Dark Hunger


Page 41



His responding words held an undertone of heart-piercing joy she’d never before heard from him. “It was worth the risk to play a game with my friend again,” he said, the diamond-coated strands of his hair brushing against his cheekbone in the gentle wind. “Until I threw that ball at Illium over the river, I didn’t understand I hadn’t felt alive for over two hundred years.”


A companionable silence fell between them for the next few minutes, until Aodhan said, “You searched me out on purpose?”


“Yes. I wanted to ask you something.” Her eyes on his profile, his skin—alabaster lovingly caressed with fine gold—flawless. “Does Vivek belong to you? Since you Made him?”


Shaking his head, he said, “All vampires belong to the archangel in the territory where the vampire is Made. Supervisors are chosen from among the senior angels.”


Damn. “So I’m too young to supervise a vampire?”


“In ordinary circumstances, yes; a new-Made vampire can sometimes be violent, difficult to control, and you are weak in angelic terms. Vivek Kapur, however,” he said, making it clear he understood why they were having this discussion, “won’t come into his full physical strength for some time and you have Raphael’s resources at your command.”


“So it’s doable?”


“It is done.” He held her gaze. “You understand you’ll be responsible for the hundred years he has Contracted to serve—and that service must be completed.”


“I know. It’ll breed resentment otherwise.” As far as Elena knew, Dmitri’s wife, Honor, was the sole exception to the Contract rule in Raphael’s territory, and it was an exception not a single immortal would ever question. Dmitri had, after all, been Raphael’s loyal second for a thousand years and counting, had spilled his own blood countless times in defense of his archangel.


“What are your plans for the term of his Contract?” Aodhan asked.


“He’ll be with Tower communications as discussed, but as soon as he regains use of his limbs, I plan to put him in training at Guild Academy.” It was what Vivek had decided on when they’d discussed things prior to his Making; a man didn’t need to be physically strong to become a lethal shot. Vivek planned to practice his shooting skills while building up muscle. “In the meantime, he’ll be attending intensive lessons at the Academy to bone up on areas of practical knowledge he didn’t need in his previous position.”


“That won’t be enough,” Aodhan said, just as she glimpsed wings of distinctive silver-blue changing course to head toward them. “He must be seen to be in your service.”


“The training will be to ready him for a position in my Guard.” That wasn’t something she’d known to offer Vivek before, but it seemed the perfect solution. Still, Elena had no intention of forcing the decision on her fellow hunter; Vivek had already had too many choices taken from him. “I trust him down to the bone and he’s already saved my life more times than I can count.”


“Good,” Aodhan said slowly. “Once your intent becomes known, it’ll be assumed he was Made to serve in your Guard, explaining the extraordinary effort expended on his behalf.”


Illium arrived before she could respond, landing to grab a seat beside Aodhan. “Why are we sitting on a bridge presenting postcard shots to the tourists on that boat?” he asked, waving at said tourists, who jumped up and down, their squeals carrying on the winds.


“No one noticed us until you deliberately did a low flyby over that same boat,” Aodhan pointed out.


“Wave to the nice tourists, Sparkle. I promise it won’t cause pestilence and firestorms.”


Elena bit the inside of her cheek at Aodhan’s glare—she’d never seen anyone crack his reserved shell. “Sparkle and Bluebell, nice.”


“Never,” Aodhan said, hands stubbornly on the girder, “ever repeat that. Illium seems to have forgotten I promised to separate his tongue from his mouth should he utter it again in his immortal lifetime.”


“You have to catch me first,” Illium taunted . . . and fell backward over the edge of the bridge tower.


“Illium!” Elena cried out as he tumbled toward the heavy traffic, his wings tangled.


“He’s playing a trick,” Aodhan said calmly. “He used to do that to his mother all the time, until one day, she did it back to him. I do not think I have ever seen Illium so chastised and white.”


“No, Aodhan, he’s falling too fast.” Heart in her throat, Elena twisted in desperate readiness to take off, try to help . . . except it was too late: Illium was about to be crushed between two trucks. “No!”


Silver-blue wings snapping out at unbelievable speed, his nimbleness on astonishing display. “Ellie”—wicked laughter in the gold when he flew back up—“you look like you’ve seen a ghost.”


“I am not talking to you.” Breathless from the fright, she spoke to Aodhan instead. “I’m going to tell the Hummingbird he’s been up to his old tricks.”


Aodhan’s lips kicked up in the slightest, slightest smile.


“Hey! Wait!” Illium tried to get into her line of sight. “Don’t tell Mother. I promise I—”


Elena’s phone rang right in the middle of Illium’s plea for mercy. “Sara, I—” she began, wanting to share the good news about Vivek.


Her best friend cut in, tone stark. “Ashwini spotted a sick vampire in the Port Jersey container terminal. She thinks she can corral him, but she’ll need the Tower to take him off her hands.”


Elena’s blood turned to ice. “We’re on our way.”


28


Ashwini was bleeding badly from cuts on her arms and scratches on her face when Elena arrived with Aodhan and Illium. “Sick vamp didn’t touch me,” she said, before Elena could ask. “Cuts are from before—the retrieval I have immobilized in the car. Idiot male had nails like fucking knives and I was stupid enough to get too close.” She nodded down the row of shipping containers. “Your vamp is in there. I managed to herd him into a dead end.”


Elena went in with Illium and Aodhan, while Ash watched their backs, in case there was more than a single infected vampire in the area.


“Don’t touch him,” she said to the others when they spotted the vamp, who was indeed mobile. “One thing to believe we can’t be infected, another to know.”


The vamp had seen them, too, was trying to shuffle-run across the wide space, his fingers in a rigid clawed position and his eyes red. The pustules on his face had burst, the ones on his arms infected.


“Stop!” she called out.


No response, the vampire continuing to close the distance between them.


Taking her lightweight crossbow from where she’d strapped it to her thigh, she took aim at the vampire’s left leg. He didn’t even hesitate, leaving her no choice but to fire.


The shot was clean, the vampire going down with a high-pitched scream that just sounded wrong. Her gut roiled at his agony, though she knew the wound would heal within hours. “Keir said a live victim might help him better understand the disease.”


“I’ll arrange a retrieval team in suitable biohazard gear, then contact the healer.” Aodhan lifted off in a whisper of sound.


The vampire continued to scream as if hot pokers were being driven into his flesh. “This isn’t right.” The fact that his suffering might help save the lives of others didn’t make it seem any less like torture. And that was a line she would never cross. “We have to end—”


“No.” Illium retrieved his sword, Lightning, from the sheath on his back. “He is not in such pain. The location of the injury means it hurts going in, but it’s only a dull pulse once the bolt is embedded.” Striding forward, he put the tip of his sword on the vampire’s chest while staying out of reach of the creature’s torn, bloodied fingernails. “Quiet.”


The vampire froze.


Crossbow raised to cover Illium, Elena walked close enough to look into the vampire’s face, and what she saw made pity rain in her veins. “You want to die.” Those bloody eyes held a glimmer of true consciousness, enough that this vampire understood what was happening to him even though he couldn’t stop it.


“Can’t kill,” the vampire said, a tear rolling down his face, the liquid pinky red. “Can’t kill.”


Can’t kill?


“Did you try to kill yourself?” she asked, but he was gone, febrile madness crawling over his eyes to leave him clawing out chunks of his own face.


“I can’t watch this.” Not wanting to end the vampire’s life when Keir might be able to help him, she took a gun and flipped it, intending to knock him out with a tap to the head.


“Wait.” Illium stared at the vampire, his eyes burning true gold . . . and the sick male stopped writhing, his hands falling to the sides and absolute peace in his expression as his lashes closed.


Elena looked at Illium with new eyes. He was, she realized, not just powerful. He was becoming a power.


“Why are you looking at me like that, Ellie?” Sliding away his sword, darkness in the gold. “You’re afraid.”


“Not of you. I just realized you might one day leave the Seven.” No one as powerful as she suspected Illium would eventually become would want to be in service to another—if that was even a choice. “I can’t imagine you not being a part of this city, of my life.”


“It’s not going to happen anytime soon.” A dazzling smile that erased the shadows, his wings spreading to brush her own before he folded them back in. “Forget the coming war, the Tower would fall down without me.”


“So modest.” Her smile faded as her eyes landed on the vampire, who slept so peacefully and who she knew would probably never wake, though she hoped Keir could save him. “What does it say about the archangel behind this, that he has the ability to create disease?”



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