Archangel's Legion

Page 53

“It was time.” He knew he’d never have reached the end of that field without . . . something, something he was meant to have in order to complete the journey. “Why do you watch me in such a way?”

“Occasionally I wake,” she whispered, as if it were a secret, “and I have this instant where I don’t believe the happiness inside me, can’t imagine you could ever belong to me, but you do.” A smile that pierced the lingering grayness. “You’re mine.”

“I had another dream,” he told his hunter, for she belonged to him as much as he belonged to her.

Elena cocked her head, listening as he described the forgotten field and the weight of age, the scent of old, old things. “There was no sense of threat,” he said, “but I felt I’d lose something indefinable if I did not do an act of which I had no knowledge.”

A thoughtful silence. “It might simply be your subconscious’s way of working out everything that’s been going on, but after that shared dream, I have my doubts.”

As did he. “And you, Elena,” he said, deciding to let matters lie for now, for the intrigues of the dream world had to take second place to the harshness of reality, “what did you dream?”

“Not a damn thing.” Her beaming relief segued into concern all too soon. “Did Jason send through another report last night?”

“The reborn component of Lijuan’s gathering forces appears to be suspiciously small, especially given how many villagers have disappeared from the areas closest to her stronghold.”

Elena sucked in a breath. “You think they might already be on the way?”

“Or have arrived, been stashed away until needed.” It wasn’t impossible that they could’ve been smuggled in on shipping containers. A container would provide a perfect cage, and, once released, the starving and infectious creatures would decimate the population. “Jason also has information that Lijuan has ‘improved’ on her design so these reborn are not sentient in any way, simply creatures designed to kill and feed.”

“Infectious, mobile weapons.”

He nodded, agreeing with her assessment. “Charisemnon’s forces are also strong, but Titus has stepped up the aggression on their border to ensure Charisemnon cannot risk seconding any squadrons to Lijuan.”

“That’s good news, isn’t it?” Elena said. “I know Lijuan has more fighters, but she can’t move all her forces against us or she risks leaving her territory vulnerable.”

“She has also been an archangel for millennia, and as such, has many, many more older angels and vampires at her command.” Harder to kill or disable, the senior fighters could endure far longer than younger ones.

“Hell, I didn’t even think about that.” Elena spread her hand over his heart, the look in her eyes telling him she was calculating every angle. “Home field advantage remains our best weapon.”

“Yes, and we must utilize it in every way possible.”

When they flew into the city a half hour later, it was to see its rooftops bristling with weaponry inimical to winged fighters.

“Even the old angels,” Elena said, satisfaction in her tone, “will take time to heal if we blow the bastards to smithereens.”

So bloodthirsty, hbeebti.

A grin. “You know you love me that way.”

“Which is why I wish you to join the squadron practicing with crossbows in the air.” He knew his consort would never sit in safety while her city burned, so he’d make certain she was prepared.

“Good. I’m not fast in flight, but I’m a crack shot.” A tender kiss, a fleeting memory of the short, passionate minutes they’d taken for themselves earlier in the morning. “You’re meeting with Dmitri?”


That discussion took over two hours. Leaving the other man to organize an extended sentry line, Raphael was about to take off from the Tower to meet Nazarach—the senior angel having relocated to the city overnight—when he felt the wind turn violent, whipping his hair off his face. Along with its fury came a scent of age and old, old things. Buried things.

The sky turned as red as the Hudson had done in a pulsing wave, the birds swirling a constellation above the Tower. Fighting the wind, Raphael lifted off, heading directly to those birds, called by an ancient power that licked over his skin. The tiny winged creatures parted to let him in, and so he became the center of the constellation as the bloodred sky pushed down on him and the warm rain was drops of blood on his skin, his face, his hair.


Elena looked up from the roof of the building where she’d landed when the wind turned murderous, her crossbow gripped in one hand and her heart kicking against her ribs. Raphael! she cried out with her mind, able to see him in the center of the fury of birds that circled black against a crimson sky.

He didn’t answer, and the rain, it was blood that tasted of the sea and the wind and of Raphael, but below that was a chill old and inhuman. No, no, no! The cold power can’t have him! Jaw clenched, she strapped on the crossbow and ran over the edge of the roof, intending to ride the wind up to Raphael, but the force of it threatened to throw her against a building, smashing her to pieces.

Gritting her teeth, she fought against the violence, but her wings had begun to crumple when a flash of blue appeared under her, holding position with a strength that made his growing power clear. Realizing what Illium was trying to do, she allowed herself to drop. He twisted at the last second to catch her, spiraling down to another rooftop in a controlled descent.

As soon as they landed, Elena looked up again and saw that Raphael remained in the center of the bloodstorm, his mind distant from hers. “Can you reach him?” she said, screaming to be heard over the rising wind.

His own hair whipping off his face, arms tight around her, and eyes glowing gold, Illium shook his head. “Something is blocking me, blocking all of us!”

No, she thought again, this time not in panic but in resolute fury. No one was ever going to separate her from Raphael. He was hers. Focusing through the bloody rain that slashed at her face and turned the world crimson, she looked only for the archangel who was her own, her mind reaching for his, powered by a connection that was the sum of both of them.

It was as if a great wall stood between them, but Elena wasn’t about to give in. Hacking at it until it felt as if her mind was as bloody as the rain, she smashed a hole big enough to thrust her hand through. Raphael!

• • •

He heard Elena’s voice in his mind, cutting through the whispers that surrounded him, whispers that weren’t words but that he understood all the same. This was a test, the voices said, as had been the others. But who would dare test an archangel? That was a question to which he had no answer, but he knew one thing: no power in the universe could separate him from his hunter.

Smashing through the gray wall of whispers, he grabbed hold of her hand. I am here, Elena, he said, the connection between them pure and unhindered. Fly to me.

The wind—

It won’t stop you. Nothing had the right to touch his consort without his permission. Illium, he said to the member of his Seven who held her safe, release her.

Parting the wind with a blade of agonizing power, he watched her take off, her wings a spread of midnight and dawn streaked with indigo and twilight blue, resplendent against the bloody rain that soaked the city. That rain parted for her as the wind had done—as the birds now did. Until her body aligned with his, her hands on his shoulders, her wings folding in silent trust, his arm around her waist.

Bright eyes of silver-gray searching his own. “You’re here.”

“Yes.” The power, cold and beautiful and dangerous, had threatened to swallow him, but in his refusal to be cut off from Elena, he’d found the clarity to understand once more that he couldn’t hope to control the vicious strength of it . . . but even a mere taste had been potent. If he could just find a way to hold a fraction of it, no other immortal would dare turn his or her eyes to his territory.

Elena’s fingers digging into his shoulders. “Hey, hey, your eyes are going black again.”

“So much power, Elena,” he said, burying his face against her hair as the cold fingers of it snaked through his veins. The whispers urged him to accept what he was given, as the scent of age, of time, filled his senses, as if this power had slept an eon and woke only for him. “I would be the most powerful archangel in the world.”

Shivering at the ice in that whisper, in her awareness that his heart no longer beat, his breath frigid, Elena tugged back his head to look into those inhuman eyes. “You would be a monster,” she reminded him. “I’d be nothing to you, my life one you’d snuff out without thought.”

“You are everything.” His kiss was so cold it threatened to shock her own heart into halting its beat. Unlike him, she wouldn’t survive.

Raphael, my . . . she managed to get out through the searing cold, her breath frozen in her chest when he broke their kiss. I’m dying, Archangel. It took all her strength to force that out past the ice in her brain.

A blink, incandescent blue flaring outward from his irises as one of his hands flattened over her breastbone. “NO!”

A punch of violent white-hot power that made her scream, her back bowing and her heart stuttering back to life. Somehow finding the will to think, to get her frozen hands to his cheeks to cup his face, she said, “Let it go,” through chattering teeth. “The power isn’t worth the price.”

Both arms crushing her close, his breath still frigid but his eyes that incredible, astonishing blue, he said, “Hold on, hbeebti.”

The sky exploded in an ear-piercing lightning storm of blue electric with piercing white fire that sheared away the ruby red to expose patches of the sky as it should be. With the blood went the abnormal cold and Elena found herself gulping in air that didn’t feel as if it was frozen crystals in her throat, in her lungs, her heart kicking into a normal rhythm.

She jerked when the first icy droplet hit her cheek . . . but this was only water, the air scented with the clean, fresh ozone of the rain that crashed down from a storm-darkened sky, washing away the stain of blood. Leaning back as much as she could given the tightness of Raphael’s hold, she tugged down his head with a hand on his nape and kissed him again—this time, the raw heat of him made her body burn, her breasts swelling against the heavy wetness of her combat gear.

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