Archangel's Heart (Guild Hunter #9)(5)


by Nalini Singh

“Jason has been unable to confirm either way, but Xi did eliminate the kiss very quickly.” Raphael’s tone cooled. “He can’t keep it up, however. No one who is not Cadre can. And these incidents are only the start—let it go and the vampires will swarm a blood red infestation across China.” His voice was so cold that she found herself running her hand firmly down the edge of his wing in a silent reminder that he wasn’t only an archangel, distant and lethal; he was her lover, the man who owned her heart and whose own belonged to her.

Raphael’s expression didn’t change, his voice still chilly, but he moved his wing so she could caress more of it. “If Lijuan rises again, new decisions will be made, but for the time being, we must work on the assumption that she overextended her new abilities to the point that she caused herself significant damage.” He nodded in greeting at a passing squadron. “I do not believe her dead any more than you do, but I do think she may have chosen to Sleep.”

And when an angel chose to Sleep, it could be centuries or millennia before they awoke. Caliane had Slept for more than a thousand years, and that was barely a drop in the ocean. “I guess I better pack for the Refuge then.” Raphael’s earlier words had made it clear he wouldn’t be asking her to remain behind in New York, as he had more than once before.

At first, she’d fought the restraint, frustratingly conscious that he wanted her safe within the borders of his territory rather than in danger by his side. Later, she’d come to understand that, at certain times, Raphael needed his consort to be visible in the heart of his territory while he was gone. It settled people, because surely no archangel would leave his consort behind were the storm clouds of war gathering on the horizon?

“It’ll be nice to see Jessamy and Galen again,” she said. “Naasir and Andi, too.” Venom was also still at the Refuge, but Elena didn’t know the snake-eyed vampire as well as she did the others.

Raphael’s response was unexpected. “I’m afraid we will have to wait to see our people at the Refuge. This meeting will be held on neutral ground, with no access to any strongholds or armies. Each archangel can bring their consort should they have one, plus one other.”

Elena felt like she was racing to catch up. “I didn’t know there was any other neutral ground.” The world was sharply delineated into areas of archangelic control. The Refuge alone stood separate.

“There are a rare few small areas,” Raphael told her. “Mere acres in each case. In this particular circumstance, it is the land that was given over to the Luminata so long ago that no one knows the names of those on the Cadre that made the decree.”

“Where?”

“Lumia, the Luminata stronghold, stands in the land your grandmother called home.”

“Morocco?” Delight kicked her bloodstream. “I love Morocco!” Though she had no ties there, she’d passed through the country during her days as a single hunter, felt its heartbeat sync with her own, as if her blood recognized the hot, desert land filled with a stark, golden beauty.

“From the covert flyover I did when I was a youth,” Raphael told her with a smile, “Lumia is located on a hilly rise, an elegant stronghold that has stood for eons. There are no roads to break up the wilderness that surrounds it—to visit Lumia, you must have wings or you must brave a harsh trek made no less difficult by the high walls on the very edges of their land.”

Elena was about to ask him to tell her more when her brain finally clicked. “Hold on,” she said with a scowl, placing her hands on her hips again. “Yeah, people can’t bring armies but Charisemnon’s will be closer than anyone else’s.” The disease-causing and cowardly bastard responsible for the horror of the Falling, an event that had seen New York’s angels plummet to the earth in an agony of fear and suffering and death, was the Archangel of Northern Africa.

“Unfortunately, yes.” Raphael’s own anger was frost in the air. “But Titus will no doubt mass his army on Charisemnon’s border when he leaves for the meeting, forcing Charisemnon to do the same or leave his border open to Titus.”

“I always knew I liked Titus.” Elena bared her teeth. “When do we leave?”

“Unless one of the Cadre refuses to attend, we go on the dawn.”

Implicit were the words that if someone did say no, it could set in motion a chain of immortal violence that would end with a devastated world. Because when archangels fought, people died and cities fell.

* * *

Two hours later, in the library of Elena and Raphael’s Enclave home, that danger was no longer a concern. According to Jessamy, who was in touch with the Luminata in her role as the angelic Historian, every single archangel had RSVP’d to the meeting. “Except Lijuan, of course,” Jessamy corrected, the other woman’s fine-boned face up on the screen placed on one wall of the library.

Elena’s blood began to pump a little faster. “That settles it then—we’ll be on the plane tomorrow morning.”

Raphael had already told their pilot to be on standby.

Had he been going alone, he would’ve probably flown on the wing, but Elena wasn’t strong enough or fast enough to do that over such a long distance. She was getting there, could now achieve a vertical takeoff nine times out of ten—though it always cost her. Her body simply wasn’t “old” enough in immortal terms, to have grown the necessary muscle strength. So when she forced a vertical takeoff, she did so knowing she’d have a shorter time in the air and could possibly rupture a tendon and be grounded until it healed.

In most cases, it made more sense for her to climb up someplace and take off from there, but at least she no longer faced being trapped on the ground if she couldn’t find a handy launching spot. And once in the air, she had far greater endurance than when she’d first woken up with wings. Though that wasn’t saying much, since she’d been about as graceful as a baby chicken on awakening.

“Has there been any word from Lijuan’s court at all?”

The Historian—and Elena’s friend—nodded at Raphael’s question, her features lit by the delicate golden light thrown by the old-fashioned blown glass lamp on her desk, the Refuge yet swathed in the deep blackness of very early morning. “Xi confirmed receipt of the Luminata’s request.”