No one moved. No one breathed, remaining statues frozen in time, as if one small mistake would start a bloodbath, and judging by the death in Razvan eyes-and Gregori's-there was little doubt there would be.
Gregori released his breath in a long, slow hiss. "It is a death sentence to threaten the life of the prince."
Razvan shrugged his shoulders, a casual ripple of power. "I have been under a death sentence since my fourteenth summer. It is nothing new to me. There is nothing you can conceive of to do to me that has not been done already. I accept that I will die this night." He inclined his head to Gregori, his expression unchanging, as if giving the Carpathian leave to kill him.
A man with nothing to lose, Gregori, often emerges the victor, Mikhail pointed out, a trace of humor in his voice.
Gregori's silver eyes flashed, and there was no answering amusement in them. No one lays his knife at your heart and walks away unscathed.
"Step away from my lifemate. Once she is away, you can do as you will," Razvan instructed.
"No," Ivory protested. "I remain with you. We will fight our way free."
Sara tried to step closer to Ivory. "This is crazy. Mikhail," she appealed to the prince. "Stop this. Let them go."
"Do you know who this man is?" Falcon asked softly. "Ivory, do you have any idea of the crimes Razvan has committed against our people?"
Again Razvan didn't flinch-and neither did the knife.
"You know nothing about him," Ivory said. "You have no right to pass judgment when you do not know the facts."
There is no need to defend me.
Razvan was shocked that she would. She stood there swaying, looking far too deceptively fragile for the warrior he knew her to be. Her body was tall and straight, her flawless skin marred now by the tracks of vampire blood and the teeth tears in her shoulder. There was something very intimate in knowing that beneath that flawless exterior, he knew the true woman, the scars of death and defiance. The reserve of courage that it must have taken to pull her body back together and lay so broken in the ground for hundreds of years while nature tried to repair her.
He alone knew the depths and strengths of her when no other on the face of the earth did. Pride in her shook him. Her courage and ferocity humbled him.
"That is true," Falcon said, remaining calm in the midst of the tension. "You do not know this prince. I have given my allegiance to Mikhail. He is worthy of my respect and protection. You know me. More important, you know the De La Cruz brothers. They also have given their sworn allegiance to Mikhail. Manolito gave his life for Mikhail and Gregori restored him to this world." His gaze flicked to Razvan. "I believe your lifemate injected the poison into Manolito."
Razvan didn't flinch and the hand holding the knife was rock steady. "Ivory, I want you to come to my side and take my blood. Take enough that you can be at full strength."
She looked stricken and shook her head silently.
It is the only way. Your purpose and your preparations will be lost if you do not get away. We cannot stop them all. I knew when I came that I would be exchanging my life for yours. It is an honor.
"Her blood is infected with parasites," Mikhail said. "Keep the knife to my heart and allow my healer to rid her of Xavier's vile worms."
Ivory flinched when she heard the high mage's name.
Gregori's gaze flicked toward the prince, flashing him with a glitter of silver. This is not amusing, Mikhail. We know too little about this man. He may very well shove that knife into your heart under Xavier's orders. You would not be wearing that smirk then.
I have no doubt that you would find a way to save me.
"Razvan," Mikhail said. "We are not looking to harm your lifemate, only to make certain she can survive an attack on the way back to her home. We offer both of you friendship. Your sister, Natalya, is here with her lifemate, Vikirnoff. Lara, your daughter, and her lifemate, Nicolas De La Cruz, are residing among us, working to save our unborn children. She has been a tremendous asset to our people. Your aunts, Tatijana and Branislava, are safe and alive, at present under the ground healing. I offer safe passage to both of you."
Razvan flicked Ivory a quick glance. It is up to you.
Ivory drew in her breath. Life or death for her lifemate. He was putting his life into her hands so easily. Little did he know how abhorrent it was to her to allow favors from the Dubrinsky family. She could scarce make herself accept, yet she forced her body forward stiffly until she stood beside the healer, her fingers closed tightly around the hilt of a knife. She nodded her head toward the healer.
She'll probably stab me when I'm done. Again those silver eyes flicked toward the prince. You won't be laughing so much when our wives give me hell for allowing someone to stab you.
I don't know. It might be amusing. Neither will be angry with me.
Gregori's breath hissed through his teeth as he sent the prince another smoldering look before laying gentle hands on Ivory's shoulder. She trembled, much like a wild animal under the hands of a rescuer removing it from a trap. Without being consciously aware of it, the healer murmured soothing words in the ancient language, trying to reassure her by his voice and the touch of his hands that he meant her no harm.
Gregori closed his eyes and ceased to be a fierce warrior, ferocious guardian of the prince and the Carpathian people. All ego, everything he was, he surrendered, sending himself outside his body and into that of the wounded female. He became energy, a healing entity, moving through her bloodstream to find and repair all damage from the inside out.
He nearly forgot himself, one of the rare times in his centuries of healing, when he discovered the way her bones and sinew were so crudely knitted together. Ridges and evidence of inside and outside scar tissue were everywhere throughout her body, even on her organs, unheard of in Carpathian society. He pulled out of her for just one moment, shaken, unable to look at her while he tried to puzzle out how anyone could have survived what had made those scars.
Mikhail. There was shock when it was difficult to shock Gregori. There was awe when it was nearly impossible to astonish him. Mostly there was respect. It is as if she was chopped into small pieces. No part of her is untouched other than her face, and even her neck has these patchwork ridges. I believe she was cut into pieces, but how could she survive?
He sent the impressions to Mikhail. Her true skin is a patchwork. I feel blades sawing through her skin and bones, around her neck, hacking off her head. This woman has suffered greatly. There was a breath taken. A crashing heartbeat. Abruptly Gregori pulled his mind from Mikhail's.
Tell me. The two words were a command, nothing less.
Your eldest brother assaulted her. I feel his taint, a stamp of suffering I have not felt before. He did this to her. Or he was part of it.
Mikhail closed his eyes for a moment. She has reason to hate my family.
Do you feel animosity toward the Carpathian people? Would she try to destroy us?
There is great resolve, but not to end your life or to destroy us. Her determination is bred into her bones. I would like to know more of this woman.
Gregori shed his physical body once more and reentered Ivory, paying attention to the bones and organs, bathing them in healing light as he passed through, examining her blood and cells for the infestation of parasites. He forced more of the intruders from her body through her pores, incinerating them as they wiggled in the snow, trying to find a target. It was a messy, exhausting business, and she sank into the snow, her strength finally giving out.
Her wolves pushed close, forming a circle of protection, with Ivory and the healer's body inside. Gregori was dependent on Falcon to keep his physical form safe while he worked, and the ancient Carpathian remained very still, watching the wolves very carefully.
While Gregori worked, the knife never wavered, nor did Razvan ask anything about his family. His entire concentration was on Ivory's safety. He watched the others, leaving it to her wolf pack to warn him should Gregori try anything to harm her. That took discipline and restraint. At no time did the blade of the knife penetrate the prince's skin.
Mikhail allowed his body to breathe naturally. "Gregori is a tremendous healer. He will make certain no parasites remain."
"I appreciate his service."
"You have no need to continue to hold me hostage," Mikhail said. "Gregori snarls and snaps, but he has no wish to harm your lifemate, only to heal her. He is driven by his code. He will not be so understanding over your continued threats. I have given my word for safe passage for both of you. It would be foolish to escalate the situation when your woman will need care."
Razvan held the knife for a few more moments, as if weighing the truth of Mikhail's words and then the knife disappeared and he stepped back into the shadows where he had a clear path to all three male Carpathians.
Mikhail didn't move out of striking distance, maintaining his show of faith. Falcon glided a little closer so that he was in a better position to insert his body between the prince and potential harm should there be need.
"Tell me, Razvan," Mikhail said, "does Xavier still truly live?" He studied the gray-streaked hair. Few Carpathians went gray; only the gravest of all injuries could produce that kind of damage to a Carpathian. When looking closely the prince could see signs of suffering etched into the worn face. Razvan was a handsome man, but he looked older, weathered.
"He does," Razvan confirmed.
"Does he possess your body at will?"
"He does," Razvan answered, without flinching. "Although for the first time, I was able to keep him out. I have never been at this strength before, so it is possible, with time, I can learn to keep him at bay."
Falcon stirred, his dark eyes looking deep into the shadows as if he might see their oldest, most dangerous enemy. "Do you endanger your lifemate?"
"I am a danger to anyone near."
Mikhail flicked Falcon a quick, quelling glance. "How is it you came to escape?"
"The last attack on the ice cave forced him to move me from the chamber where I was normally held. He had little time to prepare, and it wasn't as secure. I had not been fed in days. I believe he thought me too weak to make the attempt." Razvan shrugged.
Mikhail studied the face ravaged by hardship. That small shrug told him a lot about the man. He wasn't asking for sympathy, nor was he apologizing for the life he'd been forced to lead. Those simple sentences spoke volumes.
Mikhail bowed. "You are a true Dragonseeker." No Dragonseeker had ever succumbed to the darkness preying on the males of their species. If anyone had reason to embrace bitterness, hatred and anger, it was Razvan, if all that was suspected was correct. "We are in a battle for our very existence. Perhaps there are things you can tell us that might aid in our fight to save our children. Lara has been invaluable to us."
Razvan kept his gaze on Ivory, not answering. Just hearing his daughter's name was hard, and emotions swamped him, but he refused to let it show. He had centuries of practice at learning to keep his face a mask, and he didn't allow the prince to see how the mere thought of Lara twisted him up inside. Ivory lifted her lashes and looked up at him. His gaze locked with hers and his heart jumped.
She knew. She had to be in tremendous pain-she had to be fearful of the outcome of his threatening the prince of the Carpathian people-but a small half smile curved her mouth. He knew that smile was for him. That secret smile locked them together, fit them like two pieces of a puzzle, private and intensely intimate. Her eyes were soft as she sent warmth into his mind.
Something deep inside of him twisted into hard knots. Something else melted. His heart gave a curious flutter and his throat closed. Ivory. Why had he found her now? She was the most unexpected treasure. No one, least of all him, deserved her, with her tenacious courage and generosity.
Feminine amusement slid into his mind. Do not deceive yourself. No one but you would call me generous. I am the slayer. That is all.
She was so much more-she was everything. He kept his eyes locked with hers while she shuddered again as more parasites fell from her pores to the blood-spattered ground. He filled her mind with strength and the scents he had discovered in her lair, the ones he knew soothed her, to sustain her through the rest of the healing.
The extraction of parasites was a difficult process. The healer had to be especially careful not to miss even one and, as Gregori rejoined his body, he swayed with weariness.
"She needs blood," Gregori announced, and sank into the snow beside her.
"So do you," Mikhail said, gliding over the snow to the healer's side. He held out his wrist in a casual, easy gesture that spoke of longtime familiarity with donating blood.
Razvan hesitated. He had no idea of the extent of Xavier's hold on him. If it was cellular or molecular, if he gave his blood to Ivory, would Xavier be able to somehow possess her as well? He didn't know and he didn't want to chance it.
The healer slashed him with peculiar silver eyes, eyes that reminded him eerily of Xavier. They glittered with menace, a threat, a reprimand, and for the first time in his encounter with these men, he felt shame.
"You protect me," Ivory said, "and I am grateful. No one here has an understanding of what you-we-deal with."
"I offer my blood freely," Sara reiterated and stepped close to Ivory, holding out her wrist in offering.
Ivory inclined her head. "I am grateful."
The blood was rich, a Carpathian's blood, hitting her system like a fireball of energy, soaking into her cells and aiding the healer's careful repair of her shoulder and ribs.
Gregori studied Razvan's face. "You fear to give your blood to your lifemate." It was more of a statement than a question, and this time a hint of respect crept in. Every male Carpathian was driven to provide for their lifemate. "You have not claimed her."
Razvan shrugged. "I cannot. I will not."
Ivory lifted her head, her tongue sliding over the pinpricks in Sara's wrist, dark eyes gleaming, going almost amber, much like a wolf 's eyes. "There is no need to explain to any of these men."
"Ivory," Mikhail said, his voice gentle, "no one is accusing Razvan of failing you. Quite the contrary. And the man who gave his services to heal you is the man who brought my eldest brother to the justice he so deserved. Gregori spent three months in the ground from the injuries he sustained."
Her chin rose. "I spent three hundred years in the ground." As soon as the words slipped out, the first sign of bitterness, she looked ashamed. "Forgive me, healer. I have long been away from the company of others and have forgotten my manners."
"There is no need to apologize," Gregori said, but he was still studying Razvan's worn face. "I would like to examine you for signs Xavier might have left behind."
There was a stunned silence. Mikhail frowned. Falcon stepped partially in front of Gregori and Razvan actually took a step farther back into the shadows.
"You have no conception of how dangerous that might be," Razvan said.
"If no one tries," Gregori pointed out, "you are lost to us."
"I have been lost these hundreds of years."
"And all the information you possess that might aid in our fight against our greatest enemy is lost as well," Gregori continued. "And your lifemate is lost as well."
"I do not factor into the equation," Ivory protested. "Do not put pressure on him to do anything he thinks is wrong by using me as your leverage."
Gregori flicked her a quelling glance. "You have much to contribute to the world at large, Dragonseeker. I wish only to take a look."
Perhaps he is right. Deliberately Ivory didn't look at Razvan. It is solely your decision and I will back you all the way, but perhaps we can find a way to break Xavier's hold on you. I suspect there is a way.
Razvan turned the idea over in his mind. He hadn't thought about living, only dying. Dying represented freedom from Xavier's possession, from mental and physical torment, and now even from his memories and the emotions they elicited. Ivory had used the term we. He had never thought in those terms either. He looked around at the small group.
He had never thought he would be standing among Carpathians and not have to fight his way out. A part of him didn't trust their acceptance of him.
As if reading his mind, Gregori shook his head. "I do not altogether trust that you pose no threat to Carpathians, but I am willing to find out."
Razvan felt the challenge of those words. Gregori was willing to put himself in jeopardy in order to protect the Carpathian people and perhaps to aid Razvan. Did Razvan have the courage to allow him to enter his body to see for himself what Xavier had done? Guilt lay heavy in his mind.
His memories of earlier had faded behind the barriers he'd erected for sanity's sake, and he was no longer certain what he had or hadn't done. There were weeks, months, perhaps even years he no longer remembered, and he was afraid to examine what had happened. Xavier had slowly, successfully beat him down until he could no longer fight the mage.
If he allowed Gregori to enter his body and examine him, Gregori would know every humiliating and degrading moment of his life.
I will enter with the healer. I can protect your memories if anything were to be incriminating. Otherwise, whatever he finds is on Xavier, not you.
His heart turned over. She so clearly aligned herself with him, but why? They were meant to be lifemates, it was true, but they didn't know each other, and he was the most notorious criminal the Carpathians had.
I have been inside your head many times these past three weeks. I am an outsider as well. And I believe absolutely that you are the key to destroying Xavier.
That was a reason he could understand. He wasn't certain it was true, that he was the key to destroying Xavier, but he knew her purpose was absolutely unswerving. What did he have to lose? Their respect? He could care less. That had gone centuries ago. He was more than willing to face the dawn. But he didn't want her to see, to know, to live through the things he had seen and done, whether he was a party to them or not.
He knew the faces of every woman Xavier had violated with his body. The alluring lies, the sweet, deceptive promises, impregnating an innocent woman in order to take the child she conceived with him for the blood. Always the blood. He didn't remember their names, but he remembered the tears when they knew the truth. He remembered the sense of betrayal and the taunting laughter of the mage.
There had been so many killed over the centuries: mages, humans, one or two Carpathians who had been deceived and murdered by his hand. He remembered every face, every expression. They haunted him every moment he was awake. He had been dishonored so many times he couldn't remember any other way of life.
This was his moment-he could take up the burden of helping his lifemate hunt and destroy the world's greatest enemy, or he could give up and walk into the sun, telling himself he was protecting everyone. By helping, he would be exposing the sins of his past to both Ivory and the healer. There would be nowhere to hide from himself and the crimes his body had been used to commit. He would have to face them every day of his existence. And he risked falling back into Xavier's hands. He looked around him at the circle of faces. There was no impatience, no restless movements. They simply waited for a decision.
If I am tainted beyond the ability to be saved from Xavier, give me your word that you will slay me, lifemate. I want only you to see that damning evidence.
Ivory caught her breath at the enormity of what he asked of her, drawing the attention of the dark one. She kept her gaze locked with Razvan. To kill her own lifemate . . .
I ask that you carve me on your wall, that I can remain safe in your soul. Do me that service, although I may be unworthy. If you keep me safe, I will have a chance in the next life.
Ivory's fingers crept into Raja's thick fur and clutched there. Her throat closed and for a moment her eyes burned. She held his gaze, refusing to look away from his courage. It will be my honor.
Razvan continued to look at her, soaking her into his mind, drawing her into his lungs, feeling her courage and strength, pride in her welling up until he nearly burst with it. He took her courage for his own and, still looking at Ivory, nodded his head to the healer.
"I ask that you follow my lifemate's lead," Razvan said. "If she wants you to leave, give us your word that you will do so and all of you will leave us immediately."
Gregori exchanged a long look with the prince. He means to commit suicide or have his lifemate slay him.
You cannot save the world, Gregori, Mikhail sent back, his voice weary. You can only do your best. If you can help him, do so; otherwise we leave them to their fate. It is their wish and any Carpathian, male or female, has the right to choose death over dishonor.
"So be it," Gregori said aloud to Razvan. "Mikhail and Falcon will guard our bodies while we try this." He looked at Ivory. "Are you strong enough? If Xavier attacks him while you are in his mind, can you fend the mage off?"
Her lashes raised and she met the dark one's gaze with eyes of steel. Warrior's eyes. Calm. Cool. Remote. "Worry about yourself, healer."
Gregori inclined his head, a brief smile somewhere between amusement and respect touching his mouth. He gestured for Razvan to sit in the snow between them. As Razvan settled down, a little tense from being in such a vulnerable position, five of the six wolves made a circle around them, with Farkas lying beside Ivory, his head in her lap. Ivory laid one hand in his fur and the other on the hilt of her knife.
Mikhail, Falcon, Sara and Gary took up positions around them to better protect the circle.
Ivory closed her eyes to send herself seeking outside her body. Razvan stopped her with a gentle hand to her arm. Her lashes lifted and she met his gaze.
I just need to see you looking at me one more time. Just like this. No condemnation. No disgust. No fear. You look at me as if I am a person to you.
She lifted her chin. You are much more than a person to me, Razvan. She deliberately used his name. You are my lifemate. In this world, the next, or both.
The caressing note in her voice flooded him with warmth. A slow smile curved his mouth. It felt rusty, like his lips might crack and his jaw might break, but inside where no one could see, he held that first smile close.
"Ready?" she asked.
"Just be careful. Both of you," Razvan cautioned.
Ivory shed her body and entered her lifemate. Gregori's light burned hot and bright, almost luminescent, the mark, she knew, of a strong healer. He allowed her to take the lead, although she sensed his reluctance. There were scars inside the body, a multitude of them, and signs of torture beyond endurance, yet Razvan had endured.
She moved to his brain. Before she allowed Gregori to delve too deep, she intended to keep her promise to Razvan. She alone would know if he had cause for the guilt that weighed so heavily on his shoulders. She alone would know whether he was truly the criminal he had been branded as for so long.
It had been difficult to maintain her objectivity when she'd encountered the scars that reminded her of her own, but his memories were a virtual minefield. Xavier's experiments and tortures were unthinkable, the things he'd forced Razvan to endure, to watch, to participate in. It was a wonder that he was sane. She moved through his brain, soaking in his memories until she felt saturated and ill. Yes, his body had been used time and again to commit crimes, but his spirit, the essence of who Razvan was, had not been present.
She moved aside and allowed the healer entrance. They moved through his brain, searching carefully for evidence of Xavier. While they worked, they had to share Razvan's burden of memories, of a life of pain and suffering, of mental anguish. Yet he had fought back, holding on to sanity, sometimes by a thin thread, by the toughness and honor that was inherently Dragonseeker. Her heart wept for that lonely warrior, and she felt Gregori, strong and disciplined, weep with her as he moved through Razvan's memories, seeking to find anything that might be Xavier's fingerprints-a way for Xavier to enter at will.
There was no way to go through centuries of torment without it taking a toll. Ivory had to pull out and take a breath. Gregori followed her closely.
"He gave up his body when he was less than twenty to save his sister. And he inadvertently traded a piece of his soul for his daughter's life." Ivory lifted wet lashes to look at Gregori and then turned her head to her lifemate. "That is your greatest crime."
"One of duty and love," Gregori added. "You are no criminal, Razvan. You are a true Dragonseeker." He sent a quick glance toward the prince. "No doubt I shall hear often how others recognized your true worth first."
"No doubt," Mikhail murmured.
"Can you remove Xavier's hold on my soul?" Razvan asked. "If he was to possess my body right now, he could see all of you, he could use me to strike at the prince, or at my own lifemate. I cannot take that kind of chance."
"If Xavier found a way to mark an entrance to your body, then we can find a way to remove it," Ivory said. "I have studied him carefully, and each time I run across a new work he has done, I have found the way to unravel it. I know this can be done."
Gregori drew in his breath. Did you hear what she said, Mikhail?
I am not so old that I'm deaf.
Gregori kept his grin to himself. These two have far more information on our enemy than we have managed to gain in the time we have been trying.
We didn't exactly know Xavier was alive until recently.
"Ivory," Sara said. "Do you know a way to stop the endless cycle of his microbes? He's mutated them in some way and grown them to penetrate the soil and find us. They cause miscarriages. Lara has been invaluable in trying to keep the women free, but she is only one person and cannot be turned fully until we find a permanent solution."
"If Xavier has used his gifts for evil, I am certain I can undo whatever he has wrought. I have long studied his methods and successfully countered each of his spells." Ivory spoke with confidence, not from bragging or ego, but obviously from experience. "I would have to study the microbes. Do you have samples?"
"We can get them," Sara said.
"I can take them to my laboratory." Ivory glanced up at the night sky. "We have a few hours left, but not enough, so I will return here tomorrow and you can bring them to me. I have spent most of my time beneath the earth and I am extremely light sensitive."
We have a few things in common. Razvan's flick of his dark eyes showed camaraderie. He had spent most of the last few centuries beneath the earth as well, in the ice caves, and he was equally as sensitive.
Again there was that flood of warmth he associated with her. Comforting. Easing the aching loneliness that was such a part of him.
"You are welcome to come to my home. My lifemate is with child and staying close. She would very much like to meet you," Mikhail offered. "And my brother's lifemate, Shea, and Gary have been working nonstop on trying to find a solution. Perhaps if you spoke with them it might eliminate several steps for your work."
Ivory shrugged. "I thank you for the invitation, but until we know whether we can prevent Xavier from knowing our moves, it would be best to stay as far from you as possible."
"I agree," Gregori said before Mikhail could answer. He sent the prince a smoldering glare. "You and Raven must be protected at all times."
Mikhail flashed Razvan a small grin. "Do you see what it is like to live with him? Nag, nag, nag. And he is my daughter's lifemate as well."
"In this instance, I have to agree with him," Razvan said. "If Xavier had an entrance through me to strike at you, he would be unable to resist. The thought of torturing me mentally amuses him. He is particularly fond of using me to harm my sister. If he could use me to harm the prince of the Carpathian people, and make certain I knew it, he would be elated."
Ivory felt the wrenching pain in Razvan, although his voice was steady and his expression gave nothing away. Sorrow weighed heavily on him. With his emotions so new and raw, difficult to control, his love for Natalya, his determination to keep her safe at all costs, had infuriated Xavier, and now Razvan could remember and feel every betrayal as if it were the cut of a knife.
"If we can find his portal, Dragonseeker," Gregori said, "we might be able to close it." Once more he looked to Ivory. "Let's get it done."
Ivory stroked her fingertips over his jaw, her touch lingering on his skin for just a moment. Abruptly, she shed her body and followed Gregori, pure light and energy, seeking darkness that had to be hiding somewhere inside her lifemate. While she didn't want to admire anything about Gregori, she couldn't help herself. He sorted through memories fast, processing each horrible event quickly and discarding it, looking for that moment Razvan had traded his body for his sister's life.
They reached that memory, so long ago, centuries, a young boy offering himself to a madman, to a killer, to keep his sister from harm. Ivory had to fight to stay in the form of energy. It was so difficult exploring those old memories, that boy beaten down but valiant, trying to shield those he loved, seeing too much evil every day. She examined everything from all angles of that memory, looking for something that had allowed Xavier to take possession.
Not here. Gregori moved forward in time quickly, sorting through data fast, looking for something that Xavier had done, some trigger word, something that might indicate he had possessed Razvan's body at will.
Wait! Ivory had been paying more attention to Razvan's memories of himself. The way he looked at what was happening around him. He was Dragonseeker, turned fully by his aunts in their effort to give him the necessary strength to escape. He had the mind of a true Dragonseeker. He had resolved to travel the world in spirit, rather than allow Xavier to continue to "use" him. He wasn't aware, but the use of his body at that time was an illusion Xavier created to make Razvan believe the mage was all-powerful.
Realizing he had little hope of escape, kept starving and weak, Razvan used his waning strength to shed his body, leaving it vulnerable to Xavier's attack. Ivory saw the exact instant Xavier entered into that shell and left pieces of himself behind. Now they knew the time and the how, but they still had to find the small pieces of Xavier and find a way to extract them.
Ivory began to chant softly in the Carpathian language, sending the words vibrating through both Razvan and Gregori.
I call to me all that is good to aid me in my desperate plight.
Sky send to me the purest light.
I plead for the song that I may sing to reveal that which is evil buried within.
Light of sky, burning bright, find that which is dark and make it light.
Evil one, I call forth the blight you left behind.
Light burst through Ivory and she directed it into Razvan's body, allowing it to seek out the darkness left behind. The light swam into his bloodstream, rushed through his mind and heart, and sought to go deeper into the very essence of his soul until Razvan's being was entirely illuminated. In his mind there was a dark scar, a very small ridge that Ivory recognized. There was one in his heart, one pumping through his bloodstream and the last in his soul. Four. Heart, mind, body and soul. No wonder Xavier managed to possess Razvan's body at will. Even with that, Razvan had fought back for centuries.
Razvan appeared splintered, as if he'd been broken apart and put back together wrong. Ivory's breath rushed out in a long, slow hiss. She had been in pieces, her body filtering through the soil, struggling to pull itself together, so fractured she couldn't even knit her skin and bones back together evenly. This was worse than mere flesh. This was the very essence of who Razvan was. As each point of darkness was revealed, Ivory attached a thread of white light, anchoring it so that all of the pieces could be kept connected.
Ivory knew without Gregori having to tell her that she had to provide the light to repair the fractures to Razvan's soul and drive out that small splinter of evil. Words were powerful, the truth and rightness of them to bring his fractured mind together. They could tune sound to the true rhythm of Razvan's body to restore balance and push the fragment of evil from his bloodstream. But the heart . . .
I do not know how to love, healer. There was despair in her voice. I lost that emotion a long time ago. He will be lost because of me.
There are all kinds of love, Ivory, and you are capable of all of them. He is a warrior first. Love him for that. He is a man alone who fought for all those around him and did not succumb to darkness when others embraced the darkness with far less to drive them. Love him for that. Find what you have to give and it will be enough when he's never had anything.
Ivory took a breath and steadied herself. The healer's faith was convincing. She felt herself settle. This was a battle for a man's sanity, for his very soul, and they would win because they had to.
When we chase out the pieces of Xavier, the splinters will need to find a host. Gregori spoke to both Razvan and Ivory.
Something in Gregori's voice made everything in her go still.
Long ago, I experimented with the forbidden and broke our laws. I have a need to understand how things work and I violated our sacred laws to find out.
The confession was given freely, but Ivory knew it was more than that. Gregori not only wanted to warn them what to expect, but he was also giving Razvan and Ivory a piece of himself because he knew so many terrible things in Razvan's life. It was a great risk for Gregori to admit such a thing and she respected the healer a lot more.
What was put inside of you, Razvan, can be removed. I have done this myself.
Razvan was silent a long moment while Gregori waited for his condemnation. Razvan sighed before he spoke. Sometimes, what started as wrong can be turned to good. I pray that is the case. I am ready, but take no chances that you may open yourself to him.
Ivory began to sing, synching her tones to Razvan's body's natural rhythm. Gregori and Ivory matched the beat of his heart, the breath in his lungs, so that the notes flowed through all of them together, vibrating in every cell and organ. Blood rushed in and out of his heart, ebbing and flowing in his veins.
I call to blood flowing, hot like the tide, Seek that which is dark, holding it still inside. Pulsing heat, spread and sear, Cleansing and cleaning that which is unclear.
Like the sound of waves rolling, the chant spread through Razvan's veins so that heat spread like molten lava, hot and thick and cleansing. Every cell embraced the steaming inferno, muscles and organs reaching for it. The heat gathered steam, rising, picking up speed as the song changed tempo. The notes provided the cleansing, each of them tuned to the exact same rhythm so that only that small dark splinter hiding in his veins, running before the purifying heat, was discordant.
Gregori moved quickly now that the splinter was running, murmuring the words to exorcise Xavier from Razvan's body. He trapped the tiny fragment so that it couldn't burrow or hide, his words holding it prisoner.
Ivory began to sing again, the notes changing to those of immense power, her words resonating throughout Razvan's mind. Gregori's voice joined hers, in perfect harmony, and then counterpointing, calling, commanding.
We seek that which is dark, that which has lain fallow.
We command you forth from the darkness and shadow.
We command you, Xavier, come forth into the light.
We abolish every part of you, Xavier, from Razvan's mind.
Razvan could hear, as if from a great distance away, the sound of Gregori and Ivory's voices rising, the notes tuned exactly to his body's rhythm, the words powerful and commanding. He knew words were powerful. Names. He heard them call to the high mage, the name reverberating through his mind, demanding he leave, demanding their bitter enemy leave and not return. He heard the ancient Carpathian language, the beat of his heart, his pulse, and knew he wasn't alone.
Gregori and Ivory walked with him, striding toward the parasitic fragment with absolute confidence and mastery. He actually felt the moment the splinter rolled into a ball, desperate to escape the trueness and purity of the cleansing words. Once again it was Gregori who drove the fragment into the holding prison with the first one.
Ivory's song changed. Her voice grew soft and loving as she called on memories of her lost childhood and strong brothers holding her close. She remembered the love she had for her family, intense and consuming. She poured that love into her song. Her voice was powerful and persuasive, bringing tears to the eyes of all who heard.
Heart that is pure with body worn, I find you beautiful standing tired and alone. I give you my heart, I will shed your tears, Take my hand, I will hold all of your fears. I give you my word, no bindings attached, I give my love freely so no harm may attack. Having fought a long war, withstanding many sorrows, Know that though you are weary, I am your tomorrow. Cling to my words, hear the song that I sing, Let it sink deep that you may find peace once again.
She changed her words, singing tribute to a warrior, strong and pure and all alone in a world of madness. Honor drove him, love of his sister, of his people, a code that he refused to break no matter what was done to him. She sang the song of tribute to a warrior, love pouring into every note. The more she moved through Razvan's memories and saw his life, the way he struggled to maintain honor in the madness surrounding him, the way he barely clung to sanity when he faced what Xavier had forced his body to do, the killings, impregnating women, feeding from his own children, stabbing his aunt. Tears choked her, and love flowed from her heart to his, filling his until there was no other emotion but love. The splinter fled, unable to stand the genuine, untainted emotion that Xavier could never feel. Gregori surrounded the fragment with his strength and herded it to join the others in darkness.
Ivory knew saving Razvan's soul was her task alone. She was his other half. His soul was hers as well. An intruder had invaded and dared to dwell, to take what was rightfully hers. Razvan had not claimed her, had not joined their souls together, but each time they were near, she felt the pull between them, strong and intense. She changed her song again, this time singing from her soul to his, calling to her true lifemate to accept her, to join with her, to accept her merging. Her light would be too much for someone as evil as Xavier.
Light to dark, dark to light.
My soul to yours together we fight.
Half of a whole, together one.
Mend and heal for two now are one.
Blood, body, bone mended, together our light it shone.
Light burst through Razvan's body, bright and pure, the light of an innocent soul-that of his lifemate. Though he had not claimed her, their souls, two halves of the same whole, shimmered with dazzling brilliance, side by side, only a thin gap between them. Her half seemed to illuminate his as she moved her soul over his, and then merged, letting her light go into his darkness. The fragment ran before the light, smoldering with smoke around the edges as if burned, the cells shrinking away so that Gregori could herd it to join the others.
Razvan felt complete. Whole. The sensation of their merged souls shook him. He felt tiny threads weaving them back together as the two halves recognized one another and reached for what had been lost. He knew her intimately, every struggle, every part of her determination and her courage, all that she was, what she was. He held her safe and she held him safe. For the first time since he was a young boy he felt he could breathe freely.
Gregori began to chant. The words were in the ancient language, a healer's greatest command, greatest gift, to force out the darkness of evil from Razvan. His voice was powerful, vibrating through both Razvan and Ivory, a tool of immense strength.
Kuuluam han ku kod es han ku Karpatiiak altenak-I take that which is dark and banned.
Saam te Szavear-I name you Xavier.
It entolam kuulua ainadet-Your body I now claim and command.
Ottiam sa eset veriet es luwet-I see the sinew, blood and bone.
Muoniam ainadet belso es kinn-From its core I hold and hone.
Muoniam kodaltepoarak, it poarak juttam-I command these abominations, these fragments left I now bind.
Totellosz sarnaakam, ka?asz kontalik, kaik ka? asz-Do my bidding, go from this warrior, leave nothing behind.
The splinters did their best to struggle against his commands, but they were too fearful of the light. Each time his energy touched on them, they smoked and withered more.
Get back to your body, Ivory. They were both at risk as the slivers of Xavier's blackened and malevolent soul fled Razvan's body to seek another host.
Ivory and Gregori merged their spirits back in their bodies as Razvan rose over them, protecting them in that first disorienting moment. The ground rumbled ominously. Dirt spewed up like a geyser. The sky darkened overhead. For one moment they could hear the rustling of the leaves on the trees, and then a swelling noise like a wall of rushing water.
Within moments the clouds and a sliver of the moon were wiped out under the heavy migration of huge bats. The bats neared, showing dripping fangs, some landing on the ground in a circle around the group, using their wings to walk. Others flew at their faces, teeth gnashing together.
The earth opened up right beneath Razvan and a giant worm burst from beneath, jaws open, serrated teeth clamping around Razvan's ankle. For a heartbeat, the thirty-foot worm hovered, with Razvan locked in its teeth, and then it slid back beneath the ground, the dirt pouring in after it.