Dark Hunger


Page 35



Caliane bid them good night sometime after three a.m. and retired to her bed, accepting the escort of a man with the same green eyes as Tasha. Elena and Raphael stayed an hour longer as she’d asked them to act as hosts in her stead, the pain of Kahla’s loss clearly weighing heavily on her once more.


“Keir?” Elena asked, once they’d left the courtyard and the final revelers to their play.


“He has just reached the body. I have Naasir and Isabel standing watch while he examines Kahla.”


Around them, Amanat didn’t slumber, but instead settled into a romantic quietness as couples and small groups strolled through its softly lit beauty, leaving one another alone for the most part. Running her fingers along the carvings that decorated the wall to her left, Elena thought of the body that lay so close to the city, the death that had almost engulfed Caliane’s people, and breathed a sigh of relief.


“I’ve also advised my mother to reinitiate the energy shield for the time being.”


Lijuan, Elena remembered, could get through that shield, but it was impermeable to an ordinary angel, which would leave Lijuan fighting alone against Caliane and her forces. Not something the Archangel of China would risk. “How does your mother do that? The shield, I mean.”


“Alexander could also create such a thing, so perhaps it’s a gift that comes with age. He, too, is an Ancient and now Sleeps.” He spread his wing across hers in a silent signal that he wanted her closer.


The familiar intimacy unlocked the questions twisting her up. “Tell me about Tasha.”


“Her parents were warriors who served my mother. They have once more returned to Amanat—you saw her father offer Caliane his arm as she left tonight.”


Surprised, Elena met his eyes, the heartbreaking blue intense even in the soft shadows of night-not-yet-become-morning. “She didn’t take them into Sleep?”


“No. It was their task to watch over me should my mother ever disappear or die.” His wings glittered in the lamplight that fell from an open window. “Even in her escalating madness, she thought to leave guardians I could trust. Avi and Jelena were—are—to her what my Seven are to me, and though it was the Hummingbird to whom I chose to give my trust, that does not say anything of my deep respect for Avi and Jelena.”


The tie between Raphael and Tasha, Elena realized, went far deeper than a simple physical love affair. “You grew up with Tasha.” Was connected to the other woman by thousands of fragments of time.


“We played through Amanat like wild creatures.” Turning left, he led her to the field of bluebells beside the pond where they’d first seen Caliane. “She remained my friend as we grew, but childhood’s end took us on different paths.”


The area in front of Elena had become a wonderland of shimmering night plants hidden by the bluebells during the day, a silver oasis undiscovered by the others who walked in the city, but she couldn’t concentrate on the wonder of it. “You met again as adults, though, didn’t you? You were lovers.”


“Hundreds of years ago.”


Walking to the edge of the pond, she fought her habit of pretending things didn’t matter when they did, and admitted the truth. “I knew I’d run into one of your lovers sooner or later. I just never expected the first one to be so impressive.”


Raphael thought of the centuries he’d lived growing increasingly remote from the world, the power at his command eating away at the boy he’d once been, and knew Elena didn’t understand the piercing depths of who and what she was to him. Tasha, scholar and warrior, was a friend, but she’d seen the surface of him and been content with that.


In all his existence, Elena alone had torn at that surface, heedless of the risk, until she revealed the man beneath the archangel. And Elena alone had challenged his decisions and his views, forcing him to look at the world in a way he’d never before considered. “There is no comparison,” he said to the only woman he’d ever claimed for his own. “You know me in ways no one else ever has or ever will again.”


The ring of silver molten around her irises, the bones of her face strong and exquisitely unique, she parted her lips on his name just as another message touched his mind. So quickly, the moonlit night was no longer a place of beauty but a reminder of the putrid darkness that slithered on the outskirts, waiting to ravage and violate.


24


“Keir has returned.”


An immediate change in Elena’s expression, his consort shelving their personal discussion for one that affected their people.


Gathering her into his arms, he flew them directly to their suite, having made sure Keir was assigned the suite next door. When they walked through to Keir’s living area, it was to find the healer staring into the cold fire, his eyes grim.


His report was deadly in its familiarity.


“The disease destroyed the victim’s internal organs.” Keir’s jaw strained white with the force of his emotions. “As with the others, the sores were a secondary effect. It is categorically the same infection, and, given the lack of further victims and the fact of her humanity, I agree she was meant to be the carrier.”


Keir rose to pace across the room, his anger vicious in a way Raphael had never before seen, his wings held so tight to his back it had to be painful. “The only good news is that while the infection was identical to that found in New York,” the other man continued, “it was appreciably weaker to the senses that make me a healer. Had Kahla not already been compromised, I believe she and any of those who fed from her may well have made a full recovery.”


“Even Lijuan,” Raphael said slowly, “cannot create reborn after reborn with no rest in between. Doing so causes their infectiousness to decline.”


Keir paused in his pacing. “Jason has been spending time in interesting places.”


It was what his spymaster did best.


“If we’re right,” Elena said, from the armchair into which she’d curled, “and the disease maker’s run out of juice, that means New York and Amanat are both safe, at least for the short term.”


“We cannot predict how long it’ll take for the architect of the disease to recharge,” Keir murmured, “but I think it will not be soon. He or she has done too much too quickly.” Pausing, he stared at the carpet before raising his head. “I cannot say this without any doubt, but I believe the Falling was caused by an attempt to seed the sky with a disease targeted at angelkind, as this bloodborne disease is targeted at vampires.”


Raphael had thought as much, the risk to his people one he had to find a way to negate. “The energy expended in that attempt would also explain why the disease maker is exhausted after creating only two carriers that we know of.” Seeing the healer sway slightly on his feet, he said, “Rest now, Keir.” Do not let the rage eat away at you.


Keir glanced up. Now you quote my own words back at me.


They were wise ones. Said to the angry, broken youth he’d been. “We’ll leave you in peace.”


The healer’s expression remained tense, but he was no longer pacing when they walked out the door. Leaving Elena getting changed in their suite, Isabel on watch outside, Raphael flew to his mother. He knew she wouldn’t be asleep—angels so old as Caliane slept but rarely and the two of them needed to talk; not only as mother and son, but as archangels who might soon be drawn into a global war.


“I’m not ready for war,” she said, as they walked through the quiet corridors of her home, her arm tucked through his, her wing a warm weight against his own. “My power has returned, my people are strong again, but my spirit? It wants only peace.” She smiled and it was a creation of sadness. “I’ve fought too many battles. Now I feel only the driving need to enshield Amanat and wait this out.”


Raphael couldn’t blame her for that choice. “You should protect your people. They are yet babes in this new world.”


Eyes so similar to his own, yet with such age, such pain, such loss in them, met his. “You are the babe of my body, Raphael. I will not abandon you as I once did.” Steel in the blue. “My resources are yours. I will not permit your city to fall.”


“Mother.” He held her against him, continually surprised at how small she was, for she had always loomed larger than life in his memories. “I’m no child, and if you divert your resources to New York, you know Lijuan will attack and destroy Amanat.”


Drawing back, she took his arm again and led him toward the wide stairs to the roof, her voice unyielding. “What use is my city if my son is dead?”


Realizing he wouldn’t win this battle if he spoke as a son to his mother, he spoke as one archangel to another. “Victory in New York will be meaningless if Lijuan gains a stronger foothold in this part of the world.” Amanat’s simple existence was a symbol that Lijuan was not as all-powerful as she would have the world believe.


“And if you move your people to protect them,” he added, “thus abandoning your city, it’ll be viewed as a capitulation.” In wars between immortals, perception could often be everything. “Those who might now be undecided on a side will begin to see her as the true power, once it becomes known she drove you from your city.”


The elegant lines of her face exposed by the way she’d pinned her hair into a loose knot, Caliane pulled away to walk to the edge of the roof. “I’ll be making a choice, not being driven anywhere by that repugnance who styles herself an archangel.”


“That isn’t the story she’ll tell, nor the one people will believe.” When there was only silence from Caliane, her feathers limned with power against the starlit night, he reminded her of the one fact against which she couldn’t argue. “We cannot know how long the coming wars will last, and we cannot coexist in the same territory, Mother, not for anything beyond a short term.” It was the reason the members of the Cadre were separated from one another by water and land, their powers too violent to permit long-term proximity.



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