Dark Hunger


Page 30



Elena said nothing, knowing he needed her to listen now.


“Once I did, I vowed not to look back, only forward.” This time, his grin was self-mocking. “I don’t manage it all the time. You’ve seen me manfully brooding—not sulking—enough times to know that. But,” he added, “I try to be conscious of any downward spiral, and I’ve found ways to enjoy my life outside of the job. Case in point: the hot brunette. Just because I can’t fuck doesn’t mean I don’t understand pleasure.”


“V, that never crossed my mind,” she said honestly. “Especially after I walked into your Academy room to ask if I could borrow a pen and found Neve Pelletier screaming in orgasm.”


A dazzling grin. “One of my proudest moments.” Moving his chair away without warning, he rolled to another bank of computers and made a call before returning. “Sorry, saw something come in Sara might be interested in.”


“You have eyes in the back of your head?”


“Exactly.” Gaze flicking once more to the Candidate confirmation, he said, “If I become a vampire, I can’t be Guild.”


“Of course you can.” Elena had already thought this through. “You won’t be able to do what you do now—divided loyalties and all that—but you’re hunter-born. We’re rare and every one of us is needed.”


“I’ve had no training—”


“You’ll have all the time in the world for training,” she reminded him. “Vamps are near-immortal.”


“Who’s going to take care of all this?” His glance took in the room. “You said it yourself. No one else can do what I do.”


“No,” Elena admitted. “But you think anyone in the Guild is going to begrudge you for making the choice to take your life in another direction?”


“That’s not the point. That info I just passed on to Sara—it means she knows the situation might be hostile and that it should be assigned to a team. If I’m not here, that intel isn’t picked up and people die.”


Wincing, Elena admitted the truth. “I got confirmation you could be a Candidate a few weeks ago. The reason I’m only telling you now is because Sara had to work out how to cover your absence if you decided to go for it.”


“Oh?” A dangerous glint in his eye.


“She realized she’d need six trained people to do what you do on your own.”


The glint turned into a smug smile. “I told you I was indispensable.”


“Yeah, yeah. Anyway, we were hoping that if you do decide to accept the Candidacy, you’d train your replacements before you go.”


Vivek was silent for a long time, his eyes on the form. “A hundred years of slavery to have the use of my body.” It was a whisper. “A hundred years at the mercy of some random immortal who might decide to treat me like a pet dog.”


“The angels aren’t stupid. You’re highly gifted—no one is going to want to put you in any kind of a menial position.”


“I won’t be able to hunt straightaway, though, will I?” A frown. “Will I even be a hunter after I’m Made?”


“I have no idea.” Elena wasn’t going to lie to him about anything. “So far as anyone knows, none of the hunter-born have ever been Made—except me, and, well, I’m kind of a special case.”


“So I might gain the use of my limbs, but lose my hunting abilities and the Guild.”


“Yes, the risk is a big one.” Only Vivek could decide whether or not it was worth it. “I can tell you one thing, though: you won’t be under the command of some random angel—you’ll be attached to the Tower, directly under the command of whichever of the Seven is in charge at the time.”


“Pulling strings for me?”


“What did you think? I’d leave my friends to hang?” She glared at him until he had the grace to look sheepish. “Raphael understands loyalty as well as any one of us. So do the Seven. The fact that I’m taking care of my own isn’t exactly a news flash.” Stretching her wings, she resettled them. “But I’m not being unselfish here, so don’t give me a halo.”


“Friends,” Vivek said slowly, “are important. Especially to an immortal in a place of power.”


“I knew the hot brunette had left you with a few brain cells.”


“If I do go through with this and come out with my hunting skills intact, then what?”


“Angels love hunters,” Elena said. “Your skills will be used, though not necessarily always as they would be by the Guild.” A blunt fact. “You’ll have to keep secrets from the Guild, and your time will be the Tower’s first, but I have a promise from Raphael that you can remain on the Guild rolls.”


Vivek flicked off the screen. “You’ve thought about everything.”


“No, V, I haven’t. I can’t. Only you can do that.” He was the one who’d be stepping into the unknown, into what could turn out to be a hundred years of hell regardless of her promises. “I just wanted you to have every bit of information I could give you.”


“Let’s finish this game,” he said at last.


Elena pointed to the board. “You made ‘cat’ while I made ‘zygote.’ The game is so over it’s prehistoric.”


Vivek laughed, his cheeks creased with lean male dimples that were an unusual sight, his eyes brilliant. And she knew, whatever his choice, their friendship would survive.


• • •


Raphael saw Elena glance at his temple as they took to the clouds minutes after landing in Japan, their intent to ride the winds for the final segment of the journey to the ancient city. “There’s been no change,” he said to her, flying close enough that they could speak.


“Good.” She drew in long breaths of the cold winter air, the mountainous forests of this part of Kagoshima spread out below them. “I always forget how untamed it is here,” she said, her wings a dramatic splash of color against the dark green when she dropped beneath the cloud layer.


Flying nearer to the forest giants, she skimmed the treetops with a grace that would’ve been unexpected in one so young in angelic terms had she not been a hunter, her body and mind used to tough physicality. Her flight startled a herd of wild horses, who went galloping off into the mists that hung over the forests from a recent rainstorm. Did you see?


Sweeping down to join her, he said, When I was a babe growing up in Amanat, my friends and I would race the horses kept in the city at that time.


Laughter in the air, her hair afire in the mountain sunlight. Did you always win?


No, that’s why it was so much fun. It was the first time in an eon that he’d recalled that memory, buried as it had been under centuries of power and politics.


Look at the treetops, he told Elena, glimpsing movement. Our curious friends are back.


Careful to maintain her height, Elena peered downward. He knew the instant she spotted the monkeys that always emerged somewhere along their flight path to Amanat—her delight unhidden, she appeared the girl she’d never had the chance to be, anointed in the blood of her sisters at an age when she should’ve been making a pest of herself to those same sisters.


There’re some more to the left, she said, her mental voice a whisper. They’re pointing at us.


Staying at his current altitude as she dared go a little closer, her white-gold primaries catching the light, he kept an eye out for threats. A day before the ball, there were apt to be any number of very dangerous people already in and around the city. And they all knew Elena was Raphael’s heart.


• • •


The strange shield of energy that usually protected Amanat not in evidence today, they flew straight through to land at the edge of it. Settling her wings, Elena followed the wild blue of her archangel’s eyes to a vampire running along the defensive wall that surrounded the ancient city.


Elena’s credentials from the Guild had always borne the legend Licensed to Hunt Vampires & Assorted Others. The historical licenses framed in the Guild library, yellowed and crumbling, all noted the same—but the funny thing was, aside from Elena’s blue-moon hunt of Uram, the men and women of the Guild didn’t hunt anything except vampires.


She’d always figured the “Assorted Others” tag was to cover them in case they had to go after a human in the course of a Guild case, had been satisfied with that understanding.


Today, however, as she watched Naasir loping atop the wall with a strange, liquid grace that made him appear boneless, she had the feeling she didn’t know as much as she thought. “What,” she said to Raphael, “is he?” Regardless of having visited Amanat more than once by now, she’d had very little direct contact with Naasir.


Raphael gave her a distinctly amused look. “Naasir is one of my Seven.”


“Raphael.”


“What do you think he is?”


“A tiger on the hunt, that’s how I categorized his scent the first time I met him, and I haven’t changed my mind,” she said, as Naasir came down the wall with an ease that made it seem he walked on a flat surface. “His voice might be cultured, but there’s something intensely feral about him. It’s different from what I feel with Venom . . . or deeper, I don’t know.”


“I think,” Raphael said at her frustrated growl, “I will leave Naasir a mystery for you to solve. I wouldn’t want immortality to become boring for my consort.”


Elena let out a snarl, but she was intrigued by the challenge.


The vampire reached them the next instant, inclining his head in a slight bow. “Sire.” Eyes of pure metallic silver set against skin of a rich, strokable brown met Elena’s. “Consort.” The greeting was by-the-book formal, but as always, she had the feeling that in any other situation, he’d see her as prey.


Nodding in return and resisting the urge to go for a weapon, she realized the vampire had cut his hair. It had reached the bottom of his nape the last time she’d seen him. It now just brushed it, the jagged waves around his face still as choppy and as vividly silver.



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