Home > Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(10)

Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(10)
Author: Nalini Singh

Taking a deep breath, Jason said, “Yes,” and felt his stomach tumble as his father opened his fingers.

He was falling!

Except this time, instead of fighting the wind, he turned into it, allowing it to sweep him out over the sparkling waters that surrounded their home, a shimmering blue green so clear he could see the darting orange and red stripes of the fish swimming through the coral reef.

Above him, he heard his father’s joyful exclamation, and he laughed.

It wasn’t that Jason couldn’t fly. He’d just never had need to practice the more advanced techniques, to go any farther than the roof of their home or up over the trees. However, if he wanted to accompany his father to the small uninhabited island he could just see in the distance—where his father harvested fruits his mother particularly liked—he would have to learn to ride the currents and conserve his energy.

“Father!” It was a delighted cry this time. “I’m doing it! Can you see me?”

“I knew you could do it, son! Well done!” His father swept out in front of him on wings of pure black but for the deep brown at the tips of his primaries, angled against the wind for a second before sliding into another updraft and circling back to their atoll.

Copying him, Jason found that it wasn’t hard at all if he did what his father had taught him and thought first.

“Efficient flight is as much about intelligent choices as brute strength.”

Now Jason made a conscious decision to change his angle when he realized his father’s greater size gave him an advantage . . . and it worked! Until he felt like he was being carried on the winds. He couldn’t wait to show his mother, and when he saw the pale purple of her tunic in the distance as she flew up to join them, he pushed himself to go even faster, his wings shining blue black in the sunlight. His father said Jason was meant to be a night scout, like he had been in his youth, before he decided to pursue his passion for music and the instruments that created it.

Jason wondered when he’d be allowed to fly alone during the night. He thought he might like chasing the stars, but it would get lonely after a while. Cold and lonely.

8

Standing on the railingless balcony outside his Tower office, Raphael considered the report he’d just had from Naasir. The vampire was currently stationed in the formerly lost city of Amanat, risen to new life in a mountainous region of Japan, a city controlled by Raphael’s mother, an archangel so old, she was a true Ancient.

The reawakening of Amanat has gathered speed, he said to the woman with hair so pale it was white-gold, the strands catching the light from the surrounding skyscrapers as she flew in a zigzag pattern a short distance from the Tower.

We expected as much. Elena dipped left. Gimme a second. Ransom asked me to help him trail a troublesome vam—gotcha!

His vision acute as a raptor’s, he watched as she spoke into a cell phone, caught the wave of her exultation when the hunter on the ground made the capture. Angelic consorts were a rare breed. Other than Elena, only Elijah’s Hannah could truly carry that title. Even before Eris’s death and though it was polite to refer to him as such, the position occupied by Neha’s husband had been nothing akin to that of either of the women. That wasn’t to say Hannah and Elena were cut from the same cloth. No, they were as distant in their temperaments and views on the world as fire and ice.

Of the two, it was Raphael’s consort who was considered a peculiar creature indeed.

“Why does she continue to work for the Guild?” Favashi had asked the last time they met, genuine puzzlement in her tone. “Does she not understand the honor of her position?”

Favashi believes you should give up your penchant for chasing vampires and sit by my side as a proper consort.

No offense to Favashi—who seems decent enough in comparison to Lijuan the zombie maker—but she knows jack about how we work.

Raphael’s lips curved. “Yes.” He caught his consort around the waist as she came in for a high-speed landing. “You would surely have ‘brained’ yourself, as you put it, at that velocity.”

“I only flew in so fast because I knew you’d catch me.”

He was a being of immense power, had lived a millennium and a half, and yet she had the ability to stagger him with such simple words, her trust a jewel multifaceted and brilliant. Raising his hand, he ran it over the arch of her left wing, the area exquisitely sensitive. Her shiver was delicate, the pale gray of her eyes going smoky, the developing rim of pure silver around her irises vivid in the night.

“So,” she said, leaning into him with a sigh of bone-deep pleasure, “what do you think your mother will do next?”

“I do not yet know.” Caliane was a wild card no one had expected to have to deal with—least of all the son she’d left bloody and broken on a field far from civilization. “When she woke, she had no inclination to rule anything other than Amanat, but she is healing into her strength, and there is an open spot in the Cadre.”

The Cadre of Ten had been so called for as long as angelkind had had written history. Even when there was an absence of a hundred or two hundred years while a new archangel came to power, and only nine ruled, the name did not change. Such gaps were unremarkable in the life of an immortal. The empty chair this time around had been so for less than a fragment of a second, Uram’s execution not yet two years past.

“Caliane’s return threatens to unbalance the power structure of the world.” While there had been times when archangelic numbers had fallen as low as seven, they had never gone above ten, a natural balance that ensured large enough buffer zones between the biggest predators on the planet. “There is one who is on the brink of ascending to archangel status—”

“By brink, you mean . . .” Elena asked, and he was reminded of the mortality so dangerously close to her skin, for immortality was a gift that took time to grow, to settle.

“A decade, a century.” He angled her face to check a bruise she’d sustained during their earlier sparring session. “It’s unpredictable at this level of power.”

“So we have time to figure out a solution.” Sliding her arms around his body, she turned her gaze toward her beloved Manhattan. “And fact is, it’s not like anyone could stop Caliane if she wanted to rule again.”

No. His mother was too powerful. She’d also been insane when she decided on her centuries-long Sleep. Now she told him she was sane, and her actions seemed to bear that out—but Raphael knew madness in the old ones could be an insidious thing. Lijuan was the perfect example.

Jason is worried Lijuan may be creating further reborn. The report had come in an hour ago, his spymaster continuing to control his network of informants even as he hunted Eris’s murderer.

“What!” Elena shook her head. “That makes no sense—those creatures are so infectious they’d become a plague across her lands as well as the lands of others in the Cadre, and she saw how they could turn against her.” Even she’s not that batshit crazy.

I’m not sure I agree. “She is old, and the old do not always think as they should.”

Elena took time to reply, her gaze tracking a small troop of angels coming in to land on the balcony below. “She might have figured out a way to control the rate of infection, some way to make certain of their loyalty.”

“If she has, she’ll be unstoppable.” The last time Lijuan had risen, the rest of the Cadre had banded together to execute her, only to inadvertently help her in her strange evolution—now, she was no longer wholly corporeal. “I must find some way to strengthen my new ability.” The sheer life of it, born of his tie to his consort with her mortal heart, was inimical to the death that was Lijuan’s touch.

“Too bad we no longer have the element of surprise there.”

Running his hand down the silken tail of her hair, he smiled. “You will always provide surprises, Elena. You are my secret weapon.”

She laughed, eyes dancing. “Did Jason say anything about Neha when he contacted you?”

“The blood vow means he cannot speak of that which happens in the fort, unless the information becomes public.” It is a matter of honor.

I understand. “I just hope he’s safe.” Worry was a shadow across the dark gold of her skin. “The way Neha looked the last time I saw her . . .” A violent shiver.

“Jason is a survivor.” Raphael didn’t know everything of what had happened to Jason as a child, but he’d put together enough pieces to understand the other angel had lived through things no child should ever have to experience.

Elena glanced up, as if she’d heard something he wasn’t aware of betraying. “You’re still worried about him.”

“Unlike Dmitri,” he said, releasing her to walk to the very edge of the balcony, his mind filled with images of a young angel with wings of lush black who had barely spoken when Raphael first met him, “Jason has never been in danger of becoming jaded.”

Having come to stand beside him, her wing brushing his in an intimacy he’d accept from no other, Elena said, “You think that’s changing?”

“On the contrary. The reason Dmitri became so jaded was that he tasted every sin, drowned himself in sensation.” The endless round of pleasure and pain had been an effort to escape a loss that had brutalized the other man, but the end result was a kind of emotional numbness Raphael had thought nothing would ever break, much less a mortal with a fractured spirit.

“Jason by contrast,” he continued, “immerses himself in nothing.” Raphael had known him too long not to realize that even the lovers Jason took touched nothing of him beyond his skin.

Elena blew out a quiet breath. “He’s like that all the time, isn’t he? Part of the world . . . but apart. A shadow who never becomes too involved.”

Raphael had no need to voice agreement, because it was the truth. His spymaster might not be jaded, but he was numb in a far deeper sense. “To survive eternity,” he murmured, “Jason needs to find some reason to exist beyond duty and loyalty.”

   
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