Dark Hunger


Page 66



Raphael!


He reached for Elena not only with his mind but his hand, Jason and Illium clearing a path for her so she could get to his side. This will hurt, hbeebti, he said, as the mad archangel raised her hands again.


Nothing hurts when I’m with you.


Squeezing her hand, he sent an order to all his troops in the vicinity to get out of the blast zone. If Lijuan’s forces thought them cowards in retreat and turned their attention to him, Elena, Illium, and Jason, all the better. He’d take as many of them with him as he could.


He met Lijuan’s gaze before she would’ve struck again, and said, “Feed.”


She froze, her surprise unhidden.


“I won’t fight if you give me your word you’ll call off your troops till the sun sets on this day.” All he needed was a single point of contact and he could ignite the tiny amount of combined angelfire and wildfire left inside him, hopefully sending Lijuan to the hell where she belonged.


See you on the other side, Archangel.


Total calm descending on him with Elena’s words, he said, “My consort also remains,” knowing that was a lure Lijuan could not resist. She coveted Elena’s wings for the macabre collection of angels pinned to the walls of the refrigerated space that was her museum of death. “Look down.”


Lijuan’s teeth gleamed in a satisfied smile as she realized whose hand he held in his own. “I will agree,” she said, with a gleam in her eye, “if you give me your consort first. I wish to snap her neck, make her a beautiful corpse.”


His rage violent, he felt Elena’s wing just brush his as she flew up. Contact, Raphael. That’s all you need, right? Use me as a conduit.


No! he wanted to scream as Lijuan’s hand clamped over Elena’s wrist at the same time that his own closed around her ankle. Forgive me, Elena.


I’ll be waiting for you.


Refusing to let Elena die at Lijuan’s hand, he reached for the flickers of flame within himself and his consort, ready to ignite them both, when something dark gray slammed into Elena hard enough to break Lijuan’s hold.


At the same instant, a thousand crossbow bolts thudded into Lijuan’s body.


His wings tangled with Elena’s as she tumbled into him, it took Raphael several seconds to slow their momentum, and when he looked up, it was to see a badly bleeding Lijuan take bolt after bolt from the gray-winged angels, as others of the gray ones took on the enemy one-on-one.


Raphael didn’t waste time wondering which unexpected ally had sent this strange force. Attack! he ordered his own fighters, and made the decision to use a minute amount of wildfire to neutralize the poison Lijuan had thrown at him, for he was now of more use to his people alive. No mercy!


A wild grin on her face, Elena lifted the crossbow she’d never dropped, one wrist ringed with bloody bruises from Lijuan’s grip. We need to fucking deify whoever the hell sent those gray guys.


The sight of her hurt made the cold rage in him flare to icy brightness. First, he said, powering to Lijuan, I need to take out the garbage.


An archangel couldn’t be killed by crossbows, but with the bolts thudding into Lijuan’s body as fast as she pulled them out, she was distracted, her energies funneled toward healing herself. Her facial bones appeared and disappeared as her skin faded in and out, but when she didn’t shift into her noncorporeal form, he realized that whatever power she gained from draining the lives of others, it wasn’t enough to allow her to transition under this type of bloody attack.


Wrapping one hand around her ankle while she was distracted, he sent all his remaining power, power kissed with the life that was Elena, directly through his arm and into her bones. Her shriek splintered the sky, her lower body exploding in a blinding flash of light, her torso crumbling.


Is the wicked witch dead?


I’m not certain. He almost thought he’d seen her transition into her other form at the absolute last instant. But even if she survived the blast, it’ll have been with extreme injuries. Her body is gone. It would take her months to regrow it, and while Lijuan had tried to make them believe she didn’t need the flesh, this battle had shown she very much did.


Even if she could feed on others to speed up her healing, the way she’d opened her mouth when tugging Elena closer told Raphael she needed her physical form to feed. And he’d seen her head burst like a pumpkin as bolt after bolt thudded into it in that split second while she screamed. The gray ones were merciless fighters, but right now they were on New York’s side.


And it was time for him and his own to reclaim their city.


His body’s ability to store power depleted to the point of nonexistence, he grabbed the sword Illium threw at him and entered the fray, his battle cry echoed by every one of his men and women.


He didn’t know how long they fought, but he was always aware of Elena and those of his Seven who fought with him. Dmitri, having held off a new attempt to storm the Tower, his view far better than those in the thick of battle, sent through continuous strategic updates that Raphael used to direct his men and women so they acted as a smooth unit. He didn’t realize how far they’d pushed Lijuan’s forces until they hit the Atlantic, the fighting having moved from Manhattan and over wider New York as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky.


Ten seconds later, the instant after he sliced off the head of an enemy general in a fountaining spray of red that sent the body into the water from where his people would no doubt retrieve him, for he was too old to die by beheading, he felt Jason’s mind touch his. Sire, they’re lifting the flag of surrender.


Rising immediately above the rest of his force, Raphael confirmed Jason’s sighting, then raised his sword above his head in a vertical line. The message took half a minute to get through the furious fighting, but one by one his people held their blows, allowing the enemy to retreat.


“We just let them go?” Elena asked, having come up beside him. “Seriously?”


Raphael didn’t blame her for her angry disbelief, his own fury colder but no less deadly. “It is part of the rules of engagement.”


“But they would’ve killed us.” It was almost a growl, her blood-streaked and battered body taut with the need to hunt down those who had hurt the people who were her own.


“If my forces had surrendered, the enemy fighters wouldn’t have touched them so long as they didn’t raise arms against Lijuan.” Whether Lijuan herself would then have used his people for her feeds was another question, but he wasn’t Lijuan, to make such an ugly breach of the rules of his people.


Contacting Dmitri and Naasir, he said, Herd her surviving vampire troops to the pier and find them a ship. Make sure they have enough blood to survive the journey out of my waters. After that, they became the responsibility of their own commanders, and while Raphael didn’t think Lijuan had much honor any longer, he thought perhaps her older commanders had enough not to abandon their own.


“I still think it sucks.” Elena pushed a strand of hair off her sweat-stained face, the brown color so wrong, Raphael knew he’d have her wash it out at the first opportunity. “I don’t think that sick thing calling herself an archangel would’ve obeyed the rules.”


“She is beyond honor and madness, a creature of true evil.”


A sigh, his furious consort nonetheless lowering her crossbow. “And you’re not.” Scowling, she continued to watch the enemy. “Fine, fine, we’ll be civilized and let them retreat, but damn it, I don’t like it. They’ll be back as soon as Lijuan has recovered, because it would be just too much good luck if the Queen of the Zombies was truly dead.”


Of that, Raphael had no doubt. “The rules of engagement were put in place long ago, after archangelic wars no one remembers,” he said to Elena, and it was also a reminder to himself of why such rules were needed. “Wars, after all, are between the archangels—yet it is the angels and vampires below us who die total deaths.”


As he’d expected, the general he’d beheaded had been retrieved, while countless vampires and ordinary angelic fighters floated on the water or lay broken and bloodied across the city, their lives ended. “In those wars, it’s said we decimated over eighty percent of our population. Only the archangels and the noncombatants survived and not one person ever forgot the blood that stained the hands of the Cadre at the time.”


“Okay,” Elena whispered, horror in her expression. “Okay, I get it now.”


“Jason’s squadron will escort them out of our territorial waters,” he said, brushing his wing over hers. “Now we must deal with this other strange force, find out their price for this day’s help.”


They turned as a unit to face the city.


45


Having landed on roofs as far as the eye could see, the gray ones sat crouched like living gargoyles, their wings arched, fundamentally changing the landscape. Birds sat on the shoulders and bodies of many of them, silent and watchful.


“Have you ever seen anything like this before?” Elena asked Raphael, trying to make some sense of what she was seeing, and failing.


From what she’d witnessed in the battle as the gray angels fought around her, there was no color to them—gray eyes, pale smooth skin, hair of gray, gray wings. Yet they were humanoid, had faces with the clean lines and strong bones of the immortals. Their wings, however, had no feathers, instead formed of a leathery texture that reminded her of the wings of bats. The shape of those wings, too, was similar to the nocturnal creatures.


“No,” Raphael said after a long moment, as heavy clouds passed across the sky to drop a curtain of snow on the city, the sun blotted out to cloak the world in darkness.


It created the perfect muted background for the strange angels who crouched all over New York.


“These gray ones are an enigma.” Eyes of violent blue took in the eerie scene, everyone so silent it seemed impossible this was a city of countless souls. “Come.”


The gray angels didn’t stop them as they flew back through the snow to the Tower, Illium by their side. Coming to a stop on the Tower balcony, Elena took her place beside Raphael, their eyes on Manhattan. Dmitri flanked him in silence, while Illium acted as a winged sentry. Naasir, she realized, had to be handling the enemy vampires still in the city.



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