Archangel's Legion

Page 36

There were two known exceptions to that rule. The first was pregnancy—had Michaela truly been with child, he could’ve offered her sanctuary, for the vulnerability that came with carrying a child would’ve dampened the effect. The second was love of the kind shared by Caliane and Nadiel, their deep emotional bond somehow ameliorating the effect. Michaela and Uram, by contrast, had never lived together, their love affair conducted over short periods of intense intimacy, followed by weeks of distance.

An adult child fell into neither exception. “I would end up viewing you as a threat, and you would feel the same about me, our instincts driving us mad as we fought the urge not to kill.” It was a prediction borne out by angelic history. “You need to maintain and hold this territory.”

“I could cross over and obliterate Lijuan’s stronghold while she is gone, take her territory.”

“Her stronghold is deep in the heart of her territory and you went into Sleep with two squadrons alone.” Strong and skilled men and women, but a tiny number nonetheless. “While you fly into her territory, her commanders will send squadrons to destroy Amanat. You must think of all the permutations of any action you take.”

Wings rustling, Caliane turned to face him, her expression softer . . . bleaker. “When did you stop being a boy and become a man so used to the ways of politics and power?”

“I was always going to end up here.” The child of two archangels, one an Ancient, could have little choice in the matter, power fused into every cell of his body.

Poignant emotion in her eyes, she flared out her wings and, stepping off the edge of the roof, made a silent descent to the street below. “Walk with me through my city,” she said to him when he followed, “and tell me of your foolish but brave consort.”

It was the first time she’d ever acknowledged Elena as his consort without his prompting. “You must first tell me your decision on matters of war.”

“You are right in all you say, and I cannot permit my love for my son to blind me to that.” Fingers brushing his cheek. “Do not fail, Raphael. I have outlived my consort. I cannot outlive my son.”

“Should I fail,” he said, instead of making a promise that might prove false, “you’ll be the only one who remains who might defeat Lijuan. You cannot abrogate that responsibility.”

“Can I not?” Cool arrogance. “I see you believe you can make decisions for another archangel.”

He laughed as the night winds played with the wintery white of his mother’s simple gown. “I learned how to be a ruler by watching you.”

A scowling maternal look. “Always, you were able to get your own way by giving me that smile.” Sighing, she led him to an enclosed private garden he knew she’d created for her maidens, the air perfumed by the riot of flowers that fell from the temple balconies that surrounded the space. “Your Elena, she has no sense of her own mortality.”

“She is a warrior.” One with a human heart. “As with all warriors, fear is a tool she uses to her advantage.”

“Tasha is a scholar and a gifted warrior, yet Avi and Jelena tell me you didn’t pursue one another beyond a single summer. She would’ve made you a perfect consort.”

“Would you have your son in a polite political alliance?”

Taking a seat on a stone bench overhung with yellow roses turned silver by the moonlight, Caliane shot him an exasperated look he well remembered from boyhood scrapes. “Stubborn child.” Sighing again, she said, “Come, then. Tell me why you love this once-mortal enough to defy the world. I would hear the story of your courtship.”

Coming to sit with her below the roses, he braced his forearms on his thighs and said, “It began with a bloodborn angel and ended in ambrosia.”

• • •

Too wired to sleep in spite of the late hour, Elena talked Isabel into a sparring session in the private courtyard of the house occupied by only Raphael, Elena, Keir, Naasir, and Isabel. The other angel was good, but Elena more than held her own.

“I think I’ve become soft in this position.” Isabel wiped the sweat off her brow. “Galen will have my head when I rotate back to the Refuge.”

“He’s a tough bastard,” Elena agreed. “But since I’d be dead without the lessons he beat into me on a daily basis, I can’t curse him too loudly.”

Isabel stifled a laugh, and the two of them separated to shower, with Naasir taking over the watch. Conscious Caliane would want to spend as much time with Raphael as possible, Elena didn’t wait for him before going to bed, her body happily tired. She expected a total knockout . . . but it was as if the nightmare visions knew she was alone, vulnerable.




Elena’s wings kept dragging through the congealed blood no matter how hard she tried to keep them raised off the slippery tile, the white-gold tips turning a muddy rust. “Belle? Belle, where are you?”

Her oldest sister crawled to her from behind the counter, her blood-soaked fingers leaving darker streaks on Elena’s wings as she tried to grab on. “Ellie, my legs hurt.”

“Wait, I’ll help you get up.” She slipped in the liquid that smelled so wet and metallic even as she spoke, landing hard on her back, her wings crushed between her body and the tile in a tangle that wrenched at her tendons.

Gritting her teeth, she managed to get onto her hands and knees, but her body kept sliding backward, the kitchen floor suddenly a slope. “I can’t reach you.” Her voice was that of the child she’d been, the girl used to having two older sisters who told her what to do when she wasn’t sure. “Belle! What should I do?”

But Belle couldn’t speak anymore, her head separated from her body, her beautiful long legs in pieces. Sobbing, Elena tried to find Ariel. Ari would know what to do; Ari always knew.

Heart pulsing in her mouth, she glimpsed her sister’s slender fingertips behind the chair, began to claw her way forward. She knew it was Ari, because Ari had just painted her fingernails a shade she called “nude”—the color wasn’t her favorite, but it was one that didn’t get her in trouble at school. “Ari?” She reached out to touch Ari’s hand. “Belle’s hurt. She’s really hurt. We have to help her. Ari?”

She was holding her sister’s hand. It had been torn off at the wrist.

• • •

Raphael walked into the suite at dawn to find his consort in bed, her body rigid and her hands fisted. Immediately putting his hands on her shoulders, he shook, knowing she needed to be wrenched out of the vicious grasp of nightmare. “Elena, wake!” Elena!

A jerk of her head, but she didn’t wake. Tugging her toward him with a grip in her hair, he kissed her, kept kissing her until he felt her nails dig into his arms, her body losing that ugly nightmare tension. The sob that tore from her when he broke the kiss had him crushing her close.

“I hate this,” she said, after the storm had passed and they sat on the edge of the bed staring out at the approaching dawn. Her voice was flat, near defeated, unlike the woman he knew.

Not closing the distance she’d put between them because he sensed she wasn’t ready, her hands white-knuckled on the edge of the bed, he kept his eyes on the clean line of her profile. “You’re having far fewer nightmares than you did when we first met.”

Jaw clenched, she stared down at the carpet. “And I still wake up like that, terrified out of my skin.” A throb of anger beneath the defeat, his Elena rising through the battered and bruised places in her soul. “When does it stop? When do I get over it?”

Judging she wasn’t willing to listen to reason—she might not even hear him in her current self-punishing mood—he rose. “We’re not scheduled to leave for two hours.” He could not be seen to be racing back to New York. “We have time for a sparring session.”

She didn’t get up. “I had one with Isabel last night.”

This, Raphael realized, was even more serious than he’d believed. Elena never turned down a chance to spar with him—he was one of the few people who pushed her to her absolute limit, uncaring of the risk attendant in causing even unintentional harm to the consort of an archangel. To him, the inevitable bruises were acceptable if the lesson would help her stay alive.

Picking up her favorite blades, he threw them at her. Hands snapping up, she caught both. “I said”—spoken through gritted teeth—“I don’t want to.”

“And I say you’ve sulked long enough.” He stripped off his formal wear and pulled on a pair of pants suitable for sparring.

Eyes of silver-gray slitted in frigid outrage. “I just dreamed I had my sister’s severed hand in my own. Sorry if that inconveniences you.”

Raphael shrugged and very deliberately used the one thing he knew would infuriate her enough to cut through the apathy. “I’ll see if Tasha is up for a session, then,” he said and reached for the doorknob. “Be ready to leave in two hours.”

The knife quivered to a stop on the doorjamb an inch from his face.


Not saying a word, and aware of Elena swearing behind him as she rushed to pull on clothes, he walked out and down the steps into the courtyard. When she emerged a couple of minutes later, it was in khaki cargo pants and a specially designed black tank that took her wings into account. Like his, her feet were bare, but she had knives while he was unarmed.

A fair balance, given his extreme strength and speed.

When he made a “come on” gesture with both hands, Elena narrowed her eyes and threw one of those blades at his face. He was distracted just enough by the unexpected act that she almost swiped him with the second blade as she came in low. Grinning, he avoided the strike with a twist that slapped her with his wing.

It wasn’t meant to hurt, only to distract in turn, but Elena had learned from their past sessions, and turned with him, going for his wing with the blade in her grip. His consort had a tendency to make mistakes when angry, but not today—he’d succeeded in angering her to the point where she fought with icy fury.

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