Home > Christine Feehan > Dark Series > Dark Destiny for Chapter Eighteen      Page
Gregori was close. She was sure of it the moment she opened her eyes on the next rising. Destiny's heart was pounding so hard, so loud, the sound echoed through the small cavern. Her breath came in great gasps, and her lungs burned desperately for more air. She dressed hastily, her gaze darting around the small cave as if the healer might be in an any corner. "I need to get out of here," she told Nicolae. "Just for a little while. I can't breathe down here." It sounded silly, like a fabricated excuse, but it was all too real.

"He is here," Nicolae announced, his hand tangling casually in the thick mass of her hair. She knew the gesture was meant to steady her.

She reached up and caught his hand, clinging unashamedly to him. Her Nicolae. Her rock. He was already dressed impeccably, elegantly, a prince of old. The man materializing deep beneath the mountain would render judgment on them. He strode toward them, a stocky man with power clinging to every inch of his body, lines etched into his hard features, his eyes a slashing silver.

For one moment the world wavered, turning a strange black with countless shooting stars, but Nicolae's arm wrapped around her body, drew her beneath his broad shoulder against the shelter of his strength. The spinning world righted, and she followed the steady rhythm of his breathing. Despite the weight of his opinion, this man in no way distressed Nicolae. He was unconcerned about the verdict. His gaze was hard and watchful. Behind them and a little to their right was Vikirnoff.

Destiny became aware of Vikirnoff's unblinking stare, as cold as death, watching Gregori's every move. Vikirnoff would stand solidly with his brother as always, tainted blood or no. It occurred to her that Vikirnoff had known the instant Nicolae had taken her blood and he had not merged with her in an attempt to stop him. With that awareness came the realization that Gregori had entered this small chamber beneath the earth without really knowing any of the parties within. He was truly risking his life to give them aid.

He looked big and strong and capable, a glittering menace, but the two Carpathians were ancients, every bit as well versed in battle as he. She decided Gregori was a very courageous man.

Nicolae stepped forward to greet him in the way of a warrior, gripping Gregori's forearms, his body cleverly inserted between Destiny and the stranger. "Gregori, how good of you to come so quickly. I am Nicolae, once under the command of Vladimer Dubrinsky. This is my brother, Vikirnoff." He waved toward the silent sentinel to his right.

Vikirnoff stepped forward, his cold, dead eyes meeting the glittering silver ones. "I thank you for answering the call. It is good that you are here," he said, formally clasping Gregori's forearms.

Destiny realized that the gesture made both hunters vulnerable. They were face to face, reading what they would give of their minds.

"It is good to see you. Mikhail has recently learned of the continuing existence of ancients in the world and has put out the call to return and regroup if at all possible. He will be pleased to know he has two more elders. Falcon still lives." His glittering gaze moved beyond Nicolae to rest on Destiny.

She lifted her chin at him. Let him pass his judgment. She had lived a long while without family or friends. She could do so again. Although secretly, she wasn't altogether certain that was the truth. She had begun to hope and dream in spite of her determination not to fall into that trap. Her gaze lifted to Nicolae. What if this strange man with his powerful eyes could take away her lifemate?

He cannot. Nicolae didn't send her waves of warmth and reassurance. His words were simple and calm. Completely confident. The terrible rolling in her stomach subsided.

"My lifemate, Destiny." Nicolae took her hand, drew her to him, his arm sliding around her waist possessively.

Gregori bowed low, an elegant courtly gesture she recognized from watching Nicolae. "You have had a difficult time of it. It is my privilege and honor to meet a woman so courageous." His gaze shifted around the room. "My lifemate should be here. That woman is always late." If he had tried to instill impatience into the beautiful tones of his voice, he failed utterly. He sounded so loving, Nicolae smirked and Vikirnoff raised an arrogant eyebrow.

There was a tinkle of laughter, and a small, dark-haired woman shimmered into form at Gregori's side. Nicolae knew immediately that Gregori had insisted on her safety, not allowing her to appear until he had ascertained for himself that the surroundings were perfectly safe for his lifemate. It was exactly what Nicolae would have done. He was grateful to the healer for choosing to put Destiny at ease by implying his lifemate was late.

Gregori gathered the petite woman beneath his shoulder. "My lifemate, Savannah, daughter to Prince Mikhail and his lifemate, Raven. Savannah, this is Destiny, her lifemate, Nicolae, and his brother, Vikirnoff."

Savannah wrinkled her nose. "I don't think it's necessary to give my pedigree, for heaven's sake." She rubbed her palm lovingly over Gregori's strong jaw. "It's such a pleasure to meet all of you. And such a wonderful surprise to know you're in the world with us. Our race needs every single one of us."

"Thank you for making the journey," Nicolae said. "We do not know if it is possible to remove the tainted blood from our veins, but we hope that you will try."

Gregori's face was an expressionless mask, but his voice was as gentle as a breeze. "I will confess I have never run up against exactly this problem. Aidan, one of our hunters, has a lifemate who was forced to take the blood of a vampire. The undead did not completely convert her, and the amount of blood was small as he was attempting to starve her to get her to voluntarily take his blood, but Aidan was able to cleanse her. If you have been able to fight off the effects of the blood all this time, then I have to think it is possible to remove it from your system. Your soul is intact."

Destiny's breath left her lungs in a long rush of relief. She held the healer's words close to her. Her soul was intact. Turning her face up to Nicolae she simply smiled.

I love you.

His breath stilled in his lungs. His body went still.

Now? You are going to tell me now?

I think it best.

We have to work on your timing. Nicolae's arm tightened possessively.

Destiny laughed aloud, the sound spilling out of her mind and heart to fill the small cave with joy.

Velda and Inez would be disappointed with me.

He bent his dark head to hers. "I am not." He whispered the words against her lips. His kiss was loving, tender.

"Try not to notice them," Vikirnoff advised. "It is the only way. He has lost all sense and there is nothing to be done."

"I think it's great," Savannah declared, hugging Gregori closer. "We have much to tell," Vikirnoff hissed softly at Nicolae.

Nicolae finished kissing his lifemate with leisurely unconcern for his brother. He lifted his head reluctantly, his hand sliding through her hair. "Vikirnoff is a man of few words. There is news that is important for our Prince to know."

Gregori sat on the largest of the flat boulders, drew Savannah up next to him. "We would very much like to hear, and we have information in trade."

"A trap was laid for Destiny by a vampire who goes by the name of Pater. He not only had several lesser vampires with him, but they were well coordinated and aided each other. He even offered his blood to one of them."

Destiny watched Gregori's reaction very closely. He was a powerful, dangerous man, much like her lifemate. His mouth hardened perceptibly. "An unusual phenomenon."

Water trickled from the far cavern wall, the sound loud in the ensuing silence. "He wanted me to join with them," Destiny admitted in a little rush. "He recognized the stench of evil in my blood, and he called to me and asked me to join their movement."

Savannah made a soft sound of distress. "How awful for you, and so frightening."

"It was difficult to face the truth of his words. My blood is like a beacon drawing the vampires. When I hunt them, they are always aware of me."

Gregori held up an imperious hand. His silver eyes moved from Destiny to Nicolae. "This woman hunts the undead?"

Destiny laid her hand on Nicolae's chest, suddenly furious that he would have to defend her actions. Tiny red flames leapt in her eyes. "I don't need Nicolae to answer for me. I'm perfectly capable of speaking for myself."

Savannah's soft mouth twitched, and she coughed delicately into her hand.

Gregori shifted, a rippling of muscle. His eyes shifted back to Destiny's furious face. He bowed his head slightly. "Forgive me. In our society, women are guarded carefully as the treasures they are. We need every one of them and do not care to risk their lives. I did not mean to offend." There was a clear reprimand in his semi-conciliatory words.

Destiny met Savannah's laughing eyes. "You poor woman. Is he always like that? Vikirnoff has the same attitude."

"You get used to him." Savannah ignored Gregori's warning touch. "He's all bark, no bite. I'm doing my best to convince him I would make a great hunter, but so far he's unconvinced. Do you really hunt vampires?" There was genuine interest and admiration in her voice.

Gregori's strange silver eyes glittered with menace. "Savannah." He sounded very severe. He stirred, a menace of movement.

Savannah leaned into him but didn't subside. "How did you ever get started?" she asked Destiny.

The taunting half-smile directed in Gregori's direction froze on Destiny's face. She reached almost blindly for Nicolae's hand. He was there instantly, his fingers threading through hers. "Destiny was taken by a vampire as a small child. He forced her to take his blood and converted her. Fortunately, she is psychic and the conversion did not destroy her. She had no choice but to learn to hunt. It was the only way to gain her freedom." Nicolae gave the information easily, casually, as if he weren't telling a story of terrible atrocity and torture.

Savannah turned to her lifemate. His hand moved lovingly over her small face. He bowed again toward Destiny in a gesture of respect. "Few people could survive such a thing. It is an honor for me to attempt a healing on such a strong, courageous person. Your survival is a true testament to the beauty of a woman's spirit."

Destiny had expected to be shunned. She had steeled herself for it. Being accepted was unsettling. She didn't know how to respond to warmth and acceptance. She gaped at the newcomers as if they had grown new heads.

Nicolae. She sounded lost. A child seeking reassurance. The sands were shifting under her feet. Everything she had believed seemed untrue. Gregori was intimidating, but certainly less so than Nicolae could be. And Savannah was completely open and friendly.

"Thank you," she managed to stammer aloud.

"Tell me more about this vampire Pater and his coalition," Gregori suggested to Nicolae.

"I have noticed the vampires have been traveling together more, banding together in small groups. They have done so at times throughout the centuries, but never in such numbers. This is the first time I have encountered one who actually tried to recruit. He spoke of the power of numbers and how they could defeat hunters by aiding one another. He spoke to others like a commander in an army. He tried hard to get Destiny. And he is smart, this one. The poisons he used are more sophisticated than any I have seen before." Nicolae raked his fingers through his hair and met Gregori's glittering eyes. "I believe the threat to our people, and in particular to our Prince, is a serious one."

There was a small silence while Gregori pondered Nicolae's remarks. "Many of the ancients use lesser or fledgling vampires as sacrificial pawns. This is not the same thing. They are actually aiding each other and sharing blood?"

"I saw Pater offer his blood to a wounded vampire," Destiny said. "He was aggressively trying to recruit me to his side. The worst of it is, he actually made sense. They ambush their enemies and then get out fast to cut down on their losses."

Nicolae nodded. "They're using battle strategy instead of simply hitting fast and hard and emotionally. It was very unlike them." He glanced at his brother.

Vikirnoff shrugged carelessly. "Too organized. They have someone directing them; someone of power."

"A very powerful ancient. Intelligent, well versed in battle and in propaganda. He shows restraint, and the vampires he chooses to recruit and hold small bands together also show restraint," Nicolae added. "I would have to say he probably has tried this before, maybe many times over the centuries, and has learned patiently from his mistakes. He is after the death of every hunter. Then the world would be open to him."

"Patience is not something many vampires have," Gregori mused aloud. "This is unsettling news." He didn't think to question Nicolae's conclusion. Nicolae and Vikirnoff were both older and more seasoned in battle than even he.

"The poison they used was multigenerational," Nicolae said. "As the second generation mutated within the body, it was programmed to attack any healer. I have noticed for some time the use of poison as a method for capturing and defeating hunters. I know that those humans hunting all of us have used such methods, and it is my belief that this coalition of vampires uses those humans for experimenting with chemical ways to defeat us."

Gregori sighed. "Very sophisticated chemicals, it seems. I have seen vampires use the human society of hunters to further their own cause. It is not difficult for one to infiltrate their ranks."

"Pater mentioned spies, Carpathians perhaps, working with him," Destiny said. "At least he implied it."

"No Carpathian would do such a thing." Savannah sounded shocked at the idea. "They would have had to turn vampire."

"Well, you'd smell a vampire a mile away," Destiny said.

"Not necessarily," Gregori said. "Many are able to shadow themselves, projecting an image even to those of us who know them. Every Carpathian has power in varying degrees. What one does, perhaps another cannot. It is so with vampires."

"I can always smell a vampire," Destiny asserted. "And they can always scent me. Blood calls to blood." She ran her hand down Nicolae's arm. "I was so upset when Nicolae took my blood and infected himself. As a hunter, he will no longer be able to surprise them. They will know he is coming for them."

Gregori's silver eyes turned thoughtful. "You are saying that no matter what the circumstances, no matter how powerful the vampire, you always know when one is close by? You do not need the sudden surge of power or the blank void they often leave behind in their wake to detect their presence?"

Destiny thought back over her vampire hunting. "I use the surge of power and also the blank spots as a guide. I use everything I can to find them, and once in a while I find a vampire that is elusive to me, but most of the time I know them simply by the stench of their blood."

"The elusive vampire is more powerful than the others?"

Destiny shook her head. "Not necessarily. Sometimes he is a fledgling and other times a master. It is rare for my blood not to recognize theirs."

Above her head, Nicolae and Gregori exchanged a long, thoughtful look.

"No." Vikirnoff said the word softly, explosively. "What you are thinking is an abomination of all we believe in. Our women must be protected at all times. Both of you have lifemates. You have seen what the tainted blood does. Destiny has been in agony, suffering tremendous pain, both physical and psychological. All of our women are needed for a higher purpose than war. They must bring children into the world."

Savannah caught Gregori's arm. "You wouldn't dare. Not even for the life of my father would I allow such a thing."

"Certainly not a woman, and, no, Nicolae, I know what you are thinking, but Vikirnoff is right, we cannot risk a mated pair. Mikhail must hear of this firsthand. I must return to our homeland as soon as your healing is complete."

"There is more." Nicolae produced the photograph of the mysterious woman. "A vampire entered the office of a human friend of ours, Mary Ann Delaney, who helps battered women. He was searching for this woman in the photograph. He buried a compulsion in Mary Ann's mind to call him if she spotted the woman. There are a couple of interesting facts. Mary Ann herself is psychic. She is able to be converted should she have a lifemate among us, yet this vampire didn't attempt to seize her for himself. I have always assumed vampires searched for women with psychic abilities in the hope of finding a mate to return their soul to them. It is evidently not the case in this instance. They must be looking for something we have yet to figure out, or why would they ignore the psychic women in this area? With the exception of this one woman."

Gregori continued to study Nicolae's dark features before he took the photograph. His restless gaze noted the way Vikirnoff seemed riveted to the picture. "I have not seen this woman, have you, Savannah?"

She studied the face carefully. "No, but her eyes are so haunted. We must find her, Gregori. She can't be left to the vampires."

"Vikirnoff has agreed to look for her," Nicolae assured them. "This is the business card and number the vampire gave to Mary Ann." He passed the small card to Gregori. "She has no memory of his appearance, so I do not know if he is familiar to me or not."

"It wasn't Pater," Destiny said. "The stench was there, but not his."

"Morrison Center for Psychic Research," Gregori read aloud.

"Yet he had no interest in Mary Ann's ability. And there is another in the neighborhood, an older woman who also exhibits talent. I could not detect any interest in her by any of the vampires."

"I have heard the name Morrison on more than one occasion," Gregori said heavily. "The first time was in northern California. Coincidentally, it was also a time I was injected with a poison developed to defeat us. At that time I learned this Morrison mingled with human society, was adept at raising funds and mixed in the scientific world. I nearly met him again in New Orleans."

Savannah twisted around to look up at her life-mate. "You didn't tell me that."

"It was unnecessary. The name was attached to the laboratory where the human hunters were attempting to interrogate an innocent human woman. It is where I met Gary, Savannah. This name came up again just recently. Dayan's lifemate was married to a young man of talent who went to this agency, Morrison Center for Psychic Research, to be tested. He was murdered, and an attempt was made to acquire Dayan's lifemate, who was quite ill. We have just come from her bedside where she gave birth to a female child of extraordinary talent."

"Perhaps we should send word to guard the child," Savannah said, frowning. "If Destiny was taken, it is possible this vampire thinks to strike at children."

"Guarding the child would be a good idea, although I think this Morrison is looking for a particular talent. This is no child," Nicolae said, waving the photograph in the air. "She is a woman who is strong and knows she is being pursued."

Vikirnoff reached out and rescued the photograph from his brother, slipping it inside his shirt almost protectively.

Nicolae ignored the gesture. "There are three women with psychic talent in this area. There is also a priest who has knowledge of our people."

Gregori's breath hissed between his teeth. "Tell me of this man."

"Some years ago, a priest in Romania - "

"Father Hummer." Gregori snapped the name, his strong white teeth coming together in a bite. "Mikhail's friend. He was captured by vampire hunters and later killed by a vampire. Mikhail was the target."

"He evidently corresponded with a cardinal, asking theological questions, seeking aid in his search. The cardinal burned his letters with the exception of one. Father Mulligan found the letter upon the cardinal's death. He has since burned it, recognizing the danger to our species, but he retains the knowledge."

Gregori rubbed his dark eyebrows. "I fear trouble is brewing for our people. We must get to our homeland." He looked directly at Vikirnoff as if measuring him. "If this woman is important enough for a vampire to risk revealing himself, it is just as important to our people to find her. I will put out the word, but I will tell our Prince it is in your hands."

Vikirnoff bowed slightly. "I will find her. I give you my word of honor I will not choose the dawn until I see to her safety."

"It could take years."

"I have Nicolae and Destiny to guide me through dark times. They share their laughter with me, and their hope. I will survive."

Gregori inclined his head. "So it will be. We must think about this tainted blood of yours, Destiny. You said you would have recognized the stench of Pater's blood. You are able to detect a difference in each vampire's blood?"

Destiny nodded. "Yes. If I've met them before, I always recognize them and I know they recognize me. That makes it more difficult if I miss the first time when I'm hunting. But it gives me some advantage if they don't know I'm a hunter, because they identify me as one of the undead."

"This would be a great tool," Gregori mused aloud, "but dangerous for anyone without an anchor. And far too dangerous for anyone with a lifemate."

"You don't even know if you can rid our blood of the infections," Nicolae pointed out. "Perhaps you will know more once you have looked. It is much like an acid and contaminates everything it touches. In one wholly evil, it apparently has no harmful effects, but to one of the light, it is painful and dangerous."

Destiny looked at him quickly, anxiously. "You're beginning to feel the effects, aren't you? Please heal him first if you can, Gregori. I'm used to the feeling, and it doesn't really bother me. Nicolae should never have done such a thing."

"I would have done exactly the same thing," Gregori said. Destiny studied his face. "No, you wouldn't have." Savannah laughed softly. "Oh, yes, he would."

"If Savannah were infected, I would never hesitate. We are bound, two halves of the same whole. I would not have thought twice," Gregori said decisively. "Are you feeling the effects, Nicolae?"

Nicolae nodded. "I have examined my internal body, and the lesions are already forming in great numbers. The toxins are multiplying at a far faster rate than in Destiny's body. I carry a seed of darkness, even with Destiny as my anchor, and the toxins sense it and feed as if in a frenzy."

Destiny turned on him, her expression fiercely protective. "There is no darkness in you. You're so silly, Nicolae. You don't know yourself at all. I've seen darkness, I've seen monsters. You do not carry even a tiny germ of such evil."

His arms immediately surrounded her, held her trembling body safe. "We are not all made up of one trait, little one," he soothed softly. "I know it is hard to think I could have more than one side, but darkness can be many things, including strength. It does not have to be used for evil. One's very flaws can be utilized for good."

"This is quite interesting. Aidan's lifemate, Alexandria, endured a particularly difficult conversion, but he did not report lesions and these things you speak of. We may as well get started," Gregori decided. "I want to know what I am dealing with. I expect this will take much time and energy, so I will heal Nicolae first."

"Absolutely not." Nicolae was resolute.

"Hear me out," Gregori suggested mildly. "Your instinct is to ensure Destiny's health first, but that is not the wisest choice. She has carried the vampire's blood, and indeed was converted by it. Her healing will be much more difficult. I will need much blood to accomplish such a feat. There are only Vikirnoff and Savannah to supply me as my energy wanes. I will have need of you. The surges of power will certainly tip off every vampire in the area to our exact location. There is only Vikirnoff to hold them off. This will be no small struggle, and I will need your strength."

Destiny curled her fingers through Nicolae's, brought his hand to her mouth. Her teeth nibbled nervously on his knuckles. She had spent so little time with other people. Her instincts told her Gregori was powerful. There was a slight chance he could heal them. Deep inside, where it counted, where she would admit things she couldn't face, she knew Nicolae spoke the truth about the darkness in him. She recognized it. It was very strong in Vikirnoff, and it was strong in Gregori. She had learned, from her experience with Nicolae, to discern the difference between the hunters carrying the darkness and the actual taint of the vampire's blood.

But it was there. It was present. She was surrounded by it, and it made her nervous. It also called to the darkness in her blood. She was hot and restless, having to work at controlling her body's temperature. Only her love for Nicolae kept her in the small confines of the cave. If she went along with this, she would be totally vulnerable. Nicolae would be under a stranger's control.

I am an ancient, Destiny. Vikirnoff remains to see to our safety, even though he feels a need to begin his hunt. There is little that can be done to harm me without my knowledge. I will be able to break away from Gregori should there be need. But it is up to you. If you do not want to do this thing, we will not.

She heard the utter sincerity in his voice. It was that simple for him. If she were uncomfortable and chose not to allow the healer to perform, he would calmly go along with her decision.

"You're crazy, you know that?" She gave an exaggerated sigh as she shoved him toward Gregori. Her heart was pounding like crazy, but she would not allow him to suffer because she was a coward.

"In case you are wondering what that meant," Nicolae explained to the others, "Destiny is showing me her affection and complete devotion."

"It sounds familiar to me," Savannah laughed. "Don't worry, Destiny, he's in good hands. Gregori goes around looking intimidating and mean because in the old country the mothers scared their children by telling them stories of the dark one. He liked the image and cultivated it."

Gregori flexed his broad shoulders, and muscles rippled impressively across his body. His expression didn't change. "It always helps when I wish to intimidate Savannah's father."

"The Prince?" Destiny asked.

"Why are you listening to him?" Savannah demanded. "As if my father would ever be intimidated by him. They're best friends, Destiny. He's teasing you."

Destiny looked skeptical. Gregori didn't intimidate her nearly as much as Vikirnoff, but only because of Savannah. The way Gregori looked at the petite woman negated every vestige of menace in his eyes. Vikirnoff was without emotion, simply watching all of them with his flat, cold stare. It was only his intense loyalty to Nicolae that kept him there, that allowed him to take Destiny under his protection.

Vikirnoff is no different from me before I found you. He must hold on until he finds his lifemate. Just hurry and do this, Nicolae, before you find out I'm not nearly as courageous as you think I am.

Nicolae framed her face with his hands, ignoring the others. "Stay right here while Gregori is working on me."

She looked into his dark, intense eyes. "I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Someone has to watch over you."

He closed the scant inches between them, claiming her mouth, storming his way straight to her heart. She kissed him back hungrily, a little desperately, afraid for him. Nicolae held her close while her heart beat frantically against his.

"Hurry, Nicolae, before I change my mind." It was a soft whispered plea.

Gregori opened the earth, searching for a bed of deep soil. Nicolae seated himself in the lush richness, drawing Destiny down beside him, his hand firmly enveloping hers. She found herself clinging to his strength, her mind remaining firmly merged with his. Her body was trembling. There was so much riding on this - their entire future.

No, there is not, Destiny. Our future is secure together whether Gregori succeeds or not. The difference is whether we will be able to bring children into the world.

Children? There you go again, bringing up that subject out of the blue. In all the times we were making love, you never once mentioned children.

I thought it best not to.

Her Nicolae. Understanding her. Going along with her teasing because he knew she joked when she was afraid.

And then she felt him. A power like no other she'd ever experienced. Gregori. The dark one. Healer of the Carpathian people. His spirit was immensely strong, a hot white light moving through Nicolae without preamble. She felt Nicolae's insides burning hot, but not painfully so. The healer examined him thoroughly. She knew Gregori was aware of her presence, but he paid strict attention to Nicolae's body.

Destiny had no idea of time passing. She too was studying the effects of the vampire blood on Nicolae. His body had the blood of the ancients and it was fighting valiantly, but she could see the damage that had already been done. She didn't make the mistake of gasping with her physical body, but she was appalled at the destruction.

Nicolae had calmly endured it. And he meant to continue to do so should Gregori be unable to rid his body of the hideous toxins. Her respect and love for him grew to new proportions. She emerged at the same time as the healer withdrew.

Gregori let his breath out slowly. "Nasty stuff, vampire blood." Savannah rubbed his neck soothingly. "It moved away from you."

"Yes, I suspect it has some knowledge I have come, to remove it. The fear is a good thing. If it is afraid and moving from my presence, I should be able to find a way to remove it from Nicolae's body."

"Can you help him?" Destiny asked anxiously.

Nicolae noted immediately that she hadn't said "us." He tightened his fingers around hers. "I cannot turn vampire, Destiny," he assured her quietly. "I have you as my anchor."

Gregori shook his head. "It is puzzling how such a minute amount of vampire blood could infect you so quickly. You have lesions everywhere; they are spreading across every organ. Alexandria did not have such a thing or Aidan would have told me. He described to me his healing of her in detail but there was none of this."

"Destiny has whole colonies of them," Nicolae said.

Gregori frowned. "Savannah, we will need candles, and the bag we brought with us from New Orleans. We did not need it for Dayan's lifemate, but I fear we will need all of it here."

Savannah nodded. "It's lucky we didn't use it." She produced a large satchel and tossed it to her lifemate.

Nicolae inhaled the contents of the satchel deeply. Vikirnoff followed suit. Destiny was startled by their reaction. She took an exploratory sniff. The scent was of earth. Clean, fresh dirt. It smelled different from any she had ever encountered. She looked at Nicolae. There was something close to rapture on his face.

"What is it?" she asked curiously.

"Soil from our homeland," Nicolae answered, awe in his voice. "How did you come to have such a gift?" he asked Savannah.

"Julian Savage, one of our people, had it brought many years ago to New Orleans. He stored it in a hidden chamber and left it for us when we became lifemates," she explained. "It was a shocking but very welcome surprise."

Destiny could sense Nicolae's eagerness to put to use the treasure the healer had brought.

"We took some of the soil with us, thinking we might need it to aid Dayan and his lifemate when she was so ill, but it was not needed. We kept it for just such an emergency as this." Gregori smiled down at his lifemate. "It was Savannah's suggestion that we bring it along."

Destiny looked into the dark bag, saw the deep richness and felt her palms itch. Nicolae plunged his hands into the soil and closed his eyes.

Vikirnoff. You must feel this. I feel it all the way to my bones. A welcoming such as I have not had in centuries. Our homeland is in this small bag.

Vikirnoff reached into the bag slowly. His hands tunneled deep into the rich soil.

I am sharing your mind, Nicolae. This will sustain me as nothing else could. I feel a sense of peace for the first time in so long. Thank you for allowing me this experience.

Destiny was sharing it with the two brothers. She sensed the intensity of Nicolae's feelings for his brother and realized that the only way Vikirnoff could feel that love was through Nicolae's emotions.

Emotions you returned to him, Vikirnoff reminded them. Returned to us, Nicolae corrected.
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