Home > Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(5)

Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(5)
Author: Nalini Singh

“I’ll stay out of view,” Elena said when they reached the screen in his study, her skin glowing against the robe of cerulean silk he’d gifted her on the anniversary of her mortal birthday.

Irritation simmered to life in his blood. “Elena, you are my consort.”

“You know how she gets,” was her unshaken response where others would’ve quivered at the edge in his tone. “She’ll be far more forthcoming if she’s not feeling insulted by my presence.” Leaning against the wall beside a framed piece of art, she blew him a kiss.

We’ll discuss this later, he said and made the call. His mother continued to abhor technology for the most part, but she’d begun to accept the usefulness of certain aspects of the modern world. He hadn’t expected otherwise; Caliane might prefer what she termed the more “civilized” mores of centuries gone, but she was an Ancient, and no one lived so long by miring herself in the dusty past.

Twin flames of blue on the screen, his mother’s hair a river of black, her face the template used to cast his own. “Mother,” he said, his heart yet unused to the fact that she breathed once more, that should he wish, he could fly to her, feel the touch of the hands that had rocked him in childhood . . . and left him broken on a bloody field far from civilization.

“Raphael, I have heard of the events in your city.” Her fingers rose to the screen in a familiar gesture of love. “Your people?”

No other archangel would he have trusted with the truth, but for all that she’d done, his mother had never once backed anyone else against her son. “We mourn,” he said quietly and saw the pain in her eyes.

It was from Caliane that he’d learned how an archangel should rule. Even when her madness distorted the truth of who she was, he’d never forgotten she was also the archangel whose people looked to her with love in their eyes. He wasn’t Caliane—he inspired fear as often as not—but, like those who were hers, his men and women knew he’d fight with unrelenting fury to protect them.

“Five began their journey home this night.” Raphael had led the flight out over the dark lick of the water until Manhattan was a silhouette far in the distance, Elena on one side and Nimra on the other. Every other angel in the city who could fly, but for the squadron needed to hold it secure, had been part of the silent cavalcade, and each had held a lantern that protected the candle within, lighting the way home.

Then they’d hovered in place as Nimra and the squadron he’d placed at her command pulled away into the starless night, the fallen carried in flower-covered biers that would reach the Refuge in twenty-four hours. It would’ve been faster to send the bodies home in a jet, but they were creatures of the wind and the sky, and so it was by the sky road that the fallen would return home.

“We mourn with you,” Caliane said, a single tear rolling down her face. “I will send a squadron to the Refuge to act as an honor guard for those who are carried home.”

“I thank you, Mother, but in this time of unrest, I believe you should keep your people near.” Caliane remained Lijuan’s most dangerous foe, and she had only two winged squadrons, having taken the people of Amanat alone into her Sleep.

Her expression altering from sorrow to one that betrayed an acute political intelligence, his mother sat back in her chair, her gown a vibrant turquoise that framed her dazzling beauty, until he could hardly believe the truth of her extraordinary age.

“I know you wish to ask me if I saw anything such as this in the previous Cascade,” she said, “but I must tell you there was no Falling in my time.” A sudden shadow across her expression, and he knew she thought of the madness she believed had touched her during that Cascade. “There were, however, other strange events.”

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.”

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