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.The scent of blood added to the frenzy of the birds.He wheeled and banked, coming above them, sending a stream of fire sweeping through the mass.The stench of burning meat permeated the night as blackened bodies fell from the sky.The remaining birds kept coming, pouncing on the dragon, hundreds multiplying into thousands, pecking and tearing with razor-sharp talons, digging through the tough hide to try to get to the Carpathian inside.The sheer weight of the birds sent the dragon tumbling toward earth.Torn and bloody, Zacarias burst from the dragon before it hit the ground, the majority of the birds riding the great carcass to the ground, tearing at it in a kind of fury.Calling to the sky, he used the churning cloud of masses of red-orange flames, drawing them down to slam into the birds in great fireballs.Screaming, the vicious creatures tried to rise into the air, but long spears and tiny darts of flames leaped from one to the other until they were all engulfed in fire.“Do you wish to keep up this silly charade, Ruslan,” Zacarias called as he settled in the slight clearing just on the other side of the fence, in the rain forest itself.He continued to edge deeper beneath the canopy of trees, taking the fight farther from Marguarita.Thunder rolled in answer.The clouds churned and boiled.The black cloud burst upward, a tower of fire and brimstone roiling angrily in the sky.The wind rushed through the trees, yet didn’t move the clouds from overhead.Branches swayed, great stick arms reaching almost to the forest floor, as though bowing—or looking to grasp someone with bony fingers.A dark, hooded figure emerged slowly from the trunk of a large kapok tree.He moved slowly, without any sign of hurry.It was a testament to the power of a master that the tree and surrounding ground didn’t recoil from his presence.Nature could not stand the abomination of the undead, yet a true master was so adept at illusion, for brief periods, even Mother Earth could be deceived.Not a single leaf or blade of grass withered.The figure was tall, imposing, shoulders wide and he walked with complete confidence.Stepping into the grove of trees where the canopy protected the forest floor, he flung off his hood.Long flowing hair was as black as night, his face young and brutally handsome.He smiled and held out his hand to Zacarias.“Son.We meet again under more pleasant circumstances, I hope.”Zacarias frowned.What was Ruslan playing at? Testing him to see if he had emotions? If he had a lifemate? Every other De La Cruz brother had found his lifemate.Ruslan would hate them all the more for that.He believed himself superior to all of them—so why shouldn’t he have the women? Zacarias and his family were unworthy of such things.“I thought more of you, Ruslan.This is a tired trick.Show yourself and be done with it.” For the first time he realized that not feeling emotion without Marguarita locked to him could be more than a curse.Ruslan could not endanger what he did not know of.Zacarias waved his hand with a true casualness, as if that perfect image of his father didn’t bother him at all—and in truth—he felt nothing at all at the sight of the man who had been his childhood hero.His wave removed the illusion and revealed Ruslan’s true form.For one second he stood stripped of civility, his body rotted through with a thousand maggots crawling through him.His face was pitted with holes, his eyes sunken and his teeth blackened and serrated, pointed like ice picks sticking up through his gums.In the time it took Zacarias to blink, that image changed as if it had never been.Ruslan stood before him as he had all those centuries ago.Young.Virile.His face without lines, almost beautiful rather than handsome.Zacarias looked rugged and older in comparison, lines etched into his face and a few scars intersecting here and there.“I see your vanity has not changed at all,” Zacarias greeted.“You did so love your pretty face.I suppose that is half the reason you chose to become vampire.”Ruslan brushed back his long length of hair.“At least you still know pretty from ugly.I have long kept tabs on you, old friend.You refuse to join us and you refuse to die.In all the centuries you have never stayed in one place more than a single night or at best two.Yet here you remain.” He swept his arm toward the hacienda and the wind changed course, following his direction, taking with it dozens of small fireballs to rain down across the pastures and structures.Zacarias sent the rain in a fast deluge, putting out the small fires immediately.He flexed his shoulders, now burned through to bone with a thousand brands from the acid rain and the small, pebble-sized fireballs Ruslan was now using against the ranch.“We can do this all night, but surely you did not think I would be impressed by such childish games? I play them with your puppets, but they are not really worthy of my attention [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]