Dark Legend (Page 16)

It was well past midnight and the lights of the city were soft and muted by the layers of fog hanging in the night sky. Gabriel stood on the balcony looking not at the city but at the young girl asleep inside the adjoining room. She looked far too small for her large bed, a slight figure clutching a stuffed animal beneath the intricate quilt Francesca had made. His heart went out to the teenager. She looked so vulnerable and childlike in her sleep. She still was not completely safe. She was a rare gift to his people and she would be much sought after. It was a precious treasure he was guarding and the weight of the responsibility was tremendous. In her slender body and gifted mind, she might carry the life or death of one of their Carpathian males.

With a wave of his hand he closed the door firmly and the locks slid into place. His hands moved gracefully, weaving intricate safeguards at every entrance to the room. Skyler would be safe from all but Lucian. Gabriel did not fool himself into thinking his twin would be unable to get past what he had wrought. Lesser vampires would be hurt, trapped, and probably held until the dawn could bring them justice, but not Lucian. In two thousand years no trap had ever successfully held him and there was no safeguard that he could not unravel.

Gabriel rested his palms on the wrought-iron railing and stared down at the greenery below him. The garden was beautiful, colors exploding even in the night air. He found himself smiling. Francesca. She had a way of making everything she touched alive with beauty. Of course she would choose flowers that could bloom at night. She would want things pleasing and soothing in her house and in her garden, no matter what the time of day or night. It mattered to her that others were comfortable, were surrounded by beauty.

He filled his mind with thoughts of her, and of course she filled his heart instantly. She always put others before herself, before her own needs. She had tried to be so tough with him, but from the moment Francesca had entered his life, she had been the one continuously giving. She soothed those around her with her spirit alone. She didn't have to do anything other than simply be who she was, yet she did so much more. Even now, she was allowing him to go, knowing he might not return to her, selflessly giving him to the world when she wanted him so desperately beside her. She was with child. His child. If he were to die this night, she had promised to continue without him even though the separation would be agony for her.

His body ached for her even though he had just spent hours with her, precious, wonderful hours that had given him so much more than he had ever thought possible. His heart and soul ached for her. This house was his home. These people were his family. But out in the night, creatures were stalking the innocent and he had no choice but to stop them.

Gabriel watched the heavy fog moving through the city. It was not a natural fog, but one created to allow the undead to move unseen by their prey. He lifted his face to the shadow of the moon and drank in the beauty of it. He was a hunter of the night. A natural predator. He leaped easily onto the railing and spread his arms wide, embracing the air as he stepped into space.

At once his body shimmered, becoming transparent so that the heavy fog could be seen right through him. He seemed to dissolve into millions of droplets; which streamed through the sky, weaving in and out of the dark clouds and the heavy fog. He flew out over the city, scanning as he went, looking for “dead” spaces that might indicate where the enemy was hiding. The small group of vampires that had banded together in the city were hunting for victims, for live prey to be used and discarded.

Gabriel was determined to rid the city of the undead this night, and he wanted to find Brice. He knew Brice's fate weighed heavily on Francesca's conscience and he was determined that he would put things right. He freely admitted he had little use for the man, but Francesca felt affection for the doctor and the things he had done lately had been committed under the influence of a vampire. Perhaps even Lucian, although Gabriel doubted it. He would never have sent Brice to the house to take Skyler from them and then aid Gabriel in sending him away. There was no point in such a move.

.

A few nightspots were teaming with life, the perfect hunting grounds for the vampires. They would find prey to their liking, young men and women they could manipulate into all kinds of deviant behavior just for the perverse pleasure of making them squirm before giving them death.

He moved through the city in silence, scanning for the undead even as he searched for a hint of Brice. Twice he moved over the hospital, knowing Brice often spent long hours there, but, instead, he found him in the cemetery, drawn, no doubt, by his connection to the unclean nosferatu.

Gabriel stayed high in the fog, carefully examining the area for one of the undead. Brice was shuffling over the uneven ground, stumbling like a drunken man, muttering to himself, and constantly batting at his body as if he still felt the crawling of bugs over his skin.

Gabriel had withdrawn that illusion as soon as Brice was off the property, but one of the vampires controlling the doctor must have picked the memory out of his head and used it to punish his failure to obtain Skyler. Gabriel felt the malevolent presence of one of the vampires. Not an ancient, more likely one recently turned, running with a pack to learn as much as he could as fast as he could. They thought they were banding together for protection against the hunters, but more often than not, the ancient vampires used the lesser ones as pawns, to be sacrificed.

Had Lucian joined this group? The question nagged at Gabriel. He shook the thought away. It was much more likely that Lucian would control those around him from a distance so that they would never know what was happening to them. Gabriel had seen him do it often enough. His voice alone was one of the most powerful weapons Gabriel had ever encountered. Lucian had never allowed anyone else to intrude on their battles, he had disposed of other vampires in the areas where Gabriel had chased him. He never left evidence any other hunter would recognize. Lucian was not messy about his kills.

Gabriel streamed to earth, the tiny droplets coming together just out of sight of Brice. For a moment the large frame shimmered and sparkled like crystal before it solidified. Then Gabriel was striding through the cemetery to cut Brice off before he could make his way to the caverns where the vampire waited.

Gabriel could feel the compulsion the undead was using to call his victim to him. Brice was muttering to himself, his clothes disheveled and dirty. There were long scratches on his skin where he had attempted to dislodge the illusory bugs crawling on him. Gabriel tried to feel sorry for the doctor because he knew Francesca would be so horrified. But Brice had opened himself up to the vampire's compulsion through his own jealousy, and Gabriel could not forgive him for aiding the undead in his attempt to ensnare Francesca and Skyler.

Brice kept his head down as he hobbled determinedly forward. He didn't seem to notice Gabriel standing solidly in his way. Gabriel waved his hand to put up a block, one invisible to the eye, but strong enough to interrupt the compulsion in the air. Brice's blood had obviously been tainted by the vampire, so he continued to shuffle his feet although he was unable to move beyond the boundary Gabriel set for him.

The doctor's eyes were dilated, fixed, and staring. He was far gone under the spell. Gabriel entered his mind to counteract the compulsion and give the human some relief. Brice's face went slack and his muscles relaxed so that he stopped attempting to move toward his destination.

..

Gabriel very gently eased him into a sitting position and Brice complied like a lost child.

From somewhere close, Gabriel heard a shriek of rage. Vampires didn't like interference with their chosen victims. The puppet master was not going to let Brice go so easily. Gabriel smiled and turned his face up to the sky. The clouds were darkening to an angry black above his head, and small veins of lightning leaped from cloud to cloud. He shook his head slightly, and as the electrical charge began to build where he stood, he raised his hand and swept it in a small semicircle.

Anyone watching would hardly have noticed the gesture, but the lightning in the clouds reacted immediately, slamming to earth just beyond the gently rolling hill, out of sight. The clap of thunder was deafening, as was the bang as the bolts scorched earth and shattered gravestones. A scream of hate and vengeance rose with the whirling wind. The trees began to shake under the onslaught, first twigs and then branches shaking loose to hurtle through the sky toward Gabriel.

He blew softly into his palms and stood tall and straight, unconcerned as debris rained down around him. Brice sat at his knees, unknowing, uncaring of the danger. There was no warning as the wind suddenly reversed itself. The sky rained leaves and dirt and branches over the small hill. Gabriel leaped into the air with the largest branch, camouflaged by its bulk.

He was on the vampire before it had time to realize it was in deadly peril. Gabriel blasted out of the sky like a missile straight at the gaunt figure standing on the charred grass. Around him were broken headstones, shattered by the lightning bolts and the branches and wicked wind. The vampire stood frozen, trying to decide his next move even as he attempted to protect himself from the flying objects coming at his body, Gabriel came in behind the branch, hitting the vampire so hard, the blow drove the creature backward with Gabriel's fist embedded deep in his chest cavity. He gripped the blackened, pulsing heart and extracted the thing, separating the organ from the body. Even as he did so, he leaped away to minimize his contact with the tainted blood.

The vampire's shriek of despair echoed through the cemetery so that the bats rose up into the air in great clouds. The undead simply folded in half and sank in a heap to the bloodstained ground, flopping, dragging its body toward Gabriel, toward the dark, ugly thing he tossed upon a rock just out of the vampire's reaching claw. Almost without conscious thought, Gabriel built the charge of electricity and directed it at the horrible organ straining to return to its body. The thin white-hot lash incinerated the heart and leaped to the body of the undead, reducing it to ashes. At once Gabriel bathed his hands in the heat, removing every trace of tainted blood before checking that the ground was clean of all infection. The vampire couldn't have turned very many years earlier; he'd been unskilled and slow. He couldn't have been the one to put Brice under such a well-hidden compulsion. The darkness in the doctor ran deep, it tainted his blood and was eating up his will and rotting him from the inside out. He wasn't a ghoul, feasting on the flesh of human dead and living for the vampire's blood, but the one controlling him was a powerful being.

Gabriel couldn't see Lucian's hand in Brice's corruption. Lucian would consider it beneath him to do such a thing. He might harm Brice, or kill him outright, but he wouldn't use the man to entrap Skyler and ultimately Francesca. He would not need to stoop to such a thing. Lucian was a true genius. He possessed a powerful brain that constantly thirsted for knowledge. Lucian needed difficulties for his mind to work on. Intellectual challenge was what kept him from going completely mad.

Gabriel shook his head, exasperated with himself. Lucian had gone mad; he had chosen to lose his soul many centuries ago. If Gabriel was going to protect his family, he could no longer think of Lucian as being part of him.

Francesca was his heart and soul now. He couldn't take the chance of Lucian harming her. Gabriel made his way back to Brice. He needed to take the man back to the house and put him under a strong safeguard to prevent the vampire from harming him further. Brice was so far gone, Gabriel wasn't certain the doctor could be helped. Obviously the vampire had been working on Brice subtly for a long while.

The doctor was huddled in a ball on the ground, oblivious to his surroundings, deep within Gabriel's spell. Gabriel knew no one but Lucian could break through the safeguard keeping Brice's mind intact. It was a gamble bringing Brice into Francesca's home. They would have to take him to the underground chamber so Skyler would not be frightened by the sight of the doctor. And if he couldn't be healed, it would be up to Gabriel to show him mercy; it was not something he thought Francesca would thank him for.

Gabriel lifted the man as if he were no more than a child. Under the strong hypnotic trance Gabriel had put him in, Brice was completely trusting. He lay passive as Gabriel took to the air with him. The cloud cover was heavy enough to prevent prying eyes from seeing more than a blur moving fast through the night sky.

Francesca was waiting on the balcony for him, an anxious look on her usually serene face. Gabriel hadn't attempted to keep the extent of the damage from her and she knew if she were to save Brice's sanity, they would have to work fast. “Thank you for trying, Gabriel,” she whispered softly, her voice a velvet caress. Her eyes moved over him carefully, searching for any injury he might have sustained.

At once he felt that curious melting sensation he was becoming familiar with. She was worried about him, checking to be sure he was fine even when he was bringing her a human friend whose mind had been damaged by the undead. Francesca thought of him first, and her concern meant everything to him. “I have directed Santino and Drusilla away from the kitchen so that we can take him safely down to the chamber. Skyler is asleep in her room. See to it that she stays there.” His voice was a little bit gruff, made husky by emotion he couldn't control. She was so beautiful standing there in the night, tall and slender with her long hair in a thick braid and love shining in her eyes.

Gabriel reached out to run his fingertip tenderly down her face. “I think there is a chance that he can be healed, Francesca, but it will be difficult. The poison is already well advanced in his system.”

“Can the vampire reach him in our home?” She was worried about young Skyler. The girl had suffered enough at the hands of a human monster; she didn't need to witness what the undead was capable of doing.

“Unless the one using him is Lucian, there is no way he can penetrate the safeguards I have wrought. I do not believe this is Lucian's work. But it must be an ancient to have deceived both of us as he did. He must have taken Brice's blood some time ago. Brice is using drugs to counteract the pain in his head, but he does not understand what is happening to him. He thinks only what the vampire wishes him to think. He is a puppet now with none of his own thoughts. I warn you, Francesca, the damage is substantial. He may never be the same again.”

“I will try,” Francesca vowed as she followed him down the stairs through the kitchen and below the earth where the first chamber lay.

Gabriel placed Brice on the bed and turned to help his lifemate fill the room with the pungent odor of healing herbs. At once a frown replaced the slack expression on the doctor's face and he moved restlessly. Gabriel took Francesca's hand in his, brought her knuckles to the warmth of his mouth. “You know I must go back out and find this evil one. Without his death, Brice is lost no matter what we do. The vampire knows we have Brice and he is angrier than ever. We cannot keep the man a prisoner down here forever.”

Francesca turned her face away from Gabriel in an attempt to hide her expression from him. He was going back out to hunt. They both knew he had to do it, but she didn't have to like the idea. Gabriel's arm encircled her slender shoulders and pulled her into the shelter of his body. “I am not going to allow any vampire to defeat me, my love, when I have so much at stake. I will remove the threat to Brice's sanity. Then we will see what can be done to heal him.”

Reluctantly he released her, his hands lingering for a moment in the wealth of her hair, crushing the thick braid in his fist. He knew she was afraid for him, but he was pleased that she refused to voice her fears, rather gave him a tentative smile to send him off.

“Do not attempt to heal this one until I return. His blood is tainted with the vampire's blood. You cannot walk in his mind alone and unaided. Should I not return, you must get another healer to aid you before you make your attempt. Promise me, Francesca. It would be far too dangerous for you to go in without additional strength. Remember always, you carry our life within your body.”

She gave him a quick look of reprimand from under the long sweep of her lashes. “It is not necessary to remind me of either fact. I do not care to dwell on the possibility that you might not return. And I have never, for one moment, forgotten I carry our child. She is a miracle to me. I would never risk the baby, not even for Brice. You will return to me this night. I will expect you very soon without a mark on your body. Now go and do what you were born for.” She leaned into him, resting her body all too briefly against his, savoring the feel of him. Strong. Masculine. Powerful.

She had never expected to love him so much. And she had never expected to feel so loved. Gabriel wasn't shy about showing her his emotions. He hungered for her with an intensity she had never dreamed of. Not simply her body, but her company, her heart and soul. He liked to be in her mind, sharing her laughter, the way she looked at life. The way she lived. He had such pride in her, such a deep belief in her.

“Gabriel.” She breathed his name, her body soft and pliant, molding itself to his. “Hurry back to me.” She had no thought of seduction – the last thing on her mind was making love – yet she felt a terrible need for him.

Gabriel filled her mind with love and warmth as he held her to him; then he was striding away, back through the tunnel to the upper stories. By the time he had reached the kitchen, he was invisible, moving fast, a cold blast of air.

This time Gabriel streamed under the door out into the garden, taking to the sky immediately. He had destroyed a minion of the vampire, had taken one of his puppets from him. The vampire would be in a rage and easy to locate. Already Gabriel could feel the disturbing vibrations in the air. They flowed through the sky, leading him like an arrow toward the vampire.

“You go to this one's lair like an amateur. He has set a trap for you, hunter.”

Gabriel continued moving. Lucian sounded far too close for comfort. If he took a hand in the battle, there was no way to know which side he would come down on.

“Do you suggest another approach?”

Gabriel replied.

“Back off. You know better than to go into battle when the enemy is waiting for you. “

The voice was as soft and gentle as always, with no hint of a reprimand. Gabriel found himself smiling. Lucian's presence was so familiar to him, so much a part of him.

“I thank you for your advice, ancient one.”

The old taunt was a reminder that Lucian was older by a few minutes. Gabriel was unswerving on his path, but more alert now. He had no fear of the upcoming battle with the vampire, but his twin was a different matter, “You are not heeding my advice.” “This one is not as powerful as those we have faced in the past.” “This one is an ancient.”

Gabriel withdrew from the merge, his mind turning over the possibilities. What was Lucian up to? He shifted his course, turning in a circle to approach from a different direction, scanning below him as he went. He was over a river, where a vast bridge covered the water. Two tubes ran along the embankment, emptying their contents into the river. The tubes were quite large and surrounded by masses of reeds. He could feel the presence of the vampire. There was a dark, malevolent feeling in the air, heavy and oppressive.

Gabriel was very familiar with the foul stench of the undead. It clogged the air as nothing else could. They were masters of illusion, presenting themselves to their human prey as handsome or beautiful, but in reality they were gaunt and gray, with receding gums and sharp, stained teeth. Gabriel felt their presence like a blow deep in his gut; he abhorred the subversion of superior gifts and talents meant to be used for good.

Below him the region looked stable, but the wind told him different. The vampire was waiting, lurking in the shadows, unseen, bloated with his own power, enraged. The scent of blood reached Gabriel just before the soft choked cry that signaled a kill. The wind carried the tale, the fear and adrenaline in the blood of the victim that would give the vampire a rush, make him even more powerful.

The vampire had known he was coming, had baited the trap and waited like a spider in the midst of his web. He had human prey, kept alive and terrorized, so that adrenaline would flood the bloodstream. The rush was addicting to the undead. They believed it made them stronger and much more difficult to kill. Gabriel couldn't spot the exact location of the vampire; there was more than one suspicious “dead” spot in the air.

He took a pass over the area before settling to earth. At once the ground shifted slightly and his feet sank into a black mire. It sucked at his shoes, the grip astonishingly strong as if the bog actually wanted to drag him under. Something moved toward him beneath the surface, fast, serpentine, large, raising the reed-choked mud. Gabriel dissolved quickly into droplets of mist, merging with the heavy fog. At once a ferocious wind began to blow, striking at the molecules hidden in the fog in an attempt to scatter them and stop Gabriel from bringing his body together. A foul dark shape hurtled through the fog bank directly at the droplets.

The shape hit a barrier before it could reach Gabriel's bodyless form. It fell from the sky into the bog even as Gabriel rose sharply to avoid the dark mass. The monster hidden in the mud attacked at once, dragging at the struggling form while Gabriel shape-shifted above the scene. He hadn't thought it necessary to throw up a barrier, so he supposed his twin had once again joined the battle, inserting his body between Gabriel and the vampire. Yet Gabriel could not detect his presence. That was Lucian's skill. He could go undetected while others could not. The wind would not whisper of his presence or give him away to any seeking him.

The vampire howled in anger and pain, hurling from him the wormlike creature he'd created. He extricated himself from the mud, whirling this way and that in an attempt to locate Gabriel. Gabriel dropped from the sky, one razor-sharp talon ripping across the vampire's throat. The creature screamed in rage and at once lightning arced in the clouds and the air boiled with dark malevolence.

They struck from all sides, dark-winged gargoyles ripping at Gabriel, clawing and biting at him, landing on his head and shoulders, weighing him down in an attempt to drive him to earth and the black mire. Calmly Gabriel dissolved beneath them, streaming into the rank air toward the vampire. He shifted into his form just as he made a thrust at the vampire's chest, his feet inches above the ground.

His fist penetrated the chest wall, but the vampire was already moving away from him, his voice a jarring cacophony of sound so hideous and discordant, it hurt Gabriel's ears. To protect himself, Gabriel immediately muted the sound and turned it back on the vampire. His hand was burning with the poisonous blood coating it. He had to keep moving to avoid the gargoyles. There was no standing in one place with the creatures constantly circling and darting at him. They raked at his skin and eyes, clawing and biting to aid their master.

Gabriel was patient. The vampire had two major wounds, draining him of his strength. In the muck and mire, with blood seeping below the ground, the worm creature was becoming difficult for the vampire to control. It was in a frenzy, snapping and biting at its creator, looking for flesh and blood. Gabriel had closed himself off to pain and fatigue. His entire being was focused on the battle.

As he prepared to launch another attack on the vampire, lightning erupted unexpectedly from the sky above. Gabriel hadn't felt the surge of power, so he was as surprised as the vampire when the lash of white-hot energy whipped across the sky, a jagged streak that cleared the air instantly of the malevolent gargoyles. They fell to the muck, scorched and seared, incinerated by the blast of energy. At once the worm creature rose up to consume them. Another bolt came out of the clouds, missed the vampire by scant inches, and reduced the worm to ashes.

The stench was incredible. Gabriel struck while the vampire was reeling from the shock of the lash of lightning. He blurred his image and moved with preternatural speed, slamming into the vampire, driving hard with his fist into the same wound, this time reaching the blackened, withered organ he was seeking.

As he began to extract the heart, he felt the warning in his mind, and shifted his body weight. Something hit him hard in his side, penetrating his rib cage, breaking bones as it went. The pain was excruciating; it drove the breath from his body. At once the entire sky lit up, as if the world were going up in flames. In the air was a feeling of dark foreboding. Gabriel had never felt anything like it. The dark sky went red and orange with flames storming across the black clouds. A network of white-blue veins sizzled and danced in the roiling clouds. All around, the ground seemed to explode as bolt after bolt of lightning hit the earth.

Gabriel calmly extracted the heart and tossed it into the fiery conflagration, turning as he did so to meet the threat behind him. The ancient undead had revealed himself, believing Gabriel to be occupied with his partner. The vampire was thin and gray, his skin shrunken over his bones. His hair was white and gray, a long tangle of frost. His eyes glowed red hot, a feral cunning in them. He backed away from Gabriel, his gaze darting from side to side, looking for a way out. He didn't understand the intensity of the storm raging around them. He didn't recognize the hunter confronting him. He had lived by knowing how to avoid confrontation with the hunters, by studying his enemies and picking his moments to fight.

There was a voice whispering in his head. At first he couldn't hear the words over the explosions slamming all around him. He watched the hunter back slowly away from him. The voice was pure and beautiful, moving through his mind almost gently. It was painful to hear that voice, to listen to the tone. It had been long since the vampire had listened to such purity, and his body cringed away from the sound.

The voice was the brush of black velvet, a soft whisper of death. The vampire didn't take his eyes from the hunter now, believing he would attempt to deliver the killing blow momentarily. He was ready for it. He had tricks, illusions, so much power. He was fresh, without real injury, while the hunter had been weakened battling his lesser servants. The undead knew he had scored a terrible blow to the hunter and the creatures had drained precious blood from him, yet the hunter stood tall and straight with the black eyes of death.

Was that his voice whispering in his head? Where was it coming from? No Carpathian male had ever exchanged blood with him. He had no connection with anyone, yet he could hear that soft whisper calling him to his death. The words were clearer now. They spoke so gently of death. Of hopelessness. There was no hope. This hunter would take his life. He would die this night after surviving where others could not. “Who are you?” The vampire shrieked.

“Death,” the beautiful voice whispered.

“I am Gabriel,” Gabriel replied. He was leery of the firestorm raging in the skies, his every sense flaring out to locate the one initiating the blasts. Their creator was definitely one of much skill and power.

Lucian.

There was no spillage, nothing to tell where the power came from, it simply surrounded Gabriel and the vampire, a force of great destruction.

The vampire snarled, his sharp teeth stained from years of tainted blood. “You think to defeat me with clever tricks. No hunter has defeated me in centuries, but you, an unknown, presume to challenge me.”

All at once Gabriel was weary. He had played out this same scene on so many battlefields, in so many countries, in so many centuries. It was always the same. The vampire was attempting to use his voice to weaken Gabriel's confidence.

Gabriel's head went up, his dark features hardening into an expressionless mask. “You know of me, ancient one. You do not want to know me, as I have been named legend by our people. You cannot defeat me. The battle is already won and justice has finally come to you.”

There was a curious whisper brushing Gabriel's mind. A soft note of censure almost, yet not quite. Gabriel was not using his own voice to defeat the ancient killer as he should have been. He was tired from blood loss; the stench of death filled his mind and heart. He was tired of destroying his own people time and time again. He would do what was necessary, but he did not have to enjoy it.

The vampire suddenly covered his ears and began to wail in a high-pitched tone, attempting to drown out the insidious whispering of that velvet voice. There was a quality to that voice that insisted on being heard. It was sapping his strength, taking his power, removing his abilities. Shrieking his hatred and fear, the vampire played his last card, jerking his arms wide and calling his minions to the kill.

At once the mire erupted with hundreds of huge leeches, boiling out of the mud to swarm at Gabriel. Even as they did so, the air groaned with a sudden infestation of owls, a black cloud of bodies that dove, talons ex- tended, straight for the hunter. The vampire turned to make his escape and ran straight into the Carpathian. The hunter seemed to shimmer out of the air itself, his face a mask of granite.

The vampire looked down and saw his chest, wide open, his withered heart pulsing in the fist of the hunter. The man never changed expression, yet he seemed to be fading in and out, almost an illusion. Only his fist was all too real. The vampire screamed his hatred and defiance, lunging forward in an attempt to recover his stolen heart. He fell facedown in the muck of his own making, the leeches finding him immediately. They covered his body, filling the empty hole in his chest.

Gabriel had been forced to dissolve when the vampire sent his servants to attack. He had risen high above the ground, into the clouds themselves. Now he directed the electrically charged air in a thin whip along the ground to sear the leeches and fry the raptors right out of the sky. They rained on the earth, their blackened bodies plopping into the bog. He could see the vampire lying in the muck along with his minions and wondered for a moment what trick the undead thought to play. What good would it do to pretend death?

With his superior eyesight, Gabriel could see the vampire's heart several feet from his body, lying atop a rock.

Lucian.

He had definitely joined the hunt, removing all other players from their battleground. Gabriel could see that the vampire was dragging himself forward, inching his way ever closer to the withered heart. At once Gabriel directed the whip of lightning, reducing the heart to a pile of ashes, ensuring the undead could never rise again. The vampire let out a hideous hiss, a last protest just as the lightning bolt took him, incinerating his body, removing all evidence of his existence. There was nothing left to do but clean up. Gabriel took care to eliminate all evidence of the vampire and his work from the area. The bog would be a trap for animals and humans alike, and Gabriel used precious energy to eradicate it. It took a long time to extract every evil thing from that place, replacing it with good.

Whatever game Lucian was playing, it would have to wait. Gabriel's wounds were throbbing. He kept the pain at bay, but his energy was gone. He would not attempt to pursue Lucian this night. He could only find it in himself to be grateful his twin had come down on his side in the battle.

When Gabriel turned toward his home, weariness immediately set in. He was tired and his wounds could no longer be ignored. He needed blood and Francesca's healing presence. He was eternally grateful he had a home and a lifemate to go back to.

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