Dark Hunger


Page 61



Seeing movement from the enemy side at the same instant as his second, he dropped the discussion for the moment and left to take to the skies, the second wave of attack far more vicious than the first. Blood splattered the snow everywhere he looked, innocence forever tainted.


41


A day of punishing fighting later, Elena lay in her hide again after a short break, protected from the light snow falling out of a sky patchy with cloud. It was a pretty night, peaceful with occasional starlight that glinted through the clouds and devoid of the sounds of battle, but her heart thundered in her ears because Raphael had left the city almost twenty-five minutes earlier.


Lijuan had managed to wound him in their last skirmish, his chest raw and burned down one side, but he’d shrugged off the injury—one that made Elena want to stab out the eyes of the murderous bitch who’d hurt him—to focus on how to stop the cargo planes that carried such a deadly payload. His plan, if it succeeded, would provide a much-needed boost to the spirits of their battered people, but it could also go spectacularly wrong.


“Naasir, you crazy bastard,” she muttered under her breath, “I hope to hell you come through.” The cargo planes would be landing around about now, and somehow, their side had to keep Lijuan distracted long enough for Raphael to make it back after destroying the planes.


“I’ll take many lives this night,” Raphael had said to her in the single private moment they’d had in the midst of the fighting. “Hundreds of vampires who’ve done nothing but be loyal to their archangel. I know it must be done to protect my own people, but that doesn’t change the fact that their blood will stain my soul.”


The bleak acceptance in his eyes had broken her heart. And she’d known that even two years past, he wouldn’t have said the same thing, the remoteness of over a thousand years of violent power hardening him to the lives of others. “That their deaths matter to you,” she’d whispered, “it’s your salvation.” Unlike Lijuan, he didn’t see either his own or the enemy fighters as disposable.


Now, she waited for him to return, wanting only to hold him after the brutal ugliness of what he’d been forced to do, all because an archangel believed herself a goddess. More like a fucking specter of pure evil, Elena thought, knowing that if there was any way on this earth she could kill Lijuan, she wouldn’t even blink before raising the blade.


“Bees, Ellie,” came Sara’s voice in her earpiece less than a minute after the scheduled arrival of the planes, her friend in the control room, tasked with handling the Guild teams. “It’s the weirdest thing—there are gazillions of bees around Lijuan’s people and from what we can see they’re mad and stinging like crazy.


“And even weirder, the ones not squirming and slapping off bees are grinning like lunatics because they’re coated in butterflies. I’ve never seen so many in one place. I didn’t even know butterflies flew around at night.”


Grinning, Elena pressed the reply button on the comm device. “Naasir apparently has some tricks up his sleeve.” Hell, if he kept this up, she might have to risk being eaten and kiss him on that gorgeous and freaky mouth the next time she saw him.


“I’ll say.” Sara logged off.


Two minutes later, Elena got a confirmation that Raphael had destroyed the planes. “On alert,” came the order in her earpiece seven minutes after that, the ongoing distractions having apparently bought them that much time. “Enemy forces preparing to launch major offensive.”


Breathing calm and heart rate steady, Elena kept her eyes on the night sky . . . so she saw the flares that lit it up, dazzling the senses. An enraged scream sounded from Lijuan’s side of the line with the second flare, bolts of archangelic power going completely wide of the Tower by several blocks. Glass smashed, bricks fell, but the Tower remained unscathed.


Was the crazy old bitch sensitive to light?


It made sense, given the paleness of her eyes. But since she appeared fine in daylight, it wasn’t a debilitating weakness, simply one that could be aggravated by the right conditions. Elena decided she really would have to kiss Naasir for figuring that out with his sly tiger-creature brain.


Flares continued to light up the sky over the next few minutes, exacerbating Lijuan’s screams of fury and keeping her own forces down because her bolts were going so awry, she could as easily hit them. Then the fireworks started.


Elena couldn’t help it; she began to giggle. They were fighting a battle for their lives and it was going to be fireworks that saved them?


Giggles passing when a glance at her watch showed Raphael would only be halfway home at this point, she kept her eyes on the brilliant display—and suddenly became aware of midnight blades slicing through the storm of color to hit the Tower and surrounding buildings. “Shit. Lijuan’s figured out a way to adapt to the light.” Trying to spot Lijuan’s people among their own as wings filled the air, she found herself blinded by the fireworks. “Dmitri! Get Naasir to shut it off!”


“Three seconds.”


The last firework went out as Lijuan’s second blow hit the Tower, leaving a significant dent and destroying an entire row of windows. Scanning the sky, she spotted the Archangel of China’s distinctive white hair above the sea of wings. There was no way to hit her that far up. “Fuck.”


Teeth gritted, she started aiming at the enemy angels as they swarmed, their objective clearly to land on the buildings that housed the aerial defense systems and the shooting teams. Precision aim was near impossible with the lack of light and the enemy’s sheer numbers, so she switched approach to go for the wings.


All they had to do was hold on until Raphael’s return.


Angel after angel went down with torn and badly damaged wings, but there was a constant wave of reinforcements, giving the wounded angels time to heal and arise anew. Meanwhile, Elena knew their own forces were being worn down by the constant barrage, above and below, the vampires on the ground no doubt locked in violent combat against vampires and wounded angels both.


Black lightning splintered the sky the next instant, taking down a number of Lijuan’s people. The lightning didn’t stop Lijuan, but it irritated her enough that she tried to aim for the source, only to find her way blocked by a rain of glittering stone so sharp it threatened to shred her wings. On its heels came a pulse of golden power that smacked into the enemy fighters and Lijuan both, cutting the ordinary angels down like bowling pins and making Lijuan fight to hold her position in the sky.


Stabilizing, the Archangel of China raised her arm to unleash her power, and the black lightning struck a second time.


Jason, Illium, and Aodhan, Elena realized, were working together to keep Lijuan annoyed and distracted. It worked, at least for a while. Then Lijuan decided to leave them to her generals, while she flew above the fighting, her focus on the Tower. Her first blast blew out another row of windows to shower the streets in glass; a second one to the same spot would do serious structural damage.


“Archangel,” Elena whispered, taking aim at one of the enemy generals, “if you’re planning to do something, now would be the time.”


Her bolt ripped through the red-winged angel’s right wing, just as another hunter hit his left . . . and a spear of incandescent blue kissed with wildfire slammed straight into Lijuan—or it would have, if one of her troops hadn’t angled across her in a suicide intercept.


Screaming an eerie high-pitched scream, Lijuan retaliated with a hail of black knife blades. Raphael had told Elena the glamour was near impossible to hold at this level of combat, and now she saw him come into view, dodging Lijuan’s power while attempting to find a hole in her defenses. That was all Elena had time to see, enemy fighters continuing to fill the air, Aodhan, Illium, and Jason locked in combat with Lijuan’s generals.


Notching in bolt after bolt, she continued to shoot, her concentration absolute.


When blood splattered her face as an angel crash-landed in front of her, her eyes went immediately to his wings. “He’s one of ours!” she yelled to the trainees by the rooftop door, covering them in concert with another shooter as they dragged the angel to safety. Wiping the blood off using her sleeve, she returned to her task, but it was as if the enemy was multiplying.


An entire squadron flew right at Elena’s roof, not flinching when five of their team went down with bolts through their wings and necks, every shooter on the roof switching focus as they understood this was a full-on assault designed to take them out. But there were too many of the enemy, the roof overrun in seconds.


Rising up out of her hide, Elena dodged the bolts of two enemy fighters and kept shooting, aiming for the vulnerable eyes and necks now that they were so close. Several headed right for her, swords drawn, while their brethren engaged the other defenders on the roof. Out of bolts, she dropped the crossbow and, with the same movement, reached for the machine guns she had strapped to her thighs. “Fire in the hole!”


Her people dropped at the warning and she sprayed the rooftop with gunfire, the bodies of the enemy jerking, limbs twitching where they fell as the strong ones struggled immediately to heal from the assault. Blood and brain matter splattered the concrete, and still they kept coming, an endless wave. That was when she realized she was being driven to the edge of the building. They wanted her to fall, to fly off.


“Fuck!” It was a trap, one they were willing to sacrifice their people to set. “Ransom!”


Gunfire erupted from her left, the other hunter careful not to hit her as he took over. Screaming a battle cry, she shot out a heavy spray of her own, then, instead of going over where they wanted her to go over, ran right through the enemy. “Keep shooting!” she said, her own guns pumping fire.


Her boots pounded over crushed and bloodied feathers as she shot her way past the startled angels still standing, the air full of bullets she couldn’t totally avoid. One caught her a glancing blow on her arm, the other dug a fiery groove across her cheek, but she reached her target without any real injury, going over the opposite side of the building from where she’d been herded. The enemy turned to follow her en masse, which hopefully meant the others on the roof would be all right.



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