Archangel's Legion

Page 32

Sadness overwhelmed her as she rose to her feet, the victim appearing a broken doll discarded by a careless child. Elena hoped she was now at peace, this lovely woman who’d spent a thousand years in Sleep, only to die before she’d ever explored the new world into which she’d awakened.

Leaving her sleeping against the stone, Elena walked out into the sunshine where Isabel awaited with Naasir. “How long was she missing?” she asked, walking down a few steps so she could spread her wings, needing to soak in the sunlight after the cold sadness within a temple clearly built to be a place of beautiful serenity.

“Eight hours at most.” Isabel’s tone was direct but it held the same heavy sadness that had seeped into Elena’s bones. “Amanat is a small, tight-knit city,” the angel continued, “and she shared a home with two cousins. They raised the alarm when she didn’t arrive home for their nightly meal.”

“Was she healthy before this?”

“It was taking her body longer to adjust to being out of Sleep than most.” Isabel walked down to join Elena in the sunlight. “As a result, though she was mortal and not averse to sharing her life force with the blood kin, she hadn’t fed anyone in many days.”

The latter comment made it clear Isabel and Naasir had stayed up-to-date with the discoveries they’d made about the disease. “Since you’ve had no other infected”—a quick glance at Isabel to confirm—“it likely means the enemy intended to use her as a carrier. Except that she was too weak to handle the virus.”

Isabel’s jaw firmed, eyes flint-hard. “Had she been stronger, she may not have understood she was sick until it was too late, thus infecting those she fed in good faith.”

Sad as the situation was, it did seem to confirm their theory that the disease could only be passed via a transfer of blood, and as Keir had stated, a certain amount of it. Otherwise, the archangel behind it wouldn’t bother with such a slow method of infection—one that meant he or she had to make contact with the human chosen as the carrier.

Of course, an archangel could wipe a mind, so it wasn’t that big a risk in the grand scheme of things, more an inconvenience. “Do Amanat’s people go outside the city walls at any time?”

Isabel’s nod was immediate. “Caliane has encouraged them to explore their new world, but they almost always go in groups and return together. Kahla, despite her relative weakness, was more intrepid—I can well imagine her going for a walk on her own.”

Kahla. Having a name, a glimpse into her spirit, made it worse.

“The timing,” Naasir said, speaking for the first time since Elena walked out of the temple, “cannot be a coincidence.”

“No.” Turning, she met both their gazes. “No one can know of this.” The archangel behind it had to believe he or she had failed in the attempt to infiltrate the city. “We also need to keep Caliane’s people within the walls for the time being.” From the sly cowardice of the attacks, Elena didn’t think the individual behind it would have the nerve to abduct and infect one of Caliane’s people in so public a setting.

“No one will leave.”

Elena didn’t push the vampire for an explanation as to how he intended to achieve that—Naasir might make her instincts bristle in self-protective warning, but he was one of the Seven for a reason. If there was one thing Elena knew about Raphael’s most trusted men, it was that they got the job done.

“And I,” Isabel said, “will quietly examine anyone who has been outside the walls within the last three days, in case our enemy touched more than one.” A glance back at the temple. “There is a volcano not far on the wing. I can carry Kahla to her final rest when night falls.”

Touched by the gentleness in Isabel’s tone, Elena nonetheless shook her head. “Keir will need to examine the body.” Frowning, she considered the logistics of it. “He’ll need to wait till after the ball to avoid arousing suspicion, but I’m guessing the shield’s going to go up soon as the overnighting guests are all in”—Isabel nodded at her questioning look—“which means the temperature will rise.” And Kahla would begin to rot.

“Amanat has no suitable refrigeration facility,” Isabel told her, “but there is a fishing village two hours to the east. I’ll have a local drive one of their refrigerated trucks into the forest where it’ll be concealed from sight and out of earshot.”

There in the cold, Elena thought, Kahla would sit alone while the city danced.

• • •

“I am sorry, Mother,” Raphael said, as Caliane walked with him through her city, her people offering him shy smiles, their eyes drenched with love when they landed on Caliane. “Naasir told me of the loss of one of your own.”

“Kahla was a sweet girl—lively as a small bird, inquisitive as one, too.” Sorrow deep and true, followed by a whiplash of fury. “It is cowardice to take an innocent life in such a way, with no claim to the honor of open combat.”

His mother, Raphael thought, would never believe she’d just echoed the words of the hunter who was Raphael’s consort. “We will unearth the perpetrator and make his cowardice known.” It was one thing to infect a volunteer from his or her own lands, another to attempt to use a maid who knew nothing of battle.

Caliane’s expression softened as she tilted her head back to meet his gaze. “Yes, you will, my beautiful boy.”

Again, they walked in silence for many minutes.

“In the last Cascade,” he said, knowing she was the one living being old enough to know the answer, and someone who’d never betray him to another, “do you know of any archangel who heard whispers in his dreams?”

It was a strange thing to ask, but his mother simply looked thoughtful and he could feel her turning the pages of her eons-long existence. “No,” she said at last, stopping beside a wall entirely covered with hot pink blooms, her expression searching when she turned it on him. “Do you?”

He heard the concern she couldn’t hide . . . and he knew. “Father heard whispers, did he not?”

Sorrow darker and older than that caused by the loss of Kahla, a sadness that made his bones ache. “My beloved Nadiel would’ve been so proud to see who you’ve become. He always said you were the best of both of us.”

In evading his question, she’d given him his answer. His father had heard voices in his madness and now Raphael heard them, too.


Twenty-four hours after she’d left the temple, Elena found herself in the surreal position of getting ready to dress for a formal ball while a refrigerated truck sat not far from the city, hidden from the sight of the angels who’d soon be flying into Amanat. A number were already here, the city in a flurry of excitement, the majority of the residents unaware of Kahla’s death.

Caliane had made the decision to delay the announcement till after the ball—“for my people have worked so hard for this night”—the death to be explained as a tragic fall that broke Kahla’s neck. The young woman would still be sent into the heart of a volcano, but as part of a full funeral service that gave her friends and family an opportunity to say good-bye.

“Won’t people question the volcano?” Elena asked now, Raphael having just received the update about the funeral from Naasir.

He shook his head. “No, Amanat’s people have never buried their dead, so it’ll be seen as a fitting farewell.”

“Caliane,” she said, tightening the belt on her robe, “is she okay?” Raphael had spent time with his mother that morning, while Elena explored Amanat in Isabel’s company.

“She mourns.” His upper half shirtless, he stood at the open balcony doors of their third-level suite, looking out over the bustle of the city below. “My mother has ever treasured the people of Amanat.”

Elena couldn’t argue with that, not when she knew Caliane had taken her people into Sleep with her, she valued them so deeply. Those people, in turn, adored her with an openness and an affection so heartfelt, it gave them a rare sense of innocence and the city an unexpected warmth of heart.

“Kahla is the first she has lost since the Awakening.” His hands closed over hers when she wrapped her arms around him from the back, her cheek on the living silk of one of his wings and her palms on the rippled muscle of his abdomen. “If she could call off this ball, she would, but it’s too late.”

Elena thought of the haunting sorrow she’d glimpsed on Caliane’s face. “How does she not see anyone lesser as disposable, given how long she’s lived?” Of all the archangels Elena knew, including Raphael, it was Caliane who appeared the most attached to her people, mortal and immortal.

“I asked her the same question once as a boy,” Raphael answered. “It was after we’d been to the territories of two other archangels within a short period of time, neither of whom treated their people as I’d always seen my mother do.

“She told me there was a time when she, too, was utterly remote from the world. It was her love for my father that began the change . . . and my birth that completed it.” Echoes of time, of memories from the dawn of his life. “In becoming a mother, she found an ability to love that transcended the change engendered by time and power.”

Elena thought of the life Caliane had lived, tried to imagine the weight of so many years: To see an eon pass, then to fall in love and bear a child, only to watch your mate be consumed by a madness that forced you to execute him. And later, to be consumed by insanity yourself, cause harm to the child who was the last cherished reminder of your mate, to Sleep for over a thousand years and wake to find your son a man of incredible power . . . one who’d given wings to a mortal.

“If that happens to us,” she whispered, unable to wrap her mind around the idea of a life so long and so full of tragedy, “if we feel ourselves, who we are together, becoming lost in time, I don’t want to Sleep. I want to say good-bye when I’m still me and you’re still you.” A clean, sharp ending rather than a gradual unraveling.

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