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By Christine Feehan
Dorchester Publishing Copyright © 2003 Dorchester Publishing
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Chapter One Disoriented, he woke deep within the ground. The first sensation he felt was one of hunger. It was no ordinary hunger, but one of gut-wrenching, skin-crawling necessity. He was starving. Every cell in his body demanded nourishment. He lay there in silence while the hunger gnawed at him like a rat. It attacked not only his body, but also his mind so that he feared for all others, humans and Carpathians alike. Feared for himself. Feared for his soul. This time the darkness was spreading fast and ferociously, the terrible call of bloodlust and his soul was definitely in jeopardy.
What dared to disturb his sleep? More importantly, had it disturbed Lucian's sleep? Gabriel had locked Lucian into the earth, deep into the ancient cemetery centuries ago, longer than he cared to think about. If Lucian had awakened when he had, if he had been disturbed by the same movements above ground, then there was every chance he would rise before Gabriel could find the strength to stop him.
It was intensely difficult to think with hunger gripping him and his body ravaged and starved. How long had he been in the earth? Above him, he sensed the sun setting. After all the long centuries, his internal clock could still feel the setting of the sun and the beginning of their time. Creatures of the night. The ground suddenly shifted. Gabriel felt his heart slam hard in his chest. He had waited too long, spent too much time trying to get his bearings, trying to clear his clouded mind. Alarm spread fast. Lucian was rising. Lucian's need for prey would be as great as his own and his appetite would be voracious. There would be no way to stop him, not while Gabriel was so weak himself.
Because he had no choice, Gabriel burst through the layers of earth where he had laid buried for so long, where he had deliberately slumbered, choosing to lock himself into the ground as he locked Lucian to himself. The fight in the Paris cemetery had been a long, horrendous battle. Both Lucian and Gabriel had sustained grave wounds, wounds that should have killed them. Lucian had gone to ground just outside the sanctified burial ground while Gabriel had sought sanctuary within it. Gabriel had been very tired of the long centuries of bleak darkness. The black empty void of his existence. He did not have the luxury of choosing to walk into the dawn as most of his kind did. There was Lucian. His twin. Lucian was strong and brilliant, always the one that led. There was no other skilled enough, powerful enough to hunt and destroy Lucian. There was only Gabriel. He had spent several lifetimes following where Lucian led, hunting the vampire, the undead with him, relying on his battle sense. There had been no other like Lucian, none as brilliant at hunting the vampire, the scourge of their race. Lucian had a gift. Yet Lucian had finally succumbed to the dark whisper of power, the insidious call of bloodlust. Lucian had given up his soul, choosing the way of the damned, turning into the very monster he had pursued for centuries. The vampire.
Unexpectedly, Gabriel had to spend two centuries hunting his beloved brother. It had been a shock he still didn't quite believe. Finally after so many battles where neither had been victorious he made the decision to lock his twin in the earth for all time. They fought continually, Gabriel chasing Lucian throughout Europe in the hopes of destroying that which was now evil, yet he had never been able to best him. They both suffered many terrible wounds, and time and again Lucian had led Gabriel back to Paris, a city often rampant with vampires and debauchery. Gabriel tried for so long, battle after battle, but always Lucian got away. After the terrible war in the cemetery where both of them suffered horrendous wounds and loss of blood, he had waited until he had Lucian unsuspecting in the earth and he bound his twin to him. They were not dead, yet it was the only solution Gabriel could come up with to end the draw they seemed to have in their battles. He was tired and alone and without comfort of any kind. He wanted rest yet he could not seek the dawn until Lucian was fully destroyed. It was a terrible decision, dead, yet not dead, buried for all eternity, yet Gabriel could think of no other. Nothing should have disturbed them, yet something had been moving the earth above their heads.
Gabriel had no idea of how much time had passed while he had rested in the earth, yet his body was starved for blood. His skin was gray and drawn tight over his skeleton like that of an old man. At once, as he burst into the air, he clothed himself, adding a long, hooded cape to hide his appearance while he hunted throughout the city. Just that small deed drained the energy from his wizened body. He needed blood desperately. He was so weak he nearly fell from the sky.
As he settled to the ground, he stared in astonishment at the huge contraptions that had awakened him, worse, had awakened Lucian. Those contraptions, so alien to him, had disturbed a demon so deadly the world could never comprehend its power. Those contraptions had unleashed it upon the modern world. Gabriel took a deep breath, inhaled the night. At once he was assaulted with so many smells his starving body could barely assimilate them all.
Hunger ate at him unmercifully, relentlessly and he realized with a sinking heart that he was so close to turning, so starved that when he was forced to feed, the demon in him would rise. Nevertheless he had no real choice in the matter. He had to have sustenance to hunt. If he did not hunt Lucian, protect humans and Carpathians alike, who was there to do so?
Gabriel drew the thick cloak closer around his body as he staggered toward the graveyard adjacent to the sanctified ground. He could see where the machines had disturbed the earth. Apparently the gravesites were being dug up and removed. He found where the soil had boiled up out of the earth as Lucian had risen. For a moment he sank down on his knees to bury both hands in the dirt. Lucian. His brother. His twin. He bowed his head in sorrow. How often had they shared knowledge? Shared battles? Blood? Nearly two thousand years they had been together, fought for their people, hunted the undead and destroyed them. Now he was alone. Lucian was the legendary warrior, the greatest of their people, yet he had fallen as so many had before him. Gabriel would have bet his life that his twin would never have succumbed to the dark whisper of power.
Gabriel stood up slowly and began to walk toward the street. The long years that had gone by had changed the world. Everything was so different. He understood none of it. He was very disoriented, even his sight was hazy. He stumbled along, trying to stay away from the people crowding the streets. They were everywhere and they avoided touching him. He touched their minds briefly. They thought him an "old homeless man" perhaps a drunk or even insane. No one looked his way, no one wanted to see him. He was shriveled, his skin gray. He drew the long cloak even closer, hiding his withered body within its folds.
Hunger assailed his senses so that his fangs exploded in his mouth and dripped with anticipation of a feast. He needed nourishment desperately. Stumbling, almost blind, he continued along the street. The city was so different, no longer the Paris of old, but a huge sprawling complex of buildings and paved streets. Lights were blazing from the interior of the massive structures and from street lamps overhead. It was not the city he remembered or with which he was comfortable. He should have caught the nearest prey and fed voraciously to bring him instant strength, but the dread of being unable to stop himself was uppermost in his mind. He had a sworn duty to his people, to the human race, but most importantly to his beloved brother. Lucian had been his hero, the one he placed above all others and deservedly so. They had taken a vow together and he would honor it as Lucian would have done for him. No other hunter would be allowed to destroy his brother; it was his task alone.
The smell of blood was overpowering. It beat at him with the same intensity as his hunger. The sound of it rushing through veins, ebbing and flowing, burgeoning with life, taunted him. In his present state of weakness he would be unable to completely control his prey enough to keep them calm. That would only add to the power of the demon rising.
"Sir, may I help you in some way? Are you ill?" It was the most beautiful voice he had ever heard. She spoke in flawless French, her accent perfect but he was uncertain whether she was actually French. Shockingly her words brought him a measure of comfort as if her voice alone could soothe him.
Gabriel shuddered. The last thing he wanted was to feast on an innocent woman. Without looking at her he shook his head and continued walking. He was so weak he stumbled against her. She was tall and slender and surprisingly strong. Immediately she wrapped her arm around him ignoring his musty, dirty odor. The moment she touched him he felt a sense of peace seeping into his tortured soul. The unrelenting hunger lessened and as long as she was touching him, he felt a semblance of control.
Deliberately he kept his face averted from her, knowing his eyes would be reflecting the red haze of the demon rising in him. Her close proximity should have triggered his violent instincts instead of soothing him. She was the last person he wanted to chance using as prey. He sensed her goodness, her resolve to help him, her complete selflessness. They were the only reasons he had not attacked and sank his fangs deep within her veins when every shrunken cell and fiber of his being demanded he do so for his own self preservation.
She was urging him toward a sleek contraption on the edge of the sidewalk. He knew by the hundreds of others on the road he would be expected to ride in it. "Are you injured, or just hungry? There's a homeless shelter right up the street. They can give you a place to stay for the night and a hot meal. Let me take you there. This is my car. Please get in and let me help you."
Her voice seemed to whisper over him, a seduction of the senses. He truly feared for her life, for his own soul. He was far too weak to fight the obsession of her presence. He allowed her to seat him in the car, but he huddled as far from her as he was able. Now that there was no longer any physical contact, he could hear the blood rushing in her veins, calling to him. Whispering like the most tempting seductress. Hunger roared through him so that he was shaking with the need to sink his teeth deep into her vulnerable neck. He could hear her heart, the steady beat that went on and on, threatening to drive him mad. He could almost taste the blood, knowing it would pour into his mouth, down his throat as he gorged himself.
"My name is Francesca Del Ponce," she told him gently. "Please tell me if you're hurt or in need of medical attention. Don't worry about the cost. I have friends at the hospital and they'll help you." She didn't add she often brought in indigents and paid the bill herself.
Gabriel remained silent. It was all he could do to shield his thoughts, an automatic protection Lucian had drilled into him from the time they were mere fledglings. The lure of blood was overpowering. It was only the goodness radiating from her that prevented him from leaping upon her and feasting as his shriveled cells cried out for him to do. He sank deeper into the hooded cape, while the need for sustenance threatened to overpower him.
Francesca glanced at the old man worriedly. She hadn't caught a glimpse of his face, but he was gray with hunger and shaking with fatigue. He looked starved. When she touched him she had sensed a terrible conflict within. It took control not to race through the streets to the shelter. She wanted desperately to get him aid. Her small white teeth worried at her bottom lip. She felt anxious, an emotion Francesca could not remember feeling in a long while. She needed to give this man aid and comfort, not just wanted to do so. It was so strong, the feeling was almost a compulsion and very confusing to her.
"Don't worry, I can take care of things for you. Just sit back and relax." Francesca drove with her usual abandon through the streets. Most of the policeman knew her car and would never do more than grin at her when she broke all the laws. She was a healer. An exceptional healer. Her one gift to the world. It had made a great many friends for her. Those who didn't care about favors or healing cared about the fact that she had a great deal of money and many friends in high political positions.
She pulled up to the shelter and stopped the car almost at the door. She didn't want the old man to have to walk too far. He seemed ready to topple over at any moment. The hood of his unusual cape concealed his hair from her, but she had the impression it was long and thick and old-fashioned. Rushing around the front of the car, she reached inside to help him out.
Gabriel didn't want her to touch him again, but he couldn't help himself. There was something very soothing in her touch, almost healing. It helped him to hold the terrible craving at bay for a little while longer. The contraption he was riding in, rushing through the streets, made him sick and dizzy. He needed to orient himself to the world he was in. Find out the year. Study the new technology. Most of all he needed to find the strength to feed without allowing the demon deep within him, roaring and struggling for freedom, to reign supreme. He could feel it in him, the red haze, animal instincts rising to overcome the thin veneer of civility his species had.
"Francesca! Another one? We're so full this evening." Marvin Challot glanced uneasily at the elderly man she was helping toward the door. Something about the man raised the hair on the back of his neck. He looked old and gnarled, the fingernails too long and too sharp but he was so weak Marvin felt guilty that he didn't want anything to do with this stranger. He was ashamed of himself for the feeling of revulsion, but he was actually repulsed by the old man. He could hardly refuse Francesca. She contributed more money, more time and more effort than anyone else. If it weren't for her, there would be no shelter.
Reluctantly Marvin reached out to take the old man's arm. Gabriel inhaled sharply. The moment Francesca released his arm, he nearly lost all control. Fangs exploded in his mouth and the blood pumping through human veins was so loud he could hear nothing else. Everything disappeared in a red haze. Hunger. Starvation. He had to feed. Eyes glowing with red flames, the demon within him lifted its head with a roar, wrestled him for total control, wrestled to force the fangs his fangs to retract.
Marvin sensed he was in mortal danger. The arm he had tried to seize seemed to contort, the bones popping and crackling, fur rippled over the withered skin, a network of sinewy muscle beneath.
Excerpted from Dark Legend by Christine Feehan Copyright © 2003 by Dorchester Publishing
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