Dark Hunger

Page 40

Bleak realization stole the wonder. “It was destroyed, wasn’t it?”

“Caliane is uncertain if some part of it does in truth lie below the ocean, protected by its archangel, but it fell victim to the last Cascade wars, as did many other great civilizations.”

“Such wonders lost forever, Raphael. Things that eclipse the creations of this modern world, until the boastfulness of today is that of children who have never seen true grace.”

Repeating Caliane’s judgment for Elena, he told her the rest, how the wars had circled the globe, soaking the earth in mortal and immortal blood both. “By the time they came to an end, a century after they began, half the world was gone and civilization had regressed by millennia.”

Elena shook her head, as if the knowledge was too terrible to bear. “These Cascades, there’s no way of telling how many have come and gone, how many times civilization has been all but erased only to start again.”

“Yes.” Shifting so his body covered her own, his hand in her hair, he told her the prelude to the final brutal fact. “Caliane has survived more than one Cascade.” That, he was certain, no one knew. “She says not all are equal, and that from the changes apparent in the Cadre so soon into the Cascade, this may be the strongest in all her eons of existence.”

Unhidden horror, his hunter’s arms holding him close. “If the last Cascade ended in the destruction of half the world . . .”


• • •

Given Raphael’s ominous bedtime story, it was a miracle Elena slept as soundly as she did. When she woke, however, to a haunting quiet that told her more snow had fallen overnight, it was with a blinding need to escape the madness of the immortal world for a fragment of time.

Sara had the morning off—as much as a Guild Director could ever have time off—so Elena hooked up with her best friend and Zoe at a small neighborhood eatery for brunch. The owner and most of the regulars knew Elena from before her transformation and, while there were a few people who snuck photos, no one bothered them.

An hour and a half later, they stood in Central Park, watching a giggling Zoe try to catch the pigeons. Bundled up like a little polar bear in an orange snowsuit, the tiny girl would sit down in the snow every so often to rest, then be off again after the birds. Elena’s breath frosted the air as she laughed in delight at Zoe’s antics, the temperature freezing enough that Elena, too, was dressed for the weather, wearing a long-sleeved top underneath her black hunting leathers. Her immortal body might be tougher than a mortal’s, but it had become clear she was too young to shrug off this kind of cold—especially in flight, where she had to deal with wind chill as well.

“How’s Vivek?” Sara said, after sending Deacon a photo of Zoe sitting in the snow.

“Aodhan is supervising his transformation.” Elena had made certain Vivek was in hands she trusted. “I haven’t been to visit him—he asked me not to. I don’t think he wants any of us to see him while he’s so vulnerable.” Paralyzed he might’ve been, but Vivek had never been helpless as long as Elena had known him. “You know how much he likes to be in control.”

“I get it, but he’s still a proud idiot,” Sara said, her tone deeply affectionate.

“Keir’s personally monitoring his progress.” Sara had met the healer during her visit to the Refuge, knew the deep respect with which he was held in the immortal world. “It’s been a long time since the Making of a mortal with such a significant long-term injury.”

“Mommy!” Zoe ran back to them in that wild, almost-falling-over-at-any-instant way. “Isses!”

Crouching down to snuggle her little girl in her arms, Sara smothered her adorable face in the requested kisses. The two looked so gorgeous together that Elena snapped a photo with her own phone, Sara’s deep purple coat vibrant against Zoe’s orange outfit, their faces creased in identical smiles. Zoe giggled when Sara pretended to tickle her, then gave her mom a smacking kiss on the cheek before holding up her arms to Elena, dark eyes bright. “Nantie Ellie!”

Laughing, “Nantie” Ellie lifted Zoe into her arms and, after sneaking a cuddle, threw her into the air, catching her in a firm grip on the downward flight. Zoe squealed happily, her hood falling off to reveal gorgeous curls of bronze threaded black tied in two neat pigtails. “Zoe fly, Nantie Ellie!”

“Yes,” she said, utterly besotted with Sara’s baby. “You’re flying, Zoe.”

Five goes later, the little girl was seduced by the sight of an angelic feather drifting to the snow from a passing squadron and raced off to snag it for her collection.

“I swear,” Sara muttered, “I have a heart attack every time you and Deacon decide to treat my tiny, tiny baby like she’s a damn basketball.”

Elena grinned. “She’s your kid—you’re the one who jumped off a building in pursuit of a vampire.” Leaving Elena swearing a blue streak as she stared down at the alley, fully expecting to see her friend’s broken body. “And you caught him, too.” Sara had calculated her jump to take her into a Dumpster full of food waste. Nasty, but safe.

Now, her best friend pointed a finger at her. “You do not tell stories like that within earshot of Zoe.”

“Give it up, Mama Bear. She has the ex-Slayer for a father and the kick-ass Guild Director for a mother, plus a totally awesome hunter-born for an aunt.” Patting Sara’s shoulder, she said, “Kid’s never going to be satisfied sitting at home doing jigsaw puzzles.”

“Deacon made her a miniature crossbow.” The look on Sara’s face was an odd mix between horrified and proud as she said, “Zoe’s a crack shot already. Thank God her ‘bolts’ have sponge heads or we’d all be dead several times over.”

“You know she’ll have every hunter in the Guild, and if I have my way, every angel and vampire in the Tower, looking out for her.”

Sara brightened. “There is that . . . though it’ll probably drive her to rebellion. We must fine-tune our cunning plans to insulate her from danger.”

The subject of their machinations raced back right then, breathless with excitement. In her little fist was a feather of deep brown edged with black. “Angel,” the little girl said, stroking her finger gently over the filaments she’d taken care not to crush.

“Well done, baby.” Beaming, Sara crouched down again. “Do you want me to keep it safe for you?”

Sara didn’t speak again until Zoe had returned to her play, and when she did, her words were heavy with concern, her face solemn. “Vivek’s going to need us after he wakes up. I can’t bear to think he might have to keep his distance.”

Neither could Elena. “I’ve got an idea on how we can make sure he has that support without him violating his oath to Raphael and the Tower.”

Two hours later, she tracked Aodhan to the top of one of the massive towers of the George Washington Bridge, his legs hanging over the side as he sat atop the metal frame, and his eyes on the traffic below. He’d have been a hazardous distraction had it been a sunny day, but the overcast sky kept the sunlight from refracting off him, the drivers unaware they were being watched.

She thought about how to bring herself down safely on the relatively narrow surface, and managed it on her second attempt. “Not bad.” Grinning, she didn’t draw attention to the fact that Aodhan’s hand had shot out to grab her when it appeared she might slip and fall. Automatic though it had no doubt been, it was a sign the angel’s dislike for touch wasn’t so deeply rooted as to trump his instinct to protect.

“Your balance is excellent,” Aodhan said, his expression thoughtful, “but you need to strengthen the muscles used to hold a low hover.”

“Any specific exercises?” she asked, happy to learn anything that would make her more efficient in the air.

“Yes.” Attention returning to the passing traffic, he added, “I can teach you.”

Curious as to what had him so captivated, she took a seat beside him, careful to ensure their wings didn’t brush. “Are you looking for someone?”

A shake of his head. “I find myself fascinated by the fact that even though the river was full of blood less than a day past, it appears to be business as usual for those who call this land home.”

Elena laughed. “New Yorkers are a tough breed, Aodhan.” Reaching back, she tightened her ponytail. “Kick us and we might go down, but we’ll come back up with fury in our eye and grit in our souls.” She loved the bloody-minded strength of her city. “No outsider will ever see us cry.”

Eyes of shattered glass met her own, her face reflected back at her in startlingly beautiful splinters. “I haven’t forgotten our talk of fear and aloneness,” he said, before shifting his gaze toward Manhattan. “You and this city teach me much about coming back after pain and fear. You’re right—I’ve licked my wounds long enough.”

Stunned at the openness with which he’d referred to his emotional scars, she went with her gut. “We’re all allowed time to curl up and recover from shock or hurt. But if it goes on too long, it begins to eat away at you.” Elena knew that from experience, her angry pain where Jeffrey was concerned having left her with indelible scars of her own. “It’s better to face the pain, neutralize the acid of the memories.”

“And if that fails? If I fall again?”

“You will,” she said, because the truth was a far better weapon against the darkness than any false hope. “Over and over. Sometimes, it’ll get so brutal that curling up and hiding again will seem the better choice.” She thought of the way she’d wanted to shut down in the aftermath of the nightmare in Amanat, of the exhilarating, hot-blooded knife fight that had followed. “Don’t give in, Aodhan, because you can’t imagine the glory that waits on the other side. Fight to see it; fight to own it.”

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