Archangel's Consort / Page 45

Page 45


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The leaves on the ground rose up in miniature tornadoes as Lijuan spread out her wings. “I search for her, Raphael.”

“As do I, Lijuan.”

“You will call me.” It was an order as the oldest of the Cadre twisted into a pillar of dark smoke that spiraled up into the sky and disappeared.

Turning her face away from the rush of leaves and dirt stirred up by Lijuan’s departure, Elena felt Raphael’s hands lock on her waist. Used to the drill by now, she clamped her wings tight to her back and held on to his shoulders as he took them above the canopy, high enough that she could fly on her own.

But she didn’t let go. Instead, wrapping her arms around him, she pressed her cheek to the warmth of his neck. “Together, Archangel,” she said in his ear, a preemptive strike against any attempt he might make to distance himself. “Always. Remember?”

His hands tightened on her hips. I know where my mother Sleeps.

Jerking in surprise, she looked up. “You do?”

She underestimated Illium’s strength as you predicted. He is rising to consciousness and attempting to lead me to him.

Shuddering at the confirmation that Illium was safe, she met eyes gone a stormy midnight. Will you call Lijuan? It seemed safer not to say the name aloud.

I should. She is the only one who may be able to battle Caliane and win.

“She’s your mother.” A knot formed in her own heart. “If I had the chance to speak to my mother again, I would grab it with both hands.” No matter how angry she was at Marguerite, no matter how much her mother’s betrayal continued to burn like acid, she would walk into Marguerite’s arms and hold on ... and hold on.

Caliane is likely to arise a horror, Elena. Far worse than Lijuan, for Caliane does not look monstrous in any way. Even her madness is a thing of impossible beauty.

If that’s true, Lijuan will sniff her out soon enough. Perhaps it would only take her minutes, but that time would be Raphael’s. You deserve the chance to talk to your mother alone, to see her one more time.

Raphael leaned down to claim her lips in a slow, potent kiss as the sky rolled with a wave of thunder, lightning spiking in vivid bursts of color on the horizon. I would leave you in a safe place.

I would just break out of it.

He looked at her then, and she knew he was well aware he had the power to trap her in ways that would allow no escape. A cage of protection . . . but still a cage. Instead of arguing with him, she waited.

Wind whipped that midnight-dark hair off his face as he touched his fingers to her cheek. Not alone, Elena.

Her heart caught at the emotion in that simple statement. Never.

With those words, they turned and flew into the heart of the storm.

Two hours later, the muscles that supported Elena’s wings had gone beyond protest and into an almost numb state that she knew would get her through the next few hours—but would leave her whimpering in the days that followed. She had a feeling that wouldn’t be a problem. Whatever was going to happen would happen today. Either she’d survive—or she wouldn’t. Anything else was a peripheral concern.

Raphael flew ahead of her, a blaze of white-gold against the roiling turmoil of the clouds that seemed ready to devour them both, the rain a freezing constant. According to her watch, it was a few minutes after four in the afternoon, but the skies were so black that had they been flying over a city, the entire area would’ve been lit up by thousands of tiny lights—in office windows, along the streets, blinking high up on the towers.

However, the land below them was composed of mountain and forest broken up only by the occasional isolated hamlet of farmers and their kin. They’d also seen a village even smaller than the one where they’d left Naasir. The glow of warmth from that village had been too small to penetrate the stormy dark, so when Elena caught a glimpse of light a bit farther on, she wiped the rain from her eyes and focused—it was odd, but she could’ve sworn her vision grew sharper, more crisp, as if her eyes were compensating for the conditions.

Shrugging off the sensation, she continued to concentrate. The light was diffuse, covering a wider area than could be accounted for by a farm or other small settlement. Guessing it to be a larger village, she dropped just far enough below the clouds to get a closer look. At first, she couldn’t quite understand what it was she was seeing, her mind unable to process the impossibility of it.

Because below her spread the gracious lines of what appeared to be a city of sparkling gray stone, all of it shrouded in an iridescent glow the color of the Aegean. Not only were the buildings utterly dissimilar to the accepted architecture of this region—heck, this country!—according to the satellite images Elena had accessed, that city hadn’t existed this morning. Raphael!

No response, and she thought Caliane might have succeeded in blocking their communication again, but then she saw him sweep down below her, his wings spread to their widest as he held his own against the surging winds. Wait above, Elena. He flew toward that stunning shimmer of color.

Elena knew that would be the safest option—but every part of her said it would be a very, very bad idea to let him go into that strange city alone. Dropping in a steep, scarcely controlled dive, she reached him just before he would’ve gone through the ... whatever the hell it was.

Raphael’s gaze was almost impossible to hold, it burned with such power when he glanced at her. Elena. It was an order.

Her hackles rose, but she bit back the reaction, blinking away the tears caused by the momentary contact with his eyes. I have to come with you. Trust me.

It’s not a question of trust. I would not lose you to my mother’s madness.

Flying a fraction below him, so their wings wouldn’t tangle, she reached up with her hand. I won’t lose you to her, either. This feels like a trap, Raphael.

Raphael curled his fingers around hers, holding her in position. It may well be. And you would fly into it with me?

She infused her voice with wickedness. Trouble’s not only my middle name, it’s my first and last, too.

A blaze of electric heat as Raphael’s power swept out to cover her. She’d been shielded by it when they’d danced that most intimate of dances, felt it cut across her when he was angry, but never had it enfolded her with such brutal completeness, until her eyes streamed tears from the shocking force of it. Shutting them tight, she squeezed his hand. I can’t see.

It won’t be for long. If the shield around the city is the trap, it’ll give us enough time to get back out.

With that, he flew, pulling her with him.

She knew the instant they hit the cool energy of the shield. The shock wave rocked through her entire body, but it was concentrated on where her fingers intertwined with Raphael’s, a wrenching pull that attempted to separate them. She knew if it succeeded, she’d be thrown out while Raphael disappeared inside the city she wasn’t sure wasn’t just a fancy mirage, a snare created by an archangel so old, it made her bones ache to even think about it.

Hold on.

She didn’t know which one of them said that, her body battered by icy rain that had turned brutal, her wrist bones threatening to break—Caliane was determined to smash them apart. Not on your fucking life, she thought, and set her teeth against the pain of tendons that felt like they’d snap the next second.

An instant and an eternity later, they were tumbling out of the rain and toward the strange city at high velocity. A few months ago, she would’ve been helpless to stop her descent. But a few months ago, she’d been an angel newly fledged. Releasing Raphael’s hand so she wouldn’t drag him down with her, she stretched out her wings and began to beat upward in strong, fast movements, fighting the speed of her own tumbling body.

It became clear very quickly that her velocity was terminal.

Four seconds tops and she was going to find herself smashed to jagged fragments against the flat gray stone of the roof below her.

Elena.

She shoved up her shields when Raphael would’ve taken over. Conserve your strength. Then she poured every ounce of her own strength into averting what might well be a fatal fall given her age. Lose enough pieces and she was toast, but she’d been training hard. She had the skill. She just had to—Got it!

Her wings brushed the coarse stone of a building as she managed to shift her trajectory enough that she missed the roof and fell into the gap between two of the graceful gray structures. It gave her enough time to stabilize and get herself back up into the sky. She more than half expected Raphael to be furious with her for her defiance, but when she reached him, he was staring down at the city, his wet hair shoved off his face.

“What is it?” she asked, thrusting a hand through her own hair ... and realizing that no storm raged here. Rain lashed with unremitting force against the shield, but inside, the whole area was bathed in a golden light that almost succeeded in softening the stark edges of the buildings. “It needs flowers,” she found herself saying. “It doesn’t look quite right.” Unable to hold the hover, she made a controlled descent onto the roof she’d almost crashed into only a minute ago.

Raphael followed her down with far more grace. “It was once overrun with them.”

“With what?”

“Flowers.”

Walking to the edge of the roof, she looked down and saw an amazing array of carvings on the wall of the opposite building, the stone sparkling with hidden flecks of color that would turn this city into a brilliantly cut diamond in sunlight. Her heart slammed against her ribs. “What is this place?”

“The jewel in my mother’s crown. Though it is far from where it should be.”

“You know, most archaeologists believe Amanat never existed,” she said, staggered by the awareness of just how much power it would’ve taken to not only disappear, but move an entire city. “That it’s nothing more than a legend.”

A faint smile on Raphael’s face that didn’t reach his eyes. “I wonder at human archaeologists who do not speak to those of us who lived in these times of legend.”

Elena snorted. “As if any of you angels would answer their questions.”

You know us too well, Elena. Light words, but the way he stood, the way he looked at this strange city of stone and shadow, it spoke of lethal alertness.

Her own guard up, she continued to scan the area for any sign of Illium. They stood on one roof, but other roofs stacked up to her right, lodged directly into the mountains, as if they’d been carved out of rock, had stood there for centuries. Which was impossible. Except of course, she was dealing with an immortal of such power that she scared Lijuan.

And that scared the bejesus out of Elena. “Illium?”

“He’s dropping in and out of consciousness, but I can sense him.” Stepping off the roof, he flew down to the ground with a grace and strength that made her wonder what he’d become in another thousand years. Something extraordinary, of that she was certain. Unless . . . whatever it was that their relationship was doing to him ended up stealing his immortal life.

No. She repudiated the thought as her own feet touched the ground but knew it wasn’t a truth she could ignore.


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