Archangel's Legion

Page 5

Raphael waited while his mother thought. He knew the delay was no power play, no arrogant posturing. Caliane was simply very, very old, her memories hidden in long-forgotten corners of her mind.

“Once,” she murmured into the silence, “an entire city of angels turned against each other for a single minute. Blows were exchanged, knives thrown—then everyone seemed to wake up and no one knew why they had acted so.” A frown. “There were some who believed the chaos must have been caused by the use of a new archangelic ability, but there was never a repeat of the incident.”

It was tempting to believe the Falling had been another such aberration, but—“I can’t be complacent, not given the changes occurring in the Cadre.”

“The one who dispenses death.” Caliane’s wings glowed a sudden, lethal, brightness. “She who styles herself an Ancient, you think she has a hand in this.”

“It doesn’t appear to be Lijuan’s handiwork.” Raphael’s mind flickered with images of another time when his mother had glowed . . . during an execution that had broken her spirit and splintered their family. “But,” he added, closing the lid on the memories of his father’s violent death, “we’ve barely begun the hunt for answers.”

“You will not permit this to keep you from my lands.” It was an order.

He infused his response with unbending steel. “I’ll make that decision when it is time.” His mother had a way of forgetting that he was an archangel with a territory of his own.

Caliane’s lips curved, the music in her voice reminding him of the songs she’d sung to him as a boy, songs that had held the Refuge in thrall. “You were always a stubborn child. The only way your father could get you to let go of anger, as an infant, was to scoop you up in his arms and take you flying. Oh, how you loved to fly with Nadiel.” Love and a haunting sadness in her every word. “You always came back laughing, your hair wild and your cheeks red, my beautiful boy.”

Raphael touched his fingers to the screen as she’d done, his heart aching for the losses that marked his mother. He didn’t know if he could ever forgive her crimes, didn’t even know if she was truly sane or if this was a fleeting lull, but he knew that he loved her. “I hope,” he said as her fingers touched the screen on her end, “you will not tell such stories when we are in company.”

Her laughter was a song, her eyes iridescent. “I promise you’ll be a babe only in my eyes, always my son.” Laughter fading into sadness once more, she said, “I am sorry, Raphael. To lose any of one’s people is a deep sorrow.”

Turning to Elena once the call had ended, he found her knuckling away a tear, his tough hunter whose shell was not so tough to those who knew her. “Hbeebti.” He took her into his arms, the silk of her robe sliding over his skin.

“She loves you so much.” Elena’s whisper was rough, husky. “It’s there in her every breath, every word. I can’t imagine what it must do to her to know that she hurt you during her madness.”

Raphael understood that his mother hadn’t been in her right mind when she sent him plummeting to the earth, his wings shredded, but some part of him was still that broken boy who’d lain bleeding on the dew-drenched grass—as her feet danced away over the green blades speckled with viscous red. “I cannot forget.”

“I know,” Elena said, that painful understanding binding them on a level no one else would ever comprehend. “I know.” Her mother had loved her, too, but Elena’s most enduring memory of Marguerite was of her high-heeled shoe lying on its side on designer black and white tile.

Strange, how the memory of that shoe made her skin chill, her lungs struggle for air. But that was how it was. Some memories dug deeper, held on tighter.

“What happens now?”

“This city, my Tower, cannot be seen to be weak.”

“Of course.” Anything else might be taken as an invitation to conquer by certain others in the Cadre. “We have to convince them the Falling did far less damage than it actually did.” Almost half of the Tower’s defensive force was down for the foreseeable future: a staggering deficit.

“Yes.” Raphael reached between them to tug open the tie of her robe, slide his hands inside. “As part of that,” he said to her responsive shiver, “my consort must be seen to be indulging in her strange fetish for hunting vampires.”

“Ha-ha.” Undoing the buttons of the shirt he’d pulled on for the call, she pressed a kiss to the firm muscle of his chest. “I’ll tell Sara not to strike me from the roster.” Chasing delinquent vamps hardly seemed important in the wake of the tragedy that had befallen the city, but if it would help create the illusion of a Manhattan undamaged by the horror that had taken place in a few short minutes, then that was what she’d do.

She knew angelkind in general remained fascinated with her, the first angel Made in living memory and one who continued to hunt. According to what she’d heard from Illium, there were as many angels glued to news reports about her as there were humans and vampires. So why not use that notoriety to the city’s advantage?

Raphael’s hands stroked off her robe to leave her naked, her skin igniting under his touch. “You need to rest,” she argued halfheartedly, a clawing need inside her to taste life in its most primal form. “You pushed your new ability to the limit in the infirmary.”

Lips on hers, his mouth claiming everything she had. “There are,” he said, backing her against the wall, “other ways of revitalizing the self.”

Elena gasped as he lifted her, her legs locking around his waist to leave her intimately exposed.

He was hard and demanding that night, her archangel, his fury at the attack on his city a rage in his blood—but she was no fragile bird. Giving back kiss for passionate kiss, she took the pounding thrusts of his cock and demanded more, until there was no more thought, only the most beautiful firestorm of sensation.

• • •

Raphael had thought only to hold Elena close as she slept on the thick carpet in front of the study fireplace, their bodies and wings entangled, but he must have been more tired than he’d understood, because all at once, he realized he wasn’t awake. Instead, he found himself on the forgotten field where Caliane had left him more than a thousand years ago, when he’d been a boy at the dawn of his existence.

A boy who’d thought to kill his mother before she became an even bigger monster than the one who had orchestrated the death of two thriving cities, the adults drowned, the children broken in ways even Keir, their greatest healer, couldn’t repair. No immortal would go to the ancient ruins of those cities even now. There was too piercing a silence, created of the pain of thousands of souls, such silence as Raphael would never forget, the pain of it an icy wind.

Today, as he stood draped in a quiet heavy with the echo of memory, he saw blood on the grass, the crimson liquid that had dripped out of him as he lay splintered on the earth underneath a crystalline sky so blue it hurt. Yet he wasn’t on his face on the grass as he’d been then, his wings torn and heavy on his body, parts of him missing. No, he stood on his feet and he was a man, an archangel, not that scared, determined, heartbroken boy.

Flexing his hands as if in readiness for battle, he took a step forward . . . and walked into a wall of whispers. Hundreds of voices, each one raspy and somehow unused, the words interlaced and incomprehensible. They came from every side, yet when he rose up into that sky of cutting clarity, he saw nothing but the gnarled bodies of the trees that surrounded the field, sentinels of such age that they had stood through eternity.

And still the voices whispered and murmured, pushing at him in waves that ebbed and flowed, until at last, he heard a single strong voice slice through the chaos. The other whispers died away, but did not fade altogether as that one voice asked him a question. “Who are you?”

Feet touching the grass once more, the dew wet on the very tips of his wings, he felt a roaring surge of anger. “Who are you to ask questions of an archangel?”

The murmurs rose again, the volume rising to a thunderous crescendo.

Archangel. Archangel. Archangel!


“Archangel.” Elena gripped Raphael’s shoulder, his skin strangely cool under her fingertips. “It’s time to get up.”

He always woke at her first touch, but today she had to call him a second time before his lashes lifted, the relentless blue of his eyes shadowed by a darkness that muted their vivid hue. “It’s daylight,” was the first thing he said, his gaze taking in the lacy streamers of light coming in through the study windows.

“You were in such a deep sleep, I thought I’d give you a few extra minutes.” It was the only gift she could give; to protect an archangel was an impossibility. “It’s barely dawn.” Watching him get to his feet, this magnificent and lethal male who was her own, she rose and pulled on her robe. “You had an angry look on your face at the end. Bad dream?”

“Not bad so much as strange.” He didn’t speak again until they’d both showered and begun to dress, their bedroom drenched in dawn sunshine from the skylight and open balcony doors. “I dreamed of the field where I fought Caliane.”

Tying off her braid, she busied herself checking her crossbow, though she saw nothing of the weapon, every ounce of her being concentrated on Raphael. He spoke rarely about that agonizing day, and she hadn’t pushed him, because the whole “time heals all wounds” thing? It was a load of bullshit. “Was your mother in the dream?”

“No.” Walking to the balcony, his upper body bare, he spread his wings as if soaking in the sun’s rays, the golden filaments hidden in the white sparking with a fire so brilliant, Elena found herself brushing her fingers along the living silk.

“What do you see, Elena?”

“There’s a kind of fire in your feathers now.” She almost expected to capture a piece of piercing white flame in her hand. “It’s incredibly beautiful.”

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