Home > Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(21)

Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(21)
Author: Nalini Singh

“First my angels fall from the sky, and now this.” Raphael’s expression was brutal. “There is no longer any question the city is under attack.”

Illium said something in a language Elena didn’t understand, but his last word was cuttingly identifiable and the same one on the tip of Elena’s tongue. “Cowards.”

“Agreed,” Raphael said, his voice ice. “We’ve focused on Lijuan because she’s a known enemy, but we must not wear blinders.”

They all nodded.

“Such cowardice eliminates Titus,” Raphael continued. “He’s a warrior in the oldest sense and unless there are indications he’s been touched by madness”—a glance at Keir, the healer shaking his head—“then he wouldn’t stoop to stratagems that skate so close to the line of what is permitted in a war.”

“Astaad,” Keir said softly, “despite his occasionally secretive ways, believes absolutely in honor, and I think such actions would stain it. He continues to feel a deep shame over his violent actions toward his concubine during your mother’s waking, though we all know he wasn’t in his right mind at the time.”

“Neha’s too busy holding off her twin to bother about us.” Worried what the Archangel of India would do in her continued grief about the execution of her daughter, Elena had read every one of Jason’s reports as they came in. “Is Elijah two-faced enough to offer friendship with one hand and stab us in the back with the other?”

“Eli has a noble heart and the inclination not to cause you or yours harm,” Keir said to Raphael, then glanced at Elena. Obviously noting her surprise, the healer smiled. “He is the rarest of archangels, one who didn’t show signs of such violent power as a youth or as a young male.”

From the way Raphael was staring at the healer, he didn’t know this particular story, either. “You will not stop now, Keir.”

Laughing, the healer said, “Eli was a seasoned and loyal general in another archangel’s army on the day of a great battle against—” Cutting himself off, Keir shook his head. “I will tell you that tale another time. It is far too long and interesting to shorten so precipitously.”

Fascinated, Elena waited for him to continue.

“Eli,” Keir said into the silence, “had just cut down the last of the enemy and raised his sword to declare victory when it hit: a sudden and total ascension that sent him screaming into the skies. It was extraordinary, as all ascensions are extraordinary, but what is most important is that when he returned from the sky to the earth, he was no longer a general but one of the Cadre.”

Raphael said what Elena was thinking. “He was Caliane’s general.”

“Yes, so unless you betray him, he will not first betray you. He would’ve hunted your mother in her madness had she not disappeared into Sleep, but he would’ve taken no pleasure in it, for he has never forsaken the vows he took to cause no harm to her and those of her blood.”

“Caliane’s never mentioned him.”

“Did you ask her?” An arch question. “You know her age. It’s very possible she hasn’t quite assimilated that you are now Eli’s peer, for he was an archangel before you were born, and in her eyes . . .”

“I’m a child still.” Raphael thrust his hand through his hair. “I wish you’d shared Elijah’s past with me earlier. It would’ve made certain negotiations much less fraught.”

Keir stood to pour himself a fresh cup of tea. “You are your mother’s son, Raphael. Until you had judged and decided to accept Eli’s friendship for yourself, it would’ve done no good.”

“There isn’t,” Illium said into the thoughtful pause that followed, “much difference between death and disease. Lijuan remains a prime candidate.”

Raphael stared into the flames. “Not for the Falling,” he said at last. “I cannot believe such a large-scale act didn’t need a closer hand, and Jason confirmed she was in her own territory at the time, busy with her reborn. For the vampire pox, however, she could’ve simply sent in a carrier of the disease.”

“It could even be a mortal.” Keir retook his seat, his expression intent. “My gifts tell me the disease is passed through blood, and a donor would be in the best position to infect many.” Frowning, he shook his head. “Yet if it is thus, we should have more bodies—the dead vampire had been so two days at least.”

“If the victims die at such speed,” Illium said quietly, “they might be locked up rotting in their homes.”

It was a horrible image, and Elena was glad for the distraction when Montgomery appeared in the doorway, his eyes sending her a silent message. “Guild Hunter,” he said when she excused herself to walk over to him. “There is an urgent call for you from the Guild Director.”

Taking the portable house phone, she said, “Thank you.”

Ten seconds into that call, and her gut churned. Because Ransom had just found those other bodies, and Illium had been right: they were locked up inside their home, rotting slowly from a malicious disease that had ended their chance at immortality.

• • •

All four of them landed on the tiny drive of a run-down house in a dingy part of the Bronx within the hour. Having been waiting outside, Ransom led them into the building without anything more than a nod, his cheekbones slicing against his skin from the way he clenched his jaw. She smelled the reason for his rigid self-control as soon as she stepped inside the house, the air putrid with disease and heavy with a warmth that told her the central heating had been on for the duration.

“How many?” Raphael asked, wings limned in a lethal glow.

“Five, and they’ve been dead a couple of days at least.” Ransom went left, heading toward what was probably a bedroom, while Keir and Illium broke off toward the other side of the house. “I turned off the heat and opened the windows to release the worst of the smell.”

Why is it always Ransom who shows up with these bodies?

Hearing the deadly supposition in Raphael’s tone, Elena locked eyes with the man who was her lover . . . but who she knew didn’t see other mortals the same way she did. Don’t get any ideas. Ransom grew up on the streets and still has all his old contacts. The people who talk to him, tell him things, wouldn’t ever talk to anyone from the Tower—or even most of the other hunters in the Guild.

“Who discovered the bodies?’ Raphael asked aloud.

Ransom’s answer was immediate. “I did. Got a tip about the smell, broke in when I recognized it.”

He is lying.

He’s protecting someone. It was what Ransom did when it came to the street people, who were as much family to him as his fellow hunters.

I can’t permit news of this to spread, Elena. It would incite a panic. Either Ransom talks or I’ll have to take the information from his mind.

Stomach tight, her hand clenched on the blade she’d dropped into her palm when they entered the house. He’s my friend.

I trust Ransom to keep his mouth shut. The sea, clean and bright, the wind an icy blast. I do not trust those he trusts.

And if I ask you to let it go?

I won’t.

13

Jerking at the vicious bluntness of Raphael’s response, at the realization that she was helpless to protect someone she cared for deeply, she stopped Ransom in the bedroom doorway. “You need to tell the truth,” she said, each word a razor in her throat. “Who found the bodies?”

A shake of his head, his jaw stiff. “If I do, I make that person a target.”

“I will take this memory alone and do the witness no harm.” Raphael came to stand beside Elena. “He or she will live and remember nothing of this night.”

Ransom’s eyes slid to Elena and in them she saw the harsh realization that if he didn’t answer the question, Raphael would take the information anyway.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, ready for anger.

But Ransom shrugged. “He’s an archangel, Ellie. We’re just rats to him.”

She knew he hadn’t meant anything by it, had in fact been trying to comfort her, but Ransom’s words brought home how little power she had in this relationship. Raphael could override her in so many ways, but she’d become used to having him listen to her, to being able to argue her points. Never had she expected to hear a flat negative, with no room for negotiation.

“You won’t touch her other memories?” Ransom asked Raphael, while she was still reeling under the force of the cruel emotional slap.

“Questioning the word of an archangel is a good way to end up dead.”

Raphael! Stop it. Furious, she met Ransom’s green eyes. “He doesn’t want anything but this particular memory.” Don’t make me a liar, she said mind to mind at the same instant.

A dangerous pause. You question my word, too, Elena?

Ransom is right. We are rats to you.

You aren’t part of any other group. You are my consort.

Ransom spoke before she could respond and it was just as well, since what she wanted to say would probably only have thrown fuel on the ugly fight brewing between her and Raphael.

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