Read Dark Illusion Online

Authors: Christine Feehan

Dark Illusion (30 page)

What name had he gone by then? It was so long ago, and Isai had long given up those memories. He worked to pull it from his mind.
Barna
. The mage had gone by the name of Barna, the Hungarian version of Barnabas. Could Julija’s Barnabas be the same Barna from long ago? If so, Isai couldn’t believe that he would be working for Sergey or anyone else to recover the book. He would want it for himself.

Julija, do you recall Barnabas taking your blood at any time?

He lashed at the last of the bats. There were a few still moving under the burned and charred bodies they would have to kill with machetes, but he felt as if the tide was stemmed. “Josh, Mike, you can open your eyes. If you wade through them to find any alive, watch yourselves that they do not bite you.”

That was his favorite thing to do.
He felt her steeling herself to tell him.
He took my blood often, and at night, when we were alone, sometimes he would tie me up and cover my mouth so I couldn’t call out and he would cut me and lick at the blood. He especially liked to do that when he was using my body for sex.
She stumbled over the last, but she told him the truth.

Isai found more and more respect and admiration for his woman. She didn’t hold anything back, no matter the cost to her, not when she thought it might help him.

You said he was a teacher. Is he friends with Anatolie? Did you have the feeling they went way back?

They definitely knew each other very well, that’s why it was so disgusting when I realized he was sleeping with Crina.

Isai thought that over. If Xavier had raised his oldest son in secret, while the rest of the world thought him dead, he would have needed help. Someone had taken care of Anatolie while he was young. Xavier would
never have cared for a child. He might have used female mages, but someone had to be consistent in the child’s life. Who was the dependable person in Anatolie’s life, because Isai would bet it wasn’t Xavier.

He kept his eye on Josh and Mike as they kicked dead carcasses aside and chopped down at the still lethal, half-burned animals as they lay dazed yet still trying to snap with teeth and tear with claws.

Can you show me their interaction?

Julija hesitated again, just for a moment, and then she opened her mind more fully to him. He realized she always kept herself a little guarded. She didn’t want him to witness those years of humiliation, the times Barnabas had had her with her father’s full consent. He’d always wondered why her father would allow Barnabas to keep control over his food source. Anatolie needed Julija, yet he had helped in Barnabas’s cruel conspiracy.

The memory was a short one. She was called into her father’s study. It was a place she wasn’t invited often, and she went cautiously. The door was already partially opened, and she looked in. Barnabas was turned toward her. Isai studied the man.

He wasn’t particularly tall, yet he was tall enough. He had broad shoulders, but not so much that anyone would notice. He had a muscular physique, but not with obvious muscles. He wore a suit and it sat well on him. Anyone looking at him would think he was wealthy and high up if not the president of some company. Power clung to him and confidence radiated easily. He didn’t look like a man who would show off. He would allow others to do so.

He smiled at Julija and held out his hand to her. Isai’s belly immediately knotted. The smile was smooth, practiced and didn’t quite reach his flat, cold eyes, but when he looked at Julija, there was something there. Interest. A spark? A flair of need?

“There she is.”

Anatolie stepped forward when his daughter stopped abruptly and took a step backward. “Get in here, Julija,” he snarled. He glanced at the other man and when he did, he turned his head slightly.

Isai forced himself to freeze the memory right there. His woman was
trembling. There was fear on her face. Clearly, Barnabas enjoyed her fear. His gaze had sharpened, and he had the look of a vicious, cruel tyrant who hurt others for his own pleasure. It was there, stamped on his face, for the world to see. Julija saw and she feared him.

What of Anatolie? Isai studied him. Julija’s father at first appeared to be a man in control of everything around him. He was in his place of power. One didn’t go to his study casually. He would reign there, mete out his brand of justice and dictate to family, friends and anyone who might work for him. He wore a suit that cost a fortune and he wore it well. His hair was shorter than most mages’, which surprised Isai. There was power in hair, a kind of radar system. One could pick up whispers of trouble when needed.

The desk behind him was solid, made of mahogany, the color nearly a slashing red. More power symbols. A crystal decanter was half full of amber liquid and four cut crystal glasses sat on the tray surrounding it. Everywhere one looked were small signs of opulence. Anatolie indulged himself.

Isai kept coming back to that small head turn, the one where he glanced back at Barnabas. Something about it bothered him. He brought the frame of memory closer to him. What was it? What was he seeing that hadn’t quite registered?

He’s sweating, Julija. Do you see that? There are tiny beads of sweat trickling down his face. You weren’t taking Barnabas’s offered hand. He feared you would be rude.

The two campers had come back to him. Josh crouched down and then sat on the ground. “This sucks. The bodies stink.” His body was bleeding in many places.

Mike sank down beside him, his head in his hands, rocking back and forth. Isai didn’t have time to reassure either of them. He waved his hand to silence them. He needed to think. The two men were right, the charred bats stank horribly. Isai opened the ground, a giant, deep pit, and allowed the creatures to sink deep. Again, he waved his hand to create a breeze to drive the horrible stench away from them.

I don’t know what you think that means, Isai.

She didn’t want to know. Every time Barnabas came up, she shrank away from the subject. He couldn’t blame her. When he looked at Barnabas, he knew he was looking at someone wholly evil.

Your father was afraid of Barnabas.
I believe Barnabas trained under Xavier. He was privy to
Xavier’s plans. It is possible he was the only one
fully privy to them. I find it interesting that he
is here, not in the Carpathian Mountains. Did he follow
Sergey here because Sergey has slivers of Xavier in him?

Would he remain loyal to Xavier? Would he have that capability?

Julija asked good questions. He had thought Barnabas was wholly evil and he still believed that. That didn’t mean he wasn’t capable of loyalty, especially if he thought there was a reward waiting for him. His loyalty would never be to Sergey. He would look upon the master vampire with contempt. He would have followed those tiny slivers of Xavier, no doubt hoping to get them transferred to his own head.

I think it is possible. He must have spent centuries with him. If he has followed Sergey here, it is because of those slivers. He is the true power, Julija, not Anatolie. I am not dismissing your father. He is a dangerous man, but if he fears Barnabas, then we should fear him as well.

I definitely am afraid of Barnabas.

Isai felt the shiver that ran through her body. He wasn’t there to hold her or to comfort her, and she needed both.
You are no longer alone, sívamet. You are with me, and I stand with you against this monster.

Monster.
It was an apt word to describe a being such as Barnabas. Anyone who would trick a woman and then cruelly hurt her over and over was more than a monster. Anyone who would experiment with something so deadly as the mutated bats was a monster. There were so many in the world doing all kinds of harm to others to further their own agendas.

Barnabas thought himself unstoppable. He had gotten away with so much throughout the centuries that he’d gotten complacent. Always before he had stayed behind the scenes. Now, he was stepping out of the shadows and letting others see him. Maybe only glimpses, but those were enough for a hunter to lock on to him.

I do not think Sergey is here, Julija. I am uncertain if he hasn’t gotten wind
that the book is in the United States, or if he sent Barnabas thinking he would return with it.

Isai could feel Julija turning that possibility over and over in her mind. While she puzzled it out, he turned his attention to Mike and Josh. The first thing he did was remove all evidence that they’d been in any kind of battle. Their tents were in shreds, and he repaired them. Their bodies were bloody from hundreds of bites. He healed those. He took much-needed blood from both of them but was careful not to take too much since both had lost some. He laid each in his own sleeping bag and tent and removed every memory of the battle, the bats and him.

Isai, if Barnabas is hunting for the book, and he is the man you believe was in Xavier’s caves centuries ago, then he would know more than any other about that book. He might be able to either bring Xavier back using the slivers of him, or take them from Sergey.

Did you feel his power, or did he mask it?

At first, he definitely masked it,
she assured.
He seemed a sweet professor and kind of lonely. I never saw him with anyone in spite of his reputation with women.

That fit. Barnabas would never trust anyone enough to spend time with them.

What about later? When he was hurting you?

Not in class. He was very steady, distant, as if nothing taking place affected him in the least. It was only when we were alone that he showed power and that he thoroughly enjoyed hurting me. He would show me videos of the things he did to me in front of everyone and he would watch my face the entire time. He didn’t show those things to others and that scared me almost as much as the ways he caused me pain.

She was trembling so hard he feared she would break apart. He needed to scan the entire area for signs of the master vampire just to make certain his line of reasoning was solid. When he was fairly certain there was not a single indicator that Sergey was in the area, he searched, without much hope, for the high mage. He also needed to get back to his woman.

Do what you have to do, Isai. You have to protect any humans in the area.
And we need to know who we’re dealing with. Sergey? Anatolie? Barnabas? Or all of them.

He wanted to know more about her encounters with Barnabas, but he didn’t want to push her. He had the feeling he was dealing with a true dark high mage. Perhaps the most powerful since the demise of Xavier. If that was the case, the more he knew, the better. And why had he fixated on Julija? He’d taken Crina as a lover. It looked as if Anatolie knew and didn’t mind, which stood to reason if Anatolie and Barnabas went way back. Anatolie would concede anything to his mentor. Why had Barnabas taken Crina as a lover if Julija was important to him?

Isai.
She breathed his name softly into his mind.
Barnabas didn’t love me. He didn’t care about me. I was just someone he derived enjoyment from torturing.

Isai wanted to believe that, but he didn’t. He couldn’t. There was something in Barnabas’s expression when he’d looked at Julija in Anatolie’s study that made him think Julija was important to the mage. Whatever feelings he had for her were twisted, but the emotions were there. Isai hadn’t been able to feel for centuries. He couldn’t see another woman now that he’d seen Julija.

Do mages lose feeling? Color? In the way Carpathian hunters lose them?

He checked the human campers one last time to ensure nothing was out of place. The event was too traumatic to be wiped completely, so Isai removed their memories, but replaced them with similar nightmares. He made certain it appeared as if Josh woke first and told Mike his nightmare and then Mike had dreamt a related scenario. To be safe, he planted the idea that both wanted to leave first thing in the morning. Once he was certain they wouldn’t remember him or the bats as anything but a dream, he took to the sky.

No, but we do not live as long as Carpathians.

What of those feeding on Carpathian blood, such as your father?

That is different. He is following in Xavier’s footsteps. He believes himself to be invincible, just as Xavier did.

Barnabas fed on you.
The thought sickened him.
It is impossible to tell
the age of a Carpathian. A human seeing us would think we were quite young, when in fact we are not. Barnabas does not look a day over forty, if that.

His appearance can change. He is a master of illusion.

Isai took his time moving from one area to the next, searching for the smallest sign that would betray a vampire. He quartered the large region around the lake and up into the mountains. A vampire’s presence could be felt by a hunter, especially if that hunter was as old and as experienced as Isai.

Barnabas has been feeding on Carpathian blood, Julija. You are not the first. That is evident to me, but he did in fact look at you differently. Still, he took Crina to his bed.

Not exactly his bed,
she corrected.

What bed, then? She was his lover.

They were always in Anatolie’s bed. Once, Crina came to my room and told me they needed it and Barnabas slapped her. Hard. He told her only he decided where or when. He pushed her away and came at me. I was terrified.

He wanted to see the memory. How could he ask her to bring it up in vivid detail? There was just something so significant about the way Barnabas looked at Julija and he was missing it.

Can you tell me about the dates you went on with him? You said you spent time together before he began hurting you.

Isai turned to make his way back to the cave. Back to Julija.

We just went to coffee shops, that sort of thing. We talked every night. We laughed a lot. He didn’t try to seduce me. He was very sweet.

Can you show me those memories?
Again, he was hesitant to ask.

She wasn’t in the least bit tentative. At once he saw Barnabas seated across a table from Julija. All around them were humans, reading, talking quietly or ordering coffee. Barnabas sat with his gaze fixed on Julija. He was so focused, he didn’t appear to notice anything or any other person in the shop. Twice the waitress tried for his attention but failed. He didn’t look up. Not once.

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