Archangel's Legion

Page 58

It was a bare hour after that that their battle plans suffered another blow.

“We are overrun with reborn,” Elijah told him, his cheekbones cutting sharply against his skin. “I don’t know how Lijuan got them in, or even if she did it with more than a single creature—we both know it would’ve taken only one to start the process.” An indictment of the creatures’ sheer infectiousness. “It appears to have been a plan put in place over months, the infected seeded throughout my territory and kept chained up behind locked gates. Evidently, she predicted we’d ally and stand against her, for those gates have now been opened.”

The Archangel of South America shoved a hand through the gold of his hair, his eyes backlit by a furious amber glow. “I’m shamed to break my promise of aid,” he said, the words clearly hard for him to shape, “but I need to use every weapon at my command to hit hard and fast before the reborn riddle every part of my territory. Already, they’ve killed or infected thousands, savaging entire villages and townships.”

“The risk is ours,” Raphael said, reminding Elijah they shared a land border. “No shame comes of your decision. Should you contain them, you more than uphold your part of our pact.” He considered who he had near that border, if they could provide any assistance.

“My strongest people are here, others on watch in areas where we had small reborn infestations of our own, but I’ll order every able individual near the border, mortal and immortal, to mobilize with flamethrowers and fuel to set up fire lines. They can at least clean up any reborn that attempt to escape your forces.” The reborn couldn’t survive fire as they couldn’t survive beheadings. “I wish you luck, Eli.”

“And I, you, Raphael.”

When Illium returned in the twilight hours beyond midnight, Lijuan’s forces still at least twelve hours away, for they had to move at the speed of their slowest member, he brought worse news than anyone could’ve imagined.

“Your people didn’t fail,” Raphael said to a quietly infuriated Jason, pointing out a commander to Lijuan’s left. “She was part of Uram’s troops.”

Dmitri pinpointed three more of the dead archangel’s people, all commander level, just in the first row. “Uram’s territory was parceled out after his execution,” the vampire said, “his troops divided. If all the extra fighters prove to be Uram’s, she has over half his squadrons. She shouldn’t.”

Aodhan was the one who answered, voice quiet but words potent. “If Raphael were to perish, the Seven divided, would we not come together should we have a chance to avenge his death?”

“I didn’t think the guy inspired that kind of loyalty,” Elena said, staring at the photographs of the massive force that would soon hit Manhattan. “I mean, he murdered hundreds of his own people.”

“He was a good archangel once.” An archangel Raphael had called friend an eon past. “That is who his loyal soldiers remember, who they seek to avenge.”

“Sire,” Galen said from the screen on the wall, where he and Venom had joined in the discussion, “the enemy outnumbers us five to one. We need to pull our forces inward and compel the enemy to mount a siege. So long as the Tower does not fall, Lijuan doesn’t win.”

Raphael knew what it must’ve cost his weapons-master to make that recommendation, for Galen was a warrior who lived by the blade. And though he knew the other man’s counsel was sound, the idea of abandoning any part of his city made his blood rage.

It was Elena who gave him perspective. “With the entire area evacuated,” she said, “we’d only be protecting buildings anyway. Buildings can be rebuilt.” Bleak acceptance in the silver-gray, his hunter who loved every tiny pocket and corner of her city.

“Go,” he said to Dmitri. “Do what needs to be done, commandeer the people you need.” All the anti-wing guns would have to be moved, for a start. “I’ll rework the troop placements.”

Dmitri left with a curt nod, taking Jason with him and ordering Illium to rest after his long flight. Aodhan went in a separate direction, having assumed the task of ensuring there’d be enough food stock inside the Tower for the hunters and the wounded, should the siege continue beyond a few days. Water, at least, was no problem, the Tower having a secret independent line that had been put in place at the time of its construction.

Raphael turned to the last member of his Seven who remained, Galen and Venom having signed off to return to their task of holding the Refuge stronghold secure. “How many more do you need in your team?” he asked Naasir. The vampire had arrived forty-eight hours before, fed well, and was at full strength.

“The team is complete,” was the response, Naasir’s silver eyes intelligent as only a predator’s could be. “Janvier and his hunter.”

“I wouldn’t call Ash that to her face,” Elena pointed out, wondering what it was Naasir planned to do. If she had to guess, given the team members and their abilities, she’d say it was about causing sabotage and disorder among the enemy camp.

A feral grin that said Naasir still found her interesting, and then he was gone.

Alone with Raphael for the first time in hours, Elena touched her fingers to his face and he lifted the glamour to expose the mark on his temple. It had grown at an accelerated rate since the river altered color . . . to the point where it was now clear it had nothing to do with disease—no, it was a symbol both savage and dangerously elegant. Created of complex but jagged lines, it curved down his temple to the top of his cheekbone on one end, the other end curling in on itself.

“Raphael, it’s not red anymore,” she whispered, astonished at the primal beauty of a finished design that reminded her of a stylized dragon. “It’s the color of us.” An incredible violent blue lit with searing white fire, so drenched with light and color that it appeared alive.

Reinitiating the glamour until they were in the bathroom of their suite, Raphael dropped it to examine the mark in the mirror. “I’ve seen this design before,” he said, to her surprise. “In old places in the Refuge, from times so long gone, no one has any memory of when the carvings were created.”

She hitched herself up on the counter so she could continue looking at the mark that no longer terrified, but compelled. “Any hint as to its meaning?”

“No. I asked Jessamy once, and she said she’d looked in the texts herself and found no mention of them. ‘Perhaps they are an enigma left behind by our ancestors to inspire us to search for knowledge,’ was what she said to me.” Shifting into the space between Elena’s legs, he was patient as she traced the vibrant, living mark with her fingertips.

“It’s truly beautiful.”

Raphael raised an eyebrow. “Many would say it’s savage.”

“Savage can be beautiful.” It suited him, her archangel whom she’d seen fight the reborn with raw ferocity, his twin blades moving so fast, she’d wanted only to watch him. “I don’t think there’s any longer any question that you’re evolving.”

That hard, pragmatic look back on his face. “Not fast enough. The mark may be complete, but in power, I’m no different than I was yesterday. We must focus on the factors we can control.” He stepped back, the glamour going up. “I need to reconfigure squadron placements. You should wake the leaders of the Guild and vampire shooting teams and do the same.”

Elena nodded. “One thing, Archangel.” She drew him to a stop with a touch on his wing. “I don’t think you should hide the mark come morning.”

“Fool the enemy into believing I’ve gained more power than is true?”

“And give our own forces heart,” Elena said, pushed by the same instinct that told her his wings were changing in more ways than in surface appearance. “There’s nothing to lose.”

• • •

Hours later, with the sky shifting from darkness to gray, Raphael left Aodhan on watch and walked up to the suite, having sensed a disturbance in Elena’s sleep patterns. He’d kept an eye on her since she’d finally gone to bed two hours past, knowing her tiredness and the tension-filled day made for optimal conditions when it came to the horrors that stalked her dreams.

When he reached the bedroom, he found her restless but not yet in distress. Lying down beside her, he spread his wing over her body in a protective wave and murmured words of love from an archangel to his consort until she sighed and sank into a deep, peaceful sleep. “Sleep well, hbeebti,” he said softly, brushing a kiss to her temple.

Not needing to rest, he had every intention of leaving the bed in the next few moments . . . but then he was dreaming, with no awareness of having closed his eyes. This time, he wasn’t on that lonely, forgotten field, but in a place so dark, it was beyond the rich black of night. He could hear nothing, see nothing, feel nothing, the blackness pressing down until it felt as if it would suffocate the life out of him.

More games.

His anger ignited, his wings glowing to fill the dark with light. The blackness swallowed the glow, pushing down harder on his body. Furious, he struck out with his power, and it parted the black, only to reveal more blackness, a world of nothingness. About to strike again, he thought suddenly that he needed Elena, needed the passionate life of her, born of the brilliant firefly existence that was a mortal’s.

“Raphael.” A touch, fingers rough from weapons-work sliding into his to curl around his hand.

“How did you find me?”

The rim of silver around her irises luminous in the blackness, she said, “I heard you call my name.” Screwing up her nose, she glanced around. “I’m not sure I like this new dreaming habit of yours.”

Sliding his wing over hers, he said, “I have to agree with you,” as around them, what had been impenetrable black became a soft gray. “Your heart drives away the dark.” She’d seen terrible things, been bathed in blood, yet in her lived an innocence of soul of which she seemed unaware.

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