Savannah half sat in a bed of rich soil, her face swollen, her body bloated. Raven sat next to her daughter, holding her hand. She looked up and relief flooded her face when she saw Ivory. "Thank God you are here! Lara cannot come. Syndil, Skyler and Francesca have been doing their best without her, but Savannah's body is filled with toxins." She pushed down the little sob in her voice. "Can you help us? I told Mikhail to find you. I just have this strong feeling that you can help us."

Ivory forgot all about her anger at the Carpathian people and she crossed the chamber in a rush. Several of the women moved aside to make room for her.

"I am Francesca. We met when we were but girls. It was brief, you probably do not remember." Francesca smiled at her. "You were in the middle of ten strong warriors and you were difficult not to notice."

She drew Ivory away from the bed and the suffering woman, and lowered her voice. "I have done all I know how to do. Gregori, the greatest healer among us, will not be able to save this child. If you know anything I do not, please give us aid."

"If I can counter the effect of the microbes on Savannah's body, can you stop her labor?"

Francesca shook her head. "She is too far along. But we will have a chance to save the babies. The microbes are in the twins as well as Savannah, and they work to kill the babies. One is very weak and the microbes are working against us, shutting down her ability to live."

Ivory frowned. "I have never tested the reversal spell on Carpathians. Razvan was going to infect himself so I could try it, but we have not had time. I do not think it is a good idea on a woman already under duress. If I knew it worked . . ."

Razvan put a comforting hand on her shoulder, knowing Ivory was uneasy with the idea of trying an unproven experiment on a living person. "Do it now," Razvan said. "We know where to find the microbes. I will just let them attack me."

Ivory shook her head. "If Savannah is infected, doubtless they are well entrenched. I need someone who has had them for some time."

The woman she recognized as Syndil stepped forward. Tall and elegant, she had that same serenity that Ivory had noted before. "I am not pregnant. I know I am infected. Try your experiment on me."

"Syndil." Raven's voice was gentle. "You have given us too much already. You are so tired and worn. I am the prince's lifemate and Savannah is my child. I should be the one to do this for her."

Ivory's gaze dropped to Raven's swollen, very pregnant belly, and she shook her head. "No. Not you." She stepped back away from the prince's lifemate. "I will not risk a child."

"Please," Savannah choked out. "Whatever you're going to do, do it now. The contractions are increasing. I am fighting to give Gregori and Shea time to prepare the incubation cubicle, but I don't know how much longer I can keep the babies from coming."

Syndil flashed a calming smile, very reminiscent of Razvan. "Clearly it should be me."

Ivory closed her eyes. Her scientific need to experiment dozens of time, dozens of ways under dozens of conditions battled with the desperate maternal need to save Savannah's unborn children. To risk precious lives . . . I cannot do this, Razvan. They cannot ask me to experiment on human life without other trials first.

Perhaps the rich soil will buy us the time that we need. Razvan slid his hand from her shoulder down her arm to tangle his fingers with hers.

Gregori came striding into the healing cave, going straight to his lifemate. He took her hand, brought it to his heart and stood quietly looking into her eyes, obviously encouraging her.

"Gregori," Razvan said, "we brought you a gift of pure, untouched soil. We can bring it to the laboratory and have your people examine it to make certain it is fit for your lifemate. Perhaps the soil will buy you the time you need to prepare for the children."

Gregori inclined his head, his attention remaining on holding his daughters to their mother while they struggled and clung to life. "You must hurry."

The weariness in Gregori's voice shook Razvan. He knew how difficult it was to remove a fragment of evil, and Gregori was already stretched thin from trying to keep his children and lifemate alive.

"Can you hold off the birth three or four hours to give Ivory the chance to test whether or not she can neutralize the mutated microbes within Syndil?"

"She is advancing fast. I will try." Gregori sounded doubtful.

"What of the boy, Travis?" Razvan had great sympathy for the child. Travis obviously loved Falcon and tried to look and act like him. He followed the Carpathian everywhere. He would be ashamed at having attacked Mikhail, even though he wasn't to blame.

Just as you were not, Ivory pointed out, her fingers tightening around his.

"Travis will be fine," Gregori said. "I removed the fragment and destroyed it. There are two left. We checked everyone who was there. I know you are clean of the mage's taint, but are you certain one did not enter Ivory?"

"Ivory is clean of his evil as well."

"Then two more fragments are making their way back to Xavier. They will need hosts." Gregori sighed. "That was my mistake. I wasn't fast enough to incinerate them."

"I doubt you could have done much in the midst of an all-out battle," Razvan said. "I am glad the boy is all right."

"He loves Mikhail as well as Falcon." Gregori stopped abruptly and shook his head. They both knew the psychological damage the child would have from the incident.

Razvan took a breath and his gaze met Ivory's across the room, knowing she was thinking exactly what he was-Xavier had to be destroyed. He started to clap Gregori on the shoulder in sympathy, but let his hand fall to his side. He'd never had friends, and was unsure the protocol one used.

Ivory looked around the healing chamber. "I need a different place. Somewhere quiet. Healer, you must have a laboratory."

"Shea does," Syndil answered. "A very good one. I can take you there."

"Hurry," Gregori urged. "Francesca and I will do what we can."

Savannah let out a muffled sob and shook her head. "The little one, Gregori. She is so weak. I am losing her."

Ivory had taken a step away to follow Syndil but she turned back toward the birthing bed to see Gregori crouch down beside his lifemate. The frightening Carpathian who always looked invincible and all-powerful seemed so weary and more vulnerable than she thought possible. She hesitated and then went back to him. "Do you talk to her?"

"Yes, but she is not listening." There was a wealth of sorrow in Gregori's voice.

Ivory looked around her at the quietly sobbing women. Even Raven could not hold back her tears. Ivory bit down on her lip and closed her eyes. At once the anguish emanating from the women assailed her.

Gregori, feel the energy in this room. If she is highly sensitive, she will feel what I do-what you do. They believe-you believe-all of you believe she is already lost. Let me talk to her through you, through our connection. I have some experience with the will to live. Meanwhile, change the atmosphere in here. Anyone who cannot remain positive must remove their presence from this chamber.

Gregori looked at her and then to Francesca. He was too close to the sorrow, and Savannah's anguish consumed him. Francesca nodded her head.

Thank you. Gregori said. Please do speak to her.

The singing changed to the Carpathian lullaby, a soft musical melody, voices raised in song to soothe the babies as labor continued.

Little one. Your trial is great. You must rise above it and cling to life. Endure. I have fought to stay upon this earth, and though it is difficult, I know it is worth it. You are destined for greatness. Let me tell you a story of a great man, a healer among his people, a warrior unsurpassed and his princess. A beautiful woman with long, flowing hair and violet eyes. They love one another very much, but there is a terrible mage, a great wizard, who wishes to keep them apart.

The infants stopped slipping from the safety of Savannah's womb; instead, they pulled back to listen to the rise and fall of her voice, mesmerized by the story she began. Your father will continue the story and tell you of the two little girls, mere babies, but strong beyond belief, who rose up to defeat the evil mage.

She couldn't bring herself to put her hand on Gregori's shoulder to comfort him, so she gave him a quick, encouraging smile. "I told myself many such stories to hold despair at bay. Make them the heroines of the tale, and make the story long and involved and exciting so they listen and concentrate on that. I will work as quickly as I can."

Ivory waited for Gregori to pick up the story where she had left off. The voices around him fell into a soft accompaniment, lending excitement to the tale the healer wove for his daughters. Savannah added her own voice when she could to bring the tale to life.

Ivory and Razvan followed Syndil out of the caves and together they hurried to the building chiseled into the cliffs. Inside the large main room, Shea, a Carpathian woman with bright red hair, and the human, Gary, who Ivory had already met, worked together with a seamless efficiency that suggested they had worked side by side for a long time and were used to a certain rhythm.

Another woman, who Syndil introduced as Gabrielle, was in a smaller room peering into a microscope. Ivory immediately recognized the silken pouches containing the soil samples she'd brought along with the open book of her records.

Shea whirled around. "I can't believe you have done this," she greeted. "How did you discover this? These life-forms are foreign to me. I've never seen them before. What are they? Where did they come from?"

Gabrielle looked up. "They seem to be abnormally high in iron." She stood up and crossed the room, a graceful woman. "I have studied all kinds of organisms and this is new to me as well."

"Which is why I was concerned with just dumping them in the soil," Ivory explained. "They will spread, and I believe they will eventually destroy all the mutated microbes, but I have not had enough time to determine what else could happen. I do not know the effect on humans or any other species. Plants. Insects. I have no idea."

"They don't touch the normal microbes," Shea said. "You're right, we have to be cautious, but I think you may have found our answer. We need you to work with us."

Ivory forced herself not to back away from the group. She was unused to being the center of attention and certainly was never in such close proximity to people crowding her.

Razvan. She reached to him for reassurance. The moment she did, she was annoyed with herself. She had become dependent on him.

His soft laughter eased the knots in her stomach. He was there instantly, flooding her mind with warmth. As you should be dependent on me. There is still a part of you that would like to run from me.

That is not true. Well, it might be true, but she wasn't admitting it to herself. She was braver than that.

His voice softened. Went tender. I am always with you, Ivory. In your heart and mind. We share the same soul. Always, o jela sielamak-light of my soul.

Ivory forced a smile as she looked at the research team gathered around her. "I will help as soon as I have tried these reversing spells. Before I try this on Syndil, I want to try it on mutated microbes in the soil. If I can come up with a spell to reverse what Xavier has wrought, then I can teach it to all of you. Any Carpathian should be able to use it. It will be a temporary solution until the new organisms do their job and cleanse the soil. And until we can go to the source of the microbes and destroy it for all time.

"The spell will not reverse the mutation," Ivory warned. "It is only designed to reverse Xavier's dark command. We cannot really tell if it will work until we use it on someone the microbe is already attacking. I need to make certain this will not harm the living, especially a child. I am a little reluctant to try it on Syndil even now."

A sudden hush fell over the room. Ivory's skin prickled. The hair on the back of her neck and on her arms stood up. Her breath caught as an unfathomable anguish gripped her by the throat. Around the room, she saw the others freeze in their tracks, their eyes widened in horror. Syndil gasped and began to weep. Shea's face lost all color. The test tubes in Gary's hands began to shake while the glass slide in Gabrielle's numb hand fell and shattered on the floor.

For a moment time seemed suspended. Except, Ivory knew it couldn't be true, because she could feel the rapid thud of her heart, pounding inside her chest like a drum. If time had stopped, so, too, would her heart-wouldn't it? Dazed, uncomprehending, yet fighting an inexplicable urge to weep, Ivory reached blindly out to Razvan and felt the solid connection as his fingers closed around hers.

A broken, anguished cry shattered the stillness. Help me! All healers to the cavern! We are losing them.

Gregori, the impervious. Gregori, the all-powerful. Ivory trembled to hear him so desperate, so frantic, and it was clear the others were equally as shaken. Gabrielle and Shea dropped their materials and bolted for the door.

Syndil started to follow, but Ivory grabbed her arm. "What is it? What's happening?" She knew. She didn't want to know. The outpour ing of grief gripped her heart, shredding it, and she knew she was feeling Gregori's emotions.

Tears had filled Syndil's eyes and begun to spill down her cheeks. "We're losing the babies. They cannot stop the birth."

"God help them." Ivory covered her mouth with one hand. Her knees were weak and rubbery and she leaned back into Razvan, gripping his arm to keep steady. They had come too late. Far too late. No matter what they learned now, they had not saved the fragile babies.

Vapor shimmered in the room and then Mikhail was there, his powerful presence filling the small space. "We have great need of you now, Ivory. They are slipping away. You are the last hope for my granddaughters."

"But I have never even tried it on soil, let alone a child," she protested, her stomach knotting. Razvan. She breathed his name as her talisman.

You will do this.

She shook her head. "Not on an infant. An untried spell. I will have to summon the dark magic in order to reverse what Xavier has wrought. Anything could go wrong."

Mikhail's face hardened. "It has already gone wrong. You must."

She forced down the lump threatening to block her throat, grateful for Razvan's supporting arm. "Mikhail . . ." She broke off, swallowing hard. "There's no guarantee this will work-or even that I will not harm them more. Xavier is a powerful adversary. So much could go wrong."

"You must do this if we have even a small chance of saving them." Mikhail was implacable. "Everyone believes you are our best hope. Gregori asks this of you."

Gregori. The man who had fearlessly gone after the four shadow fragments Xavier had placed in Razvan to allow his possession. Gregori hadn't flinched. But infants . . . Ivory shook her head, swallowed hard and sighed.

You will do this, Razvan repeated with complete confidence.

"So be it," she whispered, hoping Razvan's calm would rub off on her.

"Make whatever preparations you must, but hurry," Mikhail urged. Then he was gone.

"Razvan," Ivory said, her voice hoarse with grief and worry. "You know how evil Xavier's spells are. I cannot go into a sacred birthing chamber and call forth the darkness. Anything can happen." Even as she protested, she used magic for cleansing, rather than her ritual bath, as time was of the essence.

"Nothing you have ever accomplished has been easy, fel ku kuuluaak sivam belso-beloved-but you have done it. This is too important not to try."

She leaned into him for the briefest of moments and then, gripping his hand, rushed to the birthing cave. The swell of voices held heavy grief, swamping her senses. The crowd parted to allow her through, and her heart pounded. Ivory felt as if she couldn't breathe with so many Carpathians gathered around Gregori and his lifemate, pressing close, as if by their nearness they could in some way keep the babies from slipping away to the next life.

"Gregori! " Savannah screamed her lifemate's name as her body expelled the first tiny life into his hands. She panted heavily as she watched him breathing for their child. "Is she alive? I can't feel her, Gregori. Please tell me she lives." She buried her fist in the soil as another wave of pain ripped through her.

"I've got her," Gregori said, but his voice was distant. Filled with grief.

Razvan, I cannot bear to see them lose these children.

Francesca stepped close as Savannah's body shuddered again, her face rippling with pain. Francesca's hands guided the second baby into the world. At once her face went distant, as she, too, breathed for the infant.

You can do this, Ivory, Razvan whispered in her mind, his voice gentle as she stood before Gregori and Savannah and the tiny babies laboring for life. You were born for this moment.

I was born to slay vampires and destroy Xavier. Not for this. Never this.

Like everyone else, she was spellbound, watching Gregori, bloodred tears tracking down his face, holding his tiny daughter in his arms while Shea poured the small stores of soil that Ivory had brought with her into the incubator, on top of existing layers of soil Syndil had already cleansed in preparation for the birth of the twins.

The child in Gregori's hands was too small to live, much too fragile. Even from where she stood, Ivory could see Gregori breathed for her. His hands shook, that strong man, the knowledge that he, the greatest healer of their people, was helpless to save his own child.

Ivory swallowed hard, took a deep breath and cleared her mind to block out all the sorrow and anguish, all the negative energy. She'd had Razvan go through each gesture and movement that Xavier had made as he cast his reprehensible spell. She knew he had poured his hatred and need of revenge into his spell as he commanded the microbes. She could do nothing about the mutation, but she could reverse the command. Every detail had to be exact. If Razvan had misremembered one tiny aspect-if she forgot so much as a single motion or word . . .

I did not, fel ku kuuluaak sivam belso-beloved. Nor shall you. You can do this, Ivory. I have faith in you.

She felt the brush of his lips in her hair, the warmth of his breath on the nape of her neck. She took a breath, started forward, and halted. "Gregori." When he looked up, his silver eyes were so lost she nearly wept. "You have to be certain, Gregori."

"I am certain," he replied grimly. "We have no other choice."

"Razvan, you will have to do the setup fast, but every detail must be precise." She lifted her face and looked around the crowd. "I am re-creating a very evil scene. Anyone who does not want to be here should leave, otherwise form a large circle of protection in case I make a mistake."

No one left. Even the Carpathians who had looked upon her and Razvan with distrust and perhaps even loathing now set aside their prejudices and submitted themselves to his direction. They formed a huge circle several layers deep. Those in the room, including Gary, who was human but seemed to know all Carpathian rituals, began a cleansing chant. Syndil, Shea and Gabrielle burned sage and moved through the room, sweeping high and low, paying particular attention to every entrance.

"Gregori, I need you and the babies in the center here." Ivory pointed to the very center of the ring.

Without hesitation, Gregori and Francesca moved the incubators into the open area Ivory was preparing. Savannah gripped her mother's hand and whispered to Ivory, "Please, please."

That overwhelming grief shook her. Razvan's voice was closer as he surrounded her with warmth. You can do this. There is only you and our mortal enemy. You were born to defeat him, Ivory. You can do this.

"I need four women. Syndil. You choose those closest to the earth." She pulled her sword from her sheath. "They cannot flinch once we start. This thing, this great evil that Xavier wrought, will not go quickly or quietly. It will fight back. It will try to break us. So whoever you choose must have the courage to face whatever this evil might throw at them."

Syndil didn't hesitate. "Natalya. Shea." As the two women hurried forward, Syndil turned to a young girl. "Skyler. I know you're very young and perhaps I should not ask, but there are few as closely connected to the earth as you and few who have faced evil as bravely as you. Can you do this? Will you do this?"

The girl's face was pale, but she set her jaw and nodded before joining the others.

Once they were in place, Ivory lifted her chin and began to cast the circle of protection around Gregori and the infants, walking clockwise three times. She held her sword in her right hand, pointing it down, chanting as she walked.

Three times around this circle round Bind all evil, sink into the ground. That which is fire but born of ice, I command thee now to clear this space. Take that which is tainted and burn it pure So that healing may be done in a place that is secure.

Ivory brought out four candles, one to be set in each of the four corners of the circle, representing the four directions and their elements. She set a white candle in the east for air and purity. A red candle went to the south for fire and the burning of evil. To the west she set a blue candle for water, representing cleansing. To the north she set a green candle, representing earth and rebirth.

Around the incubators she lit sticks of incense that filled the chamber with the rich scent of clove to keep out all hostility. To that she added sweetgrass and sage for purity and tuberose to ward off evil. Then as the incense and the candles burned, she took a deep breath, gathered her strength and her powers and lifted her hands in entreaty.

Power of night, mistress of light, I am Ivory, daughter to Mother Earth who healed me.

A rush of memories assailed her. The scent of the earth as it closed around her torn body, welcoming her into the deeper recesses where nothing could reach her. She drew on the healing power that had surrounded her for centuries.

I summon thee to this place to that which is impure and tainted. I ask this for all that is good I know you will do this for me.

She brought her hands down to her sides, palms facing inward against her thighs and kept her head down, looking at the floor as she began to follow the unclean pattern Razvan had shown her. Three steps in, evil began to stir. Its presence whispered across the back of her neck, a faint disturbing prickle, like spiders crawling across her skin. She flinched and fought the urge to brush them off. Xavier's foul taint would do everything it could to lead her astray, to force her into making a mistake. She could not allow it. Her hands swept resolutely upward toward the ceiling. As her face lifted, she crossed her palms, and chanted.

Born of darkness Ancient, old I call thee forth Unfurl, unfold Taint the pairings-

She heard a slow hiss; a hideous voice whispered. Scorpions, stingers held high, crawled from beneath rocks and rushed toward the circle. Skyler wavered, started to lift her foot away from the oncoming insects.

"Stand firm," Razvan called, his voice carrying complete calm. "Do not break the circle."

Ivory continued to utter the foul words.

I command you to spread Attaching yourself to womb and seed. Seek out new life I command you to this deed. Taint the milk Wither the seed on the vine Destroy the ilk Unborn and born, with blood thee I bind.

The flickering flames dimmed, nearly went out, so that shadows deepened, creeping along the walls and floors of the cave with grasping fingers. Overhead spiders oozed through cracks and foul voices murmured. Heart's blood bubbled up from the center of the room, a red so dark it appeared black. An unclean stench filled the chamber, polluting the air, contaminating it until they were all nearly choking on the fetid odor. The babies began to cry in protest.

Syndil gasped aloud. Shea and Natalya moaned softly, but they held their ground even though the microbes deep inside them ripped and tore at them. The crowd gasped and looked to one another while women pressed hands to their wombs as they felt the drawing of the microbes as they answered the call of darkness.

Ivory raised her hands in response to the darkness quickly spreading through the cavern. In her right hand she held high a boline, a harvesting knife, the handle of which was set with white bone. The boline was curved, bearing the mark of the crescent moon, made of precious metal from her sacred cave, the sickle edge serrated, ready for harvest.

With great caution, Ivory recited Xavier's foul spell backward, mimicking in reverse the movements that Razvan had so patiently taught her as she placed her feet carefully, weaving the pattern backward with her hands.

Ivory. I see you. I name you. Xavier's voice, harsh and cruel, whispered through her mind. Sickened her. Weakened her. I see you.

"No, he does not," Razvan said, his voice calm. He flooded her with peace. "He feels your power and trembles. Do not let him break you."

Using the sacred boline in place of Xavier's bloodstained ceremonial knife, she cut the palm of her hand and allowed her blood to drip over the two babies, just as Xavier had shed his blood over the incubator of microbes. Three drops precisely over each child. The infants shrieked as if burning embers had been dropped on their innocent newborn flesh. Savannah cried out and staggered to her feet.

"Stop her," Razvan ordered. "She must not break the circle."

Savannah would have lunged toward her children if her own parents, Raven and Mikhail, hadn't wrapped their arms around her to hold her back.

"What is happening?" Gregori snarled.

"Evil fights back." Razvan eyed the Carpathian legendary healer bleakly. "It will get worse, Gregori. Much worse. You and your lifemate must both be strong. Talk to your daughters. Sing to them. Be strong for them. Tell them they fight the evil mage in your story for them. Now is their time."

While Razvan tried to calm an agitated Gregori, Ivory tried her best to silence the babies' screams from her mind. Xavier's evil was hurting them. She was hurting them.

No, fel ku kuuluaak sivam belso-beloved-you are saving them. You cannot stop no matter what happens.

She forced herself to continue moving, to continue weaving the patterns of the spell. When she had completed Xavier's entire ritual in reverse, she raised her knife to the cavern's chimney and pointed it toward the small sliver of moon that shone overhead.

I call on the lady of the dark moon, She who stands at the crossroads, Who counsels us that we must leave the old before we take up the new. I seek the spiral. Bring me forth to the center of stillness in absolute darkness That I may dispel this evil with light.

Light flashed across the blade of the boline, as if the moon herself had entered the birthing cave. Overhead, the stalactites rocked and vibrated. Crystals sparkled like tiny, faraway stars scattered over the ceiling and along the walls of the cave. Veins of gold and silver intertwined and brightened, throwing light across Ivory's pale face. She placed the sacred boline carefully between the twin girls, the curved blade in the exact mirrored position of the outside crescent moon.

The infants writhed. One convulsed. Their skin grew hotter. Savannah fought her parents, tears pouring down her face.

"Please, Gregori," she entreated. "Stop this abomination. She's hurting them."

Gregori wavered, his face a mask of pain. The Carpathians began to murmur protests.

"Let them die in peace," Savannah pleaded, clasping her hands together, sagging against her father's restraining arms. "Give them to me. Let me hold them as they go into the next life."

"No, Gregori," Razvan protested. "Evil fights hard. Stay to the purpose."

"They wish to live, Savannah," Gregori said hoarsely.

Once again Ivory lifted her hands. Now there were tiny droplets of bloodsweat beading her body and her hands shook with the effort to bear the weight of evil. Razvan's reassuring presence, his warmth and belief in her, steadied her as she chanted.

I call to the blight upon this earth, I see into your heart. You who were thrown into this soil, transformed and then torn apart.

"I will never forgive you, Gregori," Savannah screamed, tearing at her own flesh, digging great gouges in her arms so that blood spilled onto the floor. "Never. Do you understand? She's torturing our daughters and you're just letting her."

Gregori shook his head, the bloodred tears tracking down his face, but he remained stoic, his hands over each writhing infant.

Several women tried to break the circle to rush to the aid of the babies.

"Stop them," Razvan ordered. "Stay calm. Did you think he would go easily? Hold them. Mikhail, you must stop them."

"He is right," Mikhail said calmly. An uneasy stillness descended. Only Savannah and the babies could be heard weeping.

Ivory kept her mind firmly on the ritual, proceeding, trying not to allow the women to distract her.

I call to that which was unmade, and then created to do harm to all. Come to me now as I call your name, so that I may take one and all. Twixt and twine, I seek to unbind, that which was woven tight.

Ivory took her cleansed crystals from a silken pouch hanging at her hip. The crystals had been left in the sunlight for one week, gathering the energies and cleansing properties she needed. She looked over the stones carefully before making her choice. She wasn't surprised when her fingers settled around a large chunk of pumice.

Pumice came from volcanic rock, and though to some it wasn't beautiful, she found the light stone with its beige-white color unique. The airy stone was often used for banishing spells, yet also could be given to a woman to hold in her hand to aid in childbirth. Both rough and smooth, it was symbolic to her of life. She placed the stone in the eastern corner.

I look to the east, the morning light, That which was born in darkness, now bring to light.

She bowed to the east, and made the sign of the cross. Her hands then formed the oval for the sacred heart where Xavier had poured heart's blood over the microbes, her sacred symbol replacing his act of evil.

She lit the pinon pine needle bundle and waved it over the entire area to purify and cleanse, mixing with the cleansing sage. The fragrance added to her power to help exorcise the demonic spell Xavier had cast over the microbes. She handed the incense to young Skyler, who remained in the eastern corner.

The moment Skyler's hands closed around the incense, shadows moved in the darkness outside the circle. Male laughter, ugly and taunting, slid slyly into the cave, echoing around Skyler. Whispers of obscene acts. She felt hands touching her. Sliding inside her clothes-grasping at her soft skin, exposing her. A sob broke from her.

Dimitri cursed and stepped forward. It was well known that he was Skyler's lifemate, although she was still too young for him to claim.

"Illusion," Razvan said. "She's caught in an illusion."

Gregori waved a hand toward Skyler just as her trembling hand pulled back to fling the incense from her. She shuddered and held fast, her chin rising, but tears poured down her face. She looked once at Dimitri and then stood stoically under the assault of unseen evil.

There was a beat of silence. Ivory. You must continue, Razvan urged.

Ivory closed her eyes for a moment, took a breath and then selected garnet next. The fiery stone was used to enhance powers in rituals. To defeat Xavier, to overturn his horrific spell, she needed as much aid as possible. She also wanted the extra protection against the darkness in Xavier. Again it was a stone often used in childbirth. Her stone was multifaceted and a brilliant deep red, to combat the dark red of heart's blood. It was said that the great ark had been guided by a garnet, and she hoped the light would give her guidance in her time of great need. She placed the stone in the southern corner.

I call to the south, phoenix rise high Casting your fire as you take to the sky.

Ivory bowed to the south, and then repeated the sign of the cross. Xavier had plunged a needle through the heart of a dove and then burned the body. She opened her hands and released a white dove, bearing an olive branch. The bird flew around the circle three times, reversed and repeated the action, and then winged her way out into the night sky.

The fragrance of Dragon's blood resin, collected and processed from the palm tree, filled the room, chasing away the evil of Xavier's ritual, adding to their protection and exorcising the high mage's abominations, consecrating and strengthening the potency of her ritual. She handed the incense to Natalya, who remained in the southern corner.

Natalya braced herself, but there was no preparing for her brother's face when she looked at him and saw-vampire. She gasped as the scales fell from her eyes and she saw inside him, past the illusion to his true nature. Deceiver. Flesh eater. Laughing as they tortured the infants. She needed to stop him. Drinker of his own children's blood. What had possessed her to believe in him again? She cried out in fear and anger at yet another heartbreaking deception at the hands of her twin.

Vikirnoff hissed with fear for her, his hand going to his sword. It was his brother, Nicolae, who restrained him with a hand over his sword.

"Whatever you are seeing, I do not," he said.

"Natalya," Razvan said gently. "See me."

His words, spoken in a calm command, dispelled the ugly illusion. Vikirnoff let out his breath and inclined his head in thanks to Nicolae.

For a moment, Ivory's trembling hand hovered between two stones: moonstone, one of her favorites, and her bright red piece of precious coral, straight from the sea. The coral was an umbrella piece with fine jagged crevices, without a single chip or break. The piece symbolized life and blood force, and sheltered those from evil with its protection. Not really stone, the coral was made up of many skeletons of creatures from the sea itself, but it could be used for good since the piece was found on a long-ago beach, the life already morphed into a healing, protective element. She placed the coral in the western corner.

I call to the west, bring forth your breath, Let the rains fall, clear and clean.

She bowed to the west and again made the sign of the cross before she sketched the fleur-de-lis into the sky, the symbol of purity, representing the three who were one, removing the abomination that Xavier had sketched before, a symbol of hatred and depravity.

The incense she chose was a mixture of lily and lilac mixed for protection and purity. She handed the stick to Shea, who braced herself in her position in the western corner.

She looked down at the hand holding the incense and saw her mother's hand withering, fading, the flesh shrinking, thinner and thinner, the voices around her stilling until there was silence-the silence of her childhood. Long, endless days of hiding in a tomblike house, the sun burning her skin, the small child huddled in the corner trying to find enough food to feed her shrunken stomach.

"My love," Jacques whispered aloud. "I am with you."

Keep going, Ivory. I know you are doubting yourself, but the tide is turning. You are not harming these women or these infants. This evil must be stopped, Razvan encouraged.

Ivory's gaze shifted to him, to his beloved face. Her strength. His belief in her allowed her to continue. She straightened her shoulders and looked in her silken pouch for the last stone.

For her fourth and final stone, Ivory chose a stone whose powerful magic was often used to aid childbirth and fertility as well as for protection. Golden amber, believed to bind earth, fire, air and water, but also highly symbolic of Mother Earth.

Amber, really a fossilized resin, was deep antique gold in color and seemed almost alive with its light. Her stone contained a completely formed honeybee in the exact center. The wings were outspread and the bee was a thousand years old. This particular chunk was her favorite. With great respect she placed the amber in the northern corner.

I call to the north, upon the earth, who can be reborn. I seek to undo this thing.

She bowed to the north, and drew the sign of the cross into the floor, in the exact position where Xavier had poured his concoction of heart's blood, evil and hatred in his black circle. She lit another stick of incense, this time using a precious frankincense and myrrh, a powerful combination for purification and protection. Syndil took the potent incense and remained in the north corner.

Syndil knew what was coming and closed her eyes as her lost brother-kin's face floated in front of her, filling her mind. Savon reached for her, tearing with greedy fingers at her clothes, slamming his body into hers, hammering into her, hurting and tearing while his vampire teeth tore at her neck as he gulped great swallows of blood.

Barack filled her mind. The essences and warmth of who he was. Mate. Protecter. Lover. Everything. He joined with her, holding her close, sharing those memories of that long ago, but never forgotten, attack.

"I will not break," Syndil said. "Continue."

Ivory stood in the center of the circle and raised her arms, her tone one of entreaty mixed with respect.

I call to thee, Mother, who once held me tight, Healing me whole so that I might continue the fight. Bring to me the power of all To undo that which was cast in spell.

The room shimmered with life in reaction. Flames leapt high from the candles, casting grasping shadows on the walls. A harsh wind howled through the cavern. The floor rippled with life and overhead the stalactites rocked and vibrated, threatening to shake loose. More dark red dots of perspiration beaded across Ivory's flesh.

Evil burned through her veins, eating at her so that she was rotting from the inside out. The filth tainted her, stained her soul. She could feel the very flesh peeling from her bones. Xavier's face swam in front of her vision, his sly laugh echoing through her mind as he pointed a bony finger, the sharp, bloodstained nail directing her.

Slowly, reluctantly, Ivory dared to turn her head. The twin girls, tiny infants, lay lifeless-corpses, their bodies blackened like her soul. She opened her mouth to give a soundless scream of utter horror.

No! Razvan merged with her, poured his strength into her. Keep going. You must finish this. He cannot win.

Ivory took a deep, shuddering breath, her legs trembling, rubbery, barely able to support her. She needed Razvan's arms around her, his presence close. His mind moved in hers and she summoned her last strength, praying it would be enough.

Give to me the power to right this wrong, Clearing all from this earth that we may continue on. Clear the body, cleanse the soul, Heal the mind and make us whole. Give us once again the gift to raise our young so that we may continue to live.

She shouted the words in defiance. Power surged and swelled, filling the room. Electricity crackled. Their hair raised and waved in the bands of energy. A whip of lightning snapped above their heads and then jumped to enfold Ivory. She glowed with white-hot energy, sparks now flying from her fingertips. Her tone changed, booming through the room with absolute command.

The babies convulsed again, their tiny bodies slamming hard into their father's hands, their breath coming in ragged, torn gasps. Both glowed a bright, hot red as temperatures soared beyond what they could endure.

"Hurry, Ivory. For God's sake, hurry," Gregori implored.

Reverse this spell, I send it back. I call for justice, let this fall upon Xavier's back. I command thee to take him, Bind him, seal him, Let nothing be left or remain. Bring forth your light encompassing this prize As your radiance burns this darkness to light.

The room flashed with light. The flames on the candles leapt higher. Wind rushed through the room, whirling around in a twister motion, spinning through the soil, touching each corner of the protective circle and then subsided as if it had never been, leaving the candles flickering and the room smelling sweet and pure.

Ivory slumped in the center of the circle, and collasped to one knee, exhausted. Bloody sweat coated her body and made her tendrils of silken hair curl around her face. Skyler blew out her white candle. Natalya blew out the red one. Shea followed suit with the blue one. Syndil was last, blowing out the final one, allowing the smoke from the green candle to rise into the air, joining the smoke of the others to mix with the incense and purify the room.

The chamber went silent. Only the sound of breathing filled the room. Savannah struggled away from her father, her desperate gaze on her lifemate and their daughters.

Gregori closed his eyes and then opened them to look down at the tiny infants lying beneath the palms of his hands. Slowly, with great care, he lifted his hands away. His twin daughters stared back up at him with enormous, solemn eyes-eyes that had seen far too much already. Their skin was a healthy pink. Their fragile limbs kicked and pumped the air. Both breathed on their own. His breath burst from his lungs and his body sagged in relief. His silver gaze met Savannah's violet one. She cried out, her joy bursting through the room.

Gregori sank to his knees beside Ivory, reaching for her, not bothering to wipe the crimson tears from his face. "Her spirit is lighter. We can help her fight for life now. There are no words to give thanks. None."

She rolled over and looked up at the ceiling. "Razvan?" She was nearly translucent. She needed him desperately. Razvan. She couldn't face this crowd alone, not feeling so weepy and vulnerable.

He was there in an instant, reaching to draw Ivory into his embrace. Take my blood, fel ku kuuluaak sivam belso-beloved. As she wearily accepted and buried her face against the warmth of his neck, Razvan looked over her head to the prince.

"The night is nearly over; Ivory must go to ground. The ritual has drained her of strength."

"You are welcome here," Mikhail said.

"Thank you, but no. I will take her home where she can rest. We will return when she is stronger. In the meantime, Gregori must teach the ritual to some of your most gifted people so they can protect themselves until the life-form in the uncontaminated soil has a chance to spread and we can destroy Xavier and his unholy factory."

"But-" Mikhail began a protest.

Razvan swept his arms around Ivory and simply took her away, flying them from the chamber.