Archangel's Legion

Page 68

As it turned out, the holds had been stuffed with the last of Lijuan’s hideous reborn so far as anyone knew. “Tell him to bring Mele along,” Elena said, thinking she might actually start to enjoy this whole hostess deal if she kept getting to pick guests she liked. “Oh, you’ll probably get an official update from Elijah, but I was talking to Hannah and she says they’ve dug out the final few stubborn reborn from their territory.”

“Good. Our territory is also clean, and I think I’ll speak to Eli about certain ongoing safeguards to make sure that doesn’t change.”

Elena nodded and drew in the crisp, bright winter air as the sounds of horns drifted up from the cabs below. God, it felt good to have her city back again. It might be a little battered, but hell if anyone was going to keep it—and the people who called it home—down. “I can’t believe the Tower repairs were done so quickly.”

The winter sun creating that illusion of white fire across his wings she wasn’t sure was an illusion at all, Raphael walked to the edge of the building. “It’s the symbol of my power.”

As such, Elena thought, it could never appear weak.

“Of course,” Raphael added, “the Legion is an extraordinary workforce.”

“Yeah.” His consort came to stand beside him, arms folded as she scowled at the sight of two Legion fighters landing on a Tower balcony. “You’re sure they’re not secretly planning to take over the city?”

“Yes, I feel it inside.” Stroking his knuckles gently down the side of her face, the heavy bruise she’d taken on her jaw during the final fighting yet healing, he said, “You feel it, too, my suspicious consort.”

She unfolded her arms. “It’s like a tiny but steady pulse at the back of my mind, this awareness the Legion belong to us.” Eyes of silver-gray turning to him, face solemn. “I know if I think a little too hard about the Primary, he’ll appear in front of me, ready to do my bidding. And while I might be starting to get a handle on the consort thing, I’m not ready to deal with that kind of power. It’s yours.”

“Yes,” he said, “it’s mine.” Elena didn’t have the experience to manage a force such as the Legion, and more, she shouldn’t have to. Already, she was taking on far more of the responsibilities of a consort than anyone could’ve expected of her so soon into her immortality. “But I hope you’ll give me the benefit of your advice as I learn to deal with my new army.”

A twitch of her lips, her wing sweeping across his in a silent caress. “Try to shut me up.” Leaning into him, she said, “Why you, why us? I keep trying to get my head around that.”

“A question to which the Primary may even now give us an answer,” Raphael said, as the leader of the Legion landed in front of them.

The male’s eyes remained translucent but for that ring of blue, the effect oddly beautiful, according to Raphael’s consort. His hair, though, had turned totally black. His skin, too, was no longer the shade of death, but glowed golden with health, and his leathery wings had become a beaten gold except for the part where they grew out of his back.

There they were a black that echoed Elena’s wings, the color bleeding into midnight blue, which then flowed into the beaten gold. The metamorphosis of the rest of the Legion was slower but no less fascinating a process. Day by day, they were all becoming painted in color—and the palette was the same.

“Sire,” the Primary now said, “you call us.”

“Only you. The others may continue as they are.”

A nod.

“My consort has a question for you.”

The Primary looked at Elena without blinking.

“Why Raphael and me?” she asked, her passionate nature inherent in the intensity of the question. “Why not Elijah and Hannah? They’re older, have been together longer.”

“You are aeclari, and the Legion may only serve aeclari.”


I do not know this term, Elena. “Tell us about aeclari.”

“Aeclari is you,” the Primary said, as if it made perfect sense.

Do you think if I shoot him, he’ll actually answer a question?

Raphael fought his laughter. I think it’s a case of asking the right questions. “You’re connected to the power that tried to fill me,” he said, his skin prickling with the awareness of it.

“We are the repository. We tried to pass it to the Sire, but the Sire is not yet ready.”

It was as clear an answer as he could’ve wished for, the whispers making sense now that he’d seen the Legion, understood how deeply they were linked to one another—as if they were one organism with many parts. “What happens when I’m ready? Do you vanish?”

“No. We are then freed to stay in the world or return to our Sleep once more. If we stay, we become alone and separate.”

Raphael considered the other man’s words—and the Primary was a man, if one who hadn’t yet fully become—and placed it against what he knew of the Cascade powers gained by the rest of the Cadre. Each had to do with an ability or proclivity inherent to the archangel in question.

“You can only serve a warrior,” he said, and it was no question because he felt the rightness of it in his gut. Raphael had been a warrior in one guise or another throughout his existence, from a stripling in Titus’s army long ago, to fighting side by side with his own forces in the war past.

The Primary paused. “Yes,” he responded at last, in that totally flat tone devoid of emotion. “A warrior who is attuned to the power of which we are formed—of the earth, of life. But the warrior must also be aeclari.” His eyes flicked to Elena, giving Raphael the first glimmer of what that term actually meant. “And it must be the time.”

The Cascade happens and Neha calls fire and ice, Elena said into his mind at the same instant. Titus moves the earth, Astaad the sea, while creepy Lijuan brings the dead back to life. Meanwhile, my gorgeous archangel, not satisfied with, I don’t know, shooting lightning bolts or something, actually taps into the energy of the planet and calls an army of bogeymen from the bottom of the ocean. Of course you do.

The dry commentary made him wonder how he’d ever walked through life without the wit and laughter of his hunter by his side. He could no longer imagine such a cold, remote existence, the idea of it spawning an immediate repudiation in his bloodstream. Wing to wing with her, he said to the Primary, “Have others through time gained the ability to call you?”

Another long pause, the Primary turning the pages of his memory. “There have been warriors who have become attuned to the power of the earth, of life, and gained strength, but they touched only the edge of what we carry within us. It was not time for us to wake.”

“Tell me your history,” he said, a sudden chill over his skin, as if the answer was part of the racial memory of his people, buried deep, deep within the most primitive part of his brain.

“It was in the war that unmade our civilization that the Legion came to be. We were formed during the Cascade of Terror and bound to the first aeclari, our purpose to fight against the death that stalked the world.”

“The reborn?” Elena whispered. “You’re the antidote to their poison.”

“The death took a different form then, but it was no less virulent or vicious. By the time we gained victory, angelkind was nearly destroyed, and our home hollow and dead. The Legion, too, was near death, for we are of the earth, of life. Our people, infected with the deadly toxin created by the power of an archangel of madness, made the decision to Sleep eons in the hope the poison would fade.

“When they woke, it was to find a new people had been born from the ashes of the old, and the toxin had bonded permanently to the blood of the survivors.” His eyes lingered on Elena. “Madness and death reigned, until the desperation of a single individual made angelkind understand the fragile new people were their salvation, a gift from their healed world.”

Raphael. Unhidden shock in his consort’s expression. I think he’s talking about the birth of humanity.

And of vampires. It was a knowledge so huge, he knew he had no hope of comprehending it in a single instant. “When,” he asked, the chill he’d felt ice in his bones, “is the time?”

“Cascades come and go, are not our business, for they are part of the cycle of the world. We listen and watch in our Sleep, but wake only when that cycle reaches a crescendo, the gifts spawned in the archangels that of life and death itself, ferocious enough to rip apart the fabric of the planet.” His unblinking eyes met Raphael’s. “We have not woken since the Cascade of Terror.”

“Oh, hell.”

“Sire,” the Primary said on the heels of Elena’s soft imprecation, “if you would give me leave—I would rejoin the Legion.”

“Fly free.”

As they watched him sweep off on those wings of silence, Raphael considered the putrid darkness that had almost taken the world only days past. Lijuan’s reborn had been eliminated in all affected territories, but they’d infected tens of thousands in the interim. Titus, meanwhile, continued to fight a constant trickle of disease bearers sent across by Charisemnon.

In comparison, Raphael’s own strength continued to intensify day by day, until he knew that one day soon, he’d be able to wield the power carried by the Legion. “We’ve won this war, hbeebti, but it is only the first. I’m afraid this means Lijuan has not been erased from existence, for she is the epitome of death.”

“Or,” Elena said, “one of the other archangels holds the potential to go whackjob on us. But yeah, my money is on the Queen of the Dead.”

“Lijuan won’t repeat her mistakes.” Raphael—the world—would have to be ready to handle a bloated monster ready to gorge herself on the life force of those she was meant to protect.

“We’ll stop her,” Elena said, then shot him an unexpected smile. “We’re aeclari, after all.”

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