silent, turning his words over and over in her mind. Barack said nothing, waiting for his lifemate to give her advice. It was her realm of expertise and he was inordinately proud of her. He never ceased to be shocked that his quiet little Syndil was consulted by every Carpathian, and the prince and Gregori often asked her counsel.

"I believe so, yes. We have a connection to the earth, to the very Universe. It's the reason we're able to shift and call down the lightning. It's why our bodies rejuvenate in the soil. If this couple has a deeper connection in some way, if Mother Earth claims one or both as her children, their bodies might be slightly different from ours."

Gregori's frown deepened. "We're all the earth's children."

Syndil shook her head. "Not in the same way. The earth is alive. There is a heartbeat, a rhythm, a pulse. She whispers and shouts and screams. She welcomes us home each dawn as her children, but if she accepts one of us as her own, as her biological child-I know no other way to explain it-she might send them everything she has, the very richest soil she can call, every healing element. Who knows what she is capable of doing for one she considers part of her."

The lines on his face remained as he sat back. "Why would she single out one Carpathian?"

Syndil, calm and serene, smiled at him, warmed him, enveloped him with her utter lack of vanity. "I would imagine the circumstances had to be extraordinary."

Savannah leaned closer. "Can you help her? Can you feed the soil where they are recovering, help to keep it rich to speed their recovery?"

Gregori brought her fingertips to his mouth. He hadn't wanted to ask Syndil. Anyone approaching that expanse of soil would be able to feel the agony radiating from the couple, and to ask a woman to share that experience was nearly more than he was capable of doing, yet if she didn't help, it could well take years to heal such mortal wounds.

"Before you answer, Syndil"-now he looked to her lifemate, husband to husband, willing him to understand-"there are things you should know. The pain they suffer is unlike anything I have ever experienced in centuries of battles and healing. If you are empathic, you can't go there without being affected. Even if you don't touch them, just entering the area is an uncomfortable experience. I have no words to describe the suffering."

"And yet they live," Barack said.

"A seemingly impossible feat," Gregori said. "Yet they continue." His gaze moved broodingly over Syndil. "I do not ask this of you lightly. I would not want you trying to connect with them or helping me to heal them because to share their bodies right now is an agonizing task."

Even when he slept the sleep of Carpathians, that first moment of awakening was torture, pain flooding his body, wrenching at every organ and tearing great holes in his body, as if he shared some part of Ivory and Razvan deep beneath the ground. He knew it was a waking nightmare, but still, the dreadful dream lingered with him night after night upon awakening.

"I can't heal another human as you can, Gregori, but if the earth requires help in restoring minerals or any other particle it should need, I can and will do that. I wish I could be of more assistance, but I have only the one talent."

"And that one talent is much needed. Will you need help from others? I know Natalya and Lara and even young Skyler help you rejuvenate the soil where our women lie." Again there was a small frown he couldn't quite keep from his face.

The idea of Skyler, such a young girl, and Lara, who was already giving more than she should, enduring the pain, didn't set well with him. And Natalya . . . He sighed. Once she got near her brother, she would touch him whether they warned her against it or not. She was headstrong, and she had always adored her brother. If Syndil needed the other women, he would have to find a way without her to speed recovery.

"I can try, Gregori," Syndil offered. "I would like to see what the earth is doing to aid them. I may never get such a chance again."

"It is unique," Gregori agreed. "Thank you."

Syndil smiled at him and turned her attention to Savannah. They had become good friends over the last few weeks as Savannah fought to keep her unborn children alive. "How are you really feeling?"

"Exhausted, but very happy," Savannah said. "It won't be long, although Gregori talks to them nightly to convince them to stay in their safe environment as long as possible. We want them fully developed, with as much weight as possible. Even outside the womb, the microbes could attack."

"I hope we can allow Ivory and Razvan to rise before the babies are born," Gregori added. "I think they may be able to aid us greatly and give all of our children a fighting chance."

Syndil sat back. "There is no question that all of us need to aid them. Isn't it strange how in the end, it is never the individual but rather the sum of all of us working together that makes things right?"

"It appears, Syndil," Gregori agreed, "that you are right."