Dark Hunger

Page 42

“You know the answer to that.”

Yes, unfortunately, she did. Power corrupted, and often the corruption was absolute and ugly.

Glancing at the angel, beautiful and gifted, who crouched down to more closely examine the victim, his wings a carpet of exquisite blue and silver on the concrete, she hoped that when the time came, when his power matured to its full strength, he’d have someone who’d act as his anchor, as she and Raphael did for one another. She couldn’t bear to think of Illium corrupted. Not Illium.

• • •

The vampire died twelve hours later, having never wakened from his sleep. “It was a blessing,” Keir said, before he left the city—the healer had arrived in time to examine the victim while he lived. “The disease had eaten its way into his internal organs, would’ve caused him excruciating pain had he been conscious.”

Keir’s tests had also shown the male had had a genetic abnormality that made him less susceptible to the virus, though, as they’d seen, not immune. As to how he’d been infected, that was unknown. However, interestingly, he’d just returned to the country after a business trip to China.

“If we’re wrong and it is Lijuan,” Raphael said to Illium as they flew back after escorting Keir to the jet, “then she’s gaining strength at a pace far beyond that of anyone else in the Cadre.” It could well make her invincible.

Illium held position, wing to wing. “It’s possible she could simply have facilitated the infection by offering safe passage through her lands to her coconspirator.”

“Not a great scenario, death and disease acting in concert, but better than Lijuan being the sole holder of such vicious ‘gifts.’”

Snow started to fall again around them, the world below dusted in innocence and peace, but the illusion didn’t last. Early the next day, a plane bound for New York, its point of origin Shanghai, made an emergency medical landing in San Francisco, the human pilot sending a request for Tower assistance through air traffic control.

To the mortal pilot’s credit, he refused to permit anyone else aboard the plane until the arrival of the Tower team, his actions containing the disease within the steel belly of the aircraft. All seventeen vampires on board proved to be sick, their bodies grotesquely contorted, sores on their faces.

The humans were placed in isolation for forty-eight hours, then released after a thorough check showed no signs of infection, while the vampires went into strict medical quarantine.

Five days later, they began to recover—and according to Keir, all now had an immunity to the disease. It was the first good news they’d had. “Our enemy became impatient and overreached,” Raphael said to Elena that morning, the two of them going through different martial arts routines on the lawn of the Enclave house. “Keir now believes we may have the ability to create a vaccine, though it’ll take considerable time.”

“That’s some good news, at least.” Elena completed her kata and picked up a small towel to wipe the sweat off her face, the sun shining this morning, though the snow hadn’t melted. “What about vampiric travel?”

“Highly restricted.” Raphael’s expression was that of the archangel he was—cold and resolute. “News has begun to spread of the disease and most vampires are voluntarily restricting themselves. Anyone who attempts to defy the order will be dealt with.”

“Good.” She knew it had to frustrate those vampires who needed to travel for business or other professional commitments, but it wasn’t only their lives at stake. “If that vamp pilot hadn’t been hit by a car and replaced an hour before takeoff, this could’ve been a far bigger disaster.” Going to stand in front of her archangel as he finished his own exercises, she placed her hands on the warmth of his skin, his upper body bare.

“At any other time,” Raphael said, eyes furious, “I would launch a preemptive strike to halt any further sneak assaults, but with my forces decimated, the only option is to intensify our defensive position. We simply do not have enough people to protect the city and launch an attack at the same time.”

Wrapping her arms around him, Elena leaned into his body, the heat of his fury far more welcome to her than the strange cold after the river ran with blood. “I’m going to see the injured angels after breakfast.” She held on tighter. “Being around you and the Seven, I’d begun to get a distorted idea of how quickly angels healed—and I didn’t understand just how bad the side effects of that drug could be.” The men and women in the infirmary were growing back their torn-off limbs and ravaged organs a literal inch at a time, their pain so excruciating, it drove many to tears.

Her own eyes burned as she said, “Izak was sobbing when I arrived yesterday, and he was so ashamed I’d seen him like that.” A knot in her throat she had to swallow repeatedly to speak around. “I told him there’s no shame in acknowledging pain, that I’ve cried when I’ve been hurt and been no less strong for it, but I don’t know if he believed me.”

Raphael ran his hand over her hair. “He’s a young boy at heart still and he adores you.” A kiss against her temple. “Speak to him about what he’ll have to do to prepare to be in your Guard. It’ll give him the reassurance he needs.”

“Should I tell him he’s about to be thrown into training with Dmitri and Illium? It might scare him.” Izak was a baby in comparison to the lethal men in the Seven.

“He may feel fear, but if my judgment of him is correct, it’ll also give him the impetus to fight through the agony to come so he can prove his claim to the position.”

Raphael’s prediction turned out to be right on the money. Izak went sheet white when she told him exactly how tough he’d have to become now that he was part of her Guard . . . then he took a deep breath and gave her an unexpectedly solemn, adult look. “Thank you. I thought perhaps you’d only agreed to offer me the position because you felt sorry for me.”

“I’m saving up the pity for when Galen arrives to take over your training.”

He winced. “I was hoping he’d remain at the Refuge.”

“If he does, you’ll be shipped there.” Forcing herself not to look at the raw red of his wounds, she kissed him on the forehead. “I’m sure he won’t beat you black-and-blue every day.”

“Ellie, I didn’t know you were so mean.”

Leaving him with a scowl on his face and a smile in his eyes, she visited with the others, all of whom she’d begun to know on a personal basis. It was hard, seeing so much hurt done to people who now belonged to her, but if they could bear the unfathomable pain, she could bear to stand with them through the journey.

When she finished speaking to the final conscious angel, she had an informal visit with an active squadron, then checked to see if her sister, Beth, had canceled their appointment. No. Taking a deep breath and aware there were no more excuses, she swept off the Tower to fly to a storage locker in Brooklyn. She hadn’t been there in weeks, not given everything that had been happening in the city . . . No, that had nothing to do with it; the truth was, she’d been avoiding it even before the Falling.

As she landed, she didn’t understand the reason for her resistance when she’d been so painfully happy to find Jeffrey hadn’t thrown out her mother’s belongings after all. She didn’t even know why she continued to keep everything in storage when there was plenty of space at the house for it. She hadn’t even taken the precious quilt her mother had stitched by hand.

“Ellie?” It was a wobbly sound.

Turning, Elena saw a sweetly curved strawberry blonde with eyes of translucent turquoise, her body covered in a flirty cherry-pink dress coat belted at the waist. She’d paired the flared coat with knee-high black boots that matched the jaunty beret on her unbound hair, the whole outfit topped off with a gorgeous handmade fabric rose pinned to the top left of her coat.

Her baby sister had always liked to dress up, even when they’d been kids. Belle had often treated her like a living doll, to Beth’s great delight, adorning her in necklaces and lace as they put on a fashion show for the rest of the family. “Calling me Ellie now?” she teased with a smile, those memories untainted by blood and death. “Don’t let Jeffrey catch you. It’s Elieanora.”

Beth stuck out her tongue, but the moment was fleeting, her face falling as she looked at the door of the storage space. “Mama’s stuff is really in there?”

“Yes.” Jeffrey had signed over everything to Elena.

Beth had been so young when Marguerite died that Elena didn’t blame her father for his decision—the items would have little meaning to Beth. But Elena knew the stories attached to each treasured piece and those stories were part of Beth’s legacy, too.

“Hey,” she said, cupping her sister’s wet-eyed face. “You don’t have to do this, Bethie, not if it makes you too sad.”

“I want to.” Hot tears running over Elena’s hands. “I want to remember . . . s-so I can tell the baby.”

Elena froze for several seconds. “Harrison?” she got out at last.

A shamefaced nod. “I know I threw him out and I meant it, too, but I love him, Ellie.” The tears kept coming. “Even though he didn’t wait for me to be accepted, too, before being Made, I still love him.” She swallowed, twisting her hands together. “I think he’s sorry for what he did now that he understands he’ll have to bury me one day, bury our baby, too.”

Elena didn’t like Harrison because, no matter his love for Beth, he’d demonstrably wanted immortality more. He hadn’t waited until Beth’s tests were completed, tests that had shown her sister wasn’t a viable Candidate; Beth would die horribly if she attempted to become a vampire. Elena wished she could alter that, but she couldn’t. It was a biological fact written in stone. As it appeared Harrison was now beginning to comprehend.

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