Home > Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(7)

Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(7)
Author: Nalini Singh

However, this windowless, sunless room with its marble floor overlaid by a thick carpet in swirls of gold and amber had been the place where Eris spent most of his time. The chandelier overhead was a masterwork that glittered light across the entire expanse, made the carnelian in the walls glow with inner fire . . . and the crystallized blood on the floor sparkle with stomach-churning beauty.

That blood had dripped from a wide divan where Eris had so often mockingly “held court” when Mahiya came to him with a message. A glass of red wine spilled an ugly stain onto the swirling colors of the carpet, while a plate of fruit—exotic peaches and dark cherries from far off lands of cold and ice, figs and apricots from Neha’s own plantations—sat half eaten.

Flies buzzed over the silver plate, but they weren’t truly interested.

No, their attention was taken up by the rotting carcass of the man who lay broken half on, half off the divan, his wings spread out in a final dramatic display and his chest cracked open to exhibit a hollow body cavity. While the blood outside his body had crystallized into a brittle substance akin to shimmering pink rock salt, inside that hollow, it had hardened to the same dark, dark red as the cherries, evidence of the fact his body had attempted to repair itself and failed.

Death rubies.

The idea of wearing jewelry created from the blood of a dead angel revolted Mahiya, but it had been an accepted practice in times past, the gems worn as memento mori by the lovers of those angels who died in circumstances that led to the creation of the death rubies. Fitting that Eris should be beautiful in this way even in death—for in life he had been a man who was the embodiment of physical perfection, his skin shimmering gold, his eyes lapis lazuli blue.

Jason displayed no distaste at the sight of Eris’s mutilated body, his breathing even as he examined the remains of her “father.”

“Did I have the chance to strangle you in your crib, I would have done so in a heartbeat. Without you, she would’ve forgiven my transgression long ago.” A wineglass smashing onto marble. “Be careful when you sleep, girl. I have friends who may yet snap your neck for me.”

It was her most vivid memory of the man who had contributed his seed to her creation.

* * *

Ignoring the flies that buzzed around what remained of a man who had once been the toast of courts from ancient Greece to the Forbidden City, Jason leaned in close, making certain of his first impression that Eris’s heart had been removed, as had all his other internal organs. He could see a pile of indeterminate decomposing material to the right, guessed they might be the hacked-up remains of the organs.

That his head was still attached to his neck was a surprise—though Eris was universally considered too weak to have been consort to an archangel, that weakness had stemmed from his character, rather than the raw power contained within his body. He was more than old and strong enough to have risen by now were his brain intact.

Jason examined what appeared to be dried blood under one of Eris’s nostrils, the color near black, the substance clotted rather than crystalline. “Was a long needle found with the body?”

Mahiya shook her head, her expression devoid of the sorrow and distress he might’ve expected from a woman standing by the body of her dead father. “Nothing has been taken from this palace since Neha discovered his body.” A pause. “Do you wish me to search this room?”

“Yes.” Bending as she began to do so, he put his hand under Eris’s head and lifted, knocked on the bone with the knuckles of his free hand.

Mahiya paused in her search. “It sounds . . . hollow.”

“His brain’s been removed.”

Sari held neatly off the blood-matted carpet, the princess returned needleless from her search and spoke words he most assuredly had not expected to hear from a woman dressed in softest pink, her every move speaking of elegant femininity. “How?” Determined curiosity leaked through her facade of distant politeness. “His head is unmolested.”

Jason’s interest in Mahiya grew deeper, more intense. “A hooked needle thrust into the brain through the nose,” he said, describing a method used by the people of ancient Egypt as part of the mummification process. “That needle is then moved around until the brain is in a state that it can be extracted via the same route.”

From the thick area of dried material directly below the head, the brain might well have been turned into soup, allowed to drip out of Eris’s nose before he was turned back over and posed as he was now.

A small silence, and he wondered if he’d misjudged the internal strength of this princess raised in the hothouse that was the fort, but who watched him out of those eyes bright as a cat’s with a steely intelligence that fit neither her quiet acquiescence to Neha’s demands, nor the way she’d followed his own commands without argument.

Then she spoke, and he knew his instincts hadn’t steered him wrong. Mahiya might not be an opponent strong enough to concern him, but she was no pampered princess he could ignore. “So”—a considering look—“whoever did this came well prepared, not only with the blade he or she used to carve up Eris, but with the hook, perhaps other tools as well.”

“Including a garrote.” Jason pointed out the mark on Eris’s necrotic flesh, his sun golden skin now a home for creatures who fed on death. “It may have been the first attack.” Enough to disable the angel, allow time for the murderer to inflict more debilitating injuries. Because though humans termed angelkind immortal, there was perhaps one true immortal in the world—Lijuan. The rest of them were simply harder to kill.

“He was tied up,” Mahiya said, indicating the still-visible marks on Eris’s wrists, the decay of his flesh having exposed bone. “For the skin to decay that fast—”

“Means the bindings had to have cut through to bone.” It also explained the splatters of crystalline blood below where his wrists hung. “He was powerful enough to have snapped ordinary rope—this must’ve been infused with metal of some kind.”

“Or maybe the killer used extra garrotes as ties?” Mahiya offered, a sudden hesitancy to her.

Jason wondered exactly what kind of life the princess had lived that she’d made the same dark intuitive leap he had even as he finished speaking. “Yes. Could Neha have untied him, gotten rid of the evidence?” The act of a woman who did not want her lover found bound and helpless.

But Mahiya shook her head. “No, she only entered the room half a minute ahead of me.”

Which meant Eris had been left this way on purpose—displayed like a trophy, or a warning. But who would dare play such a game with Neha? Another of the Cadre? It was something to consider. As was the fact that Eris hadn’t simply been killed; he’d been tortured. Again, his suffering could’ve been intended to hurt Neha, but there seemed something deeply personal about this.

Everything was close contact, from the strangulation to the way the man’s other organs had been removed—by a small blunt knife, if Jason was reading the marks on the bone correctly. He was gut-certain the brain had been left for last, so there was a high chance Eris had remained conscious as the killer hacked out pieces of his body. He’d have drowned in pain and terror . . . which explained the raw flesh around his mouth, the cuts on his tongue and lips.

A gag of some kind to muffle his screams.

Rising, he took in Eris’s silken pants and vest embroidered with traditional designs that would’ve exposed his muscled chest. “Did he dress like this normally?”

“Yes—he was never untidy, never ungroomed, but he had long forgone the formality of court.”

And instead, Jason thought, chosen to embrace the languid sensuality that would appeal to his wife. A wife who had not forgiven him in three hundred long years. Looking around the room, Jason saw a clean floor beneath the recent bloodshed, polished statuettes, and gleaming walls. Clearly, servants had entrée into the palace.

So, he recalled, did others.

Kallistos, the vampire who’d sought to kill Dmitri, had known the location of Eris’s home in the United States, though it was a place many had forgotten. There was a good chance the vampire had received the information directly from Eris, either in return for some favor or by putting together discrete pieces of information Eris had let drop. Thus access to this palace was not an impossible thing.

“I’ve seen enough.” He headed toward the archway through which they’d entered, waiting so Mahiya wouldn’t fall behind, though he’d had time enough to assess her level of threat and decide she posed no danger at his back—she might move as quiet as the wind, but she wasn’t quiet enough. More, she had no heavy weapons on her body, her sari falling flawlessly around her form, the curve of her waist na**d beneath the drape.

Her walk was too fluid for her to have a knife in a thigh sheath, and her bangles too thin to conceal a garrote. However . . . the pins in her hair were very, very sharp. Used the right way, they could blind a man, cut his carotid, even stop his heart. They were the weapons of a woman who wasn’t a trained fighter, but who did not intend to be a victim waiting to happen.

Jason felt a curl of unexpected fascination awaken within him. What other secrets do you hide, princess?

Stairs wide enough for a being with wings greeted him to the right of the doorway, the fading moonlight falling onto the higher steps colored in the reds, yellows, and blues of a stained glass window that was maybe two handspans across but at least three feet long. Walking up, he ignored the hallway that led to the rooms on this level, and turned right instead—to go through a pair of doors set beside another long window of stained glass.

They opened onto a wide balcony enclosed on all sides by stone carved into delicate filigree that would’ve allowed Eris to look out into the yard but would’ve hidden him from the view of those below. Exquisite in its workmanship, it wasn’t an unfamiliar form of ancient architecture, though in most cases, it had been used by males to hide their lovers and concubines from the view of those who might covet them.

Hot Series
» Vampire Academy Series read online
» Crossfire Series read online
» Fifty Shades trilogy read online
» Kate Daniels Series read online
» Black Dagger Brotherhood Series read online
» Cassandra Palmer Series read online
» Rosemary Beach Series read online
» Sea Breeze Series read online
» Too Far Series read online
» Shatter Me Series read online
» Thoughtless Series read online
» Marriage to a Billionaire Series read online
Most Popular
» Nothing But Trouble (Malibu University #1)
» Kill Switch (Devil's Night #3)
» Hold Me Today (Put A Ring On It #1)
» Spinning Silver
» Birthday Girl
» A Nordic King (Royal Romance #3)
» The Wild Heir (Royal Romance #2)
» The Swedish Prince (Royal Romance #1)
» Nothing Personal (Karina Halle)
» My Life in Shambles
» The Warrior Queen (The Hundredth Queen #4)
» The Rogue Queen (The Hundredth Queen #3)