Archangel's Consort / Page 48

Page 48


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“What of the people she murdered around the world? The ones hanging from the bridge in your city?” A hail of black rain designed to gouge and kill.

He swept out of the way, throwing back a volley of angelfire that she swamped in black. “Those acts did not bear her touch, Lijuan. They bore yours.” It was a guess. The murders and torture could well have been orchestrated by Neha, but Lijuan was the one with the most to lose if Caliane rose.

A pause in the rain of black fire. Then a soft, girlish laugh. “You always were clever.”

He attacked her with angelfire while she was distracted. Lijuan raised a wall of black flame to block him, her power incomprehensible. And her voice, when it came next, was nothing the least bit human. “Good-bye, Raphael.”

There was no way to avoid it. The bolts came from everywhere.

He heard Elena scream as he took a direct hit to the chest. It was not angelfire, for Lijuan had never had that ability, but that didn’t matter. Bloated with her toxic power, it was a killing blow, even for an archangel. The blackness invaded his blood, spread through his cells until he could see his veins turn black under his skin, feel the crawling of it across his irises.

“I am sorry, Raphael.” Lijuan’s voice. “I always did like you. But you would protect her.”

He tried to speak to Elena, to tell her that she would be safe. Even after his death, his Seven would not break their vows. They would protect her. But Lijuan’s poison spread throughout his system, blocking his efforts to fight it with the cutting blue of his own power. And he fought. He fought with every ounce of will in his immortal heart, every ounce of the unnamable, unending emotion he felt for Elena.

Even dying, he managed to throw a final ball of angelfire, using his fading vision. It made Lijuan scream. That high-pitched sound ringing in his ears, he fell to earth, coming down hard on the temple roof, his wings crushed but not broken, his fall cushioned by a power that felt akin to that which had once been the standard against which he judged himself.

My son! My Raphael.

Too late, he thought, it was too late. Caliane had never been a healer, and his entire body was riddled with Lijuan’s black poison. Shoving outward with his own newborn gift, he tried to heal himself, but his ability was young, scarcely formed. It stood no chance against Lijuan’s brand of evil.

“Raphael!” Hands cupping his face, fierce determination in his hunter’s voice.

He wanted to order her to leave, to warn her that the infection that was Lijuan’s power could spread, as it had with the reborn, but he knew she’d never leave, his consort with her mortal heart. Elena mine.

Elena swallowed the tears and panic that threatened to take her over when she saw Raphael’s beautiful eyes overrun with tendrils of Lijuan’s evil, obscuring those irises of a haunting shade found in the deepest part of the ocean, intense and absolute. “No,” she said. “No!”

Above her, the sky fractured in a cataclysm of light, and when she looked up, Lijuan was no longer alone. An archangel with hair of tumbling raven black and wings of purest white faced her, her hands ringed by blue flame.

The template from which I was cast.

Snapping back her head, she squeezed Raphael’s hand, his golden skin pale above veins turned black and rigid. Archangel, can you hear me?

These words hold the last remnants of my power.

Focusing on the fact that he was still alive and refusing to consider anything else, Elena ducked as a piece of rock went flying past—spreading her body and her wings above Raphael.

Go, Elena! They will fight to the death.

Ordering me around even now, Archangel? She wouldn’t leave him. She’d never leave him. Looking up, she saw that Illium continued to stand guard, his face streaked with anguished fury. Bluebell will tell us when to duck.

A moment’s silence, and her heart almost stopped.

I should be dead.

Trembling, she pressed her forehead to his. Don’t say that. You survived Lijuan once. You’ll do it again. Except that his golden skin had turned cold and pale, his eyes now eerie blocks of black, and his wings ... She lifted a fisted hand to her mouth, biting down hard on her knuckles.

The evil was spreading out over his wings in a slow creep, turning the gold and white to an oily darkness that brought out every one of her most aggressive instincts. She wanted to fight it, to cut at it, but knives wouldn’t work here. Not when the canvas was Raphael’s body.

“Elena, cover!”

She moved with Illium’s first syllable, spreading her wings out over Raphael’s vulnerable body. Something hit her shoulder hard enough to bruise, but she held her position until Illium gave the all clear.

“What the fuck are they doing?”

I would like to know the answer to that question.

Realizing her archangel no longer had his sight, his beautiful eyes blinded by black, she looked up and felt the air leave her body. “Dear God, Raphael. They’re . . .” Swallowing to wet her throat, she focused on the two immortals in the sky. “Your mother’s managed to damage Lijuan’s wings, and it looks like she’s flickering in and out of her physical form.”

Then it must take power for her to maintain her other form. That, we did not know.

“Your mother doesn’t look injured, but she’s not avoiding Lijuan’s bolts fast enough.” Caliane was moving at phenomenal speed, but—“Next to Lijuan, she looks almost sluggish.”

I was wrong. She was not yet ready to awaken.

And Elena understood, her heart twisting. Caliane had woken for her son. “She’s holding her own.” But now that she was searching for it, she could see Caliane’s weakness and so, clearly, could Lijuan.

Looking down into Raphael’s face, she wanted to lie to him, to give him peace, but that wasn’t what they were. “I think your mother’s going to lose, Raphael.”

Raphael’s body shuddered, his wings pure black, his skin without life.

Archangel!

Raphael heard Elena, but he couldn’t answer her, his mind overrun with a searing burn so hot, it flared incandescent white against his vision, turning his world from cold black to a piercing conflagration.

The instincts of over a thousand years of survival urged him to fight the rage of flame . . . but then he saw what it was doing. Eating away at the black, obliterating it in a fury as wild as angelfire. As it did so, it left a lingering “taste” on his senses, one he couldn’t quite define, and yet knew to the depths of his soul.

Raphael, don’t you dare leave me. Together! Your promised me if we fell, it would be together!

Even in the midst of the brutal fight taking place in his body, her demand made him want to claim her lips with his own, to stroke his hand over those warrior’s wings in open possession.

A spear of lightning scored down his spinal cord and spread in a nuclear burst through his wings, blistering with such heat that he half expected his body to turn to ash. But when the burn faded to a dull, throbbing hum, when he lifted his lashes, he saw Elena’s face staring down at him, determination in every line of her. I won’t let you go, Archangel. I won’t! Then, heartbreakingly quiet, “I can’t do this without you, Raphael.”

Raising his hand, he cupped her cheek. “I am not so easy to kill, Elena.” Except he should be dead. He was an archangel, but Lijuan had evolved to another plane of existence. Her power was beyond that which was known, which could be fought. It tasted only of death to mortal and immortal alike.

Elena’s entire frame shuddered, and she pressed her forehead to his for a long, broken second. A single, painful droplet splashed against his cheek before she raised her head and he flowed to his feet beside her. Every part of his body ached, but he’d fought feeling far worse—even the violent heat that continued to spark within him, searching out and eradicating the final traces of Lijuan’s taint, was no longer the overwhelming inferno it had been.

Raphael. My son.

Looking up, he saw Caliane’s right wing crumple as Lijuan managed to slam her against the side of a building.

34

“Go,” he said to Elena. “My mother’s people will be waking. Get them moved to safer locations.”

Elena didn’t fight him, stepping back so he could take flight. Take care, Raphael. You belong to a hunter.

With her words circling his heart, he flew up and caught his mother’s falling form, protecting them from Lijuan by throwing out a spray of angelfire that made her swerve and lose concentration. He took the opportunity to lower Caliane gently onto a rooftop. She would heal, he thought, having seen the damage. It had not been a heart-blow like his . . . and it did not seem to affect her as it had him. But then, his mother was far older.

Her eyes shimmered an aching blue as he rose to meet Lijuan once more. You fight for me.

I fight against Lijuan. His mother might yet act the monster once she regained her strength, but there was no question that Lijuan already was one. If she wasn’t brought under control, her brand of death would soon crawl across the world—Caliane at full strength might be the only one capable of keeping her in check.

So you would use one monster to cage another? A voice that still held its haunting magic.

All archangels carry the threat of darkness within.

Lijuan rained a fury of black down on him. Throwing up a shield, he slammed the bolts into another wall, crumbling an edifice that had stood for centuries upon centuries. Sensing movement below, he saw Elena’s distinctive wings as she half carried, half dragged a dazed citizen of Amanat to another area of the city. Elena, stay out of sight, he ordered, knowing Lijuan would go after her if she saw the chance.

Focus on keeping your neck in one piece, Archangel. I’m not the one Lijuan’s got a hard-on for.

Laughing at the acerbic reply, he threw several balls of angelfire, positioning himself just above Lijuan. She weaved out of the way, but he had her on the defensive, and using that, he maneuvered her to the edges of the city, where the buildings were more apt to be empty of mortals.

Lijuan’s wings had turned black during the course of the battle, as had her hair. That wasn’t as important as the fact that she no longer seemed to be able to shift to her noncorporeal form. It made her vulnerable in a way she hadn’t been since Beijing, but she was far from easy prey.

Flinching as she managed to singe one of his wings again, he felt a renewed burn as that incandescent fire arced through his veins to neutralize the black. It made him wonder . . . Reaching deep within, he coaxed the near-uncontrollable wildness of it to his hands, then released it as he would angelfire. In every other way, his power manifested as either blue or a blinding blaze, but this was a luminous white-gold with iridescent edges of midnight and dawn ... and when it hit Lijuan, she bled.

Her shock obvious, she stared at him as the dark red stain spread across her front. Capitalizing on her disbelief, he hit her again, but the fire within him was already fading, and this hit was nowhere near as potent as the first. But, it was enough. It caught one of her wings, and she shrieked in rage before changing direction and slamming through Amanat’s shield, out into the rain-lashed night.

Raphael went after her, the rain slicing at his face like so many sharp knives . . . but the Archangel of China was gone. Hovering to a standstill, he searched the forested landscape, thinking her wing might’ve collapsed, crumpling her to the earth. But the forest lay undisturbed, the storm-dark skies empty.


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