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Archangel's War(6)
Author: Nalini Singh

   Eyes of crushed sapphires met hers and she could almost see time unfolding as he returned to that pivotal moment. “I got out a warning right before I earthed the power. I sent the warning out to the limit of my range.”

   Jaw hard, he said, “But the time between the warning and the earthing may not have been enough—I have no way to judge the passage of time between where we were and here.” Lines marked his forehead. “I heard the faded echo of Illium’s voice acknowledging the order, but whether that was real or my mind filling in the gaps, we will not know until we emerge.”

   Elena swallowed. No angel, vampire, mortal could’ve survived the kind of power in Raphael’s veins. The power he’d released. The power that enclosed them in an eerily lovely lightning fire.

   Gripping her fear for their friends, their family, in a tight fist, she focused on the strangeness around them and, lifting her hand, brushed her fingers through the power.

   Flickers of golden lightning dropped from above to cling to her skin, as it had before everything went to hell. There was nothing inherently wrong with the power—it had scared her because of how strong it was and how distantly immortal it made Raphael, but the power itself wasn’t malevolent. It could be shaped and remade to be what he needed. In its raw form, however, it was a violent storm.

   “In our shared dream I told you to release it.” Guilt gnawed at her. “If people die—”

   Raphael shifted onto his elbow and placed his other wing over her again, cocooning her in himself. “We made the decision together.” His gaze refused to allow her to look away. “We’ll deal with the consequences together.”

   Elena lay a hand over his wing and nodded. That was their promise: Together. Always. “How weak are you?” His lack of power could be a death sentence. The Cadre respected only the most brutal strength—because an archangel without power couldn’t control the vampires in his territory. And now, with the Cascade in play, power had become an even more visceral weapon.

   “Your heart exploded during the power release,” he said. “It’s in my bloodstream now.” He sounded not the least worried about having bits of a mortal heart floating around in his body.

   She still couldn’t believe he’d done that: given her a piece of his archangelic heart, then put her dying one in the cavity created when he’d torn out his own.

   “My new heart is regenerating slower than it should and my limbs feel heavy,” he added, “but I have felt this way before, a long time ago after a battle where I fought to the last drop of strength in my body. A little time for my energies to recover, and I will be in flight.”

   He frowned. “That my wings are afire . . . I cannot explain it except to theorize the white fire is now part of my flesh and bone. Integral to me—like an arm or a leg. Even now, I feel my body drawing on that strength to build my heart.”

   Elena saw the white fire begin to flicker and splutter as he spoke. Shifting her gaze, she held those eyes of Prussian blue that seared her soul. “It won’t be enough.” She couldn’t allow him to shield her from the truth. “Not with all the craziness going on with the Cascade. All the other archangels have new powers.” He’d be vulnerable, considered weak. Easy prey.

   Raphael went to reply when Elena felt a sudden bright jolt hit her bloodstream. She gasped. Both of them stared at the part of her hand where a tendril of golden energy had been dancing. “Did that just . . .”

   “The energy went into you.” Raphael raised an eyebrow. “Elena-mine, it appears you are to inherit my Cascade abilities.”

 

 

6

 

If I am to be consort to the first archangel-Made,” Raphael continued, while she was still gaping at the idea of all that deadly power in her body, “I will undertake my duties with utmost solemnity. I’ll throw great balls and invite—”

   She poked her highly amused archangel in the shoulder. “Don’t you dare even joke about that.” No matter if a fine tendril had sunk into her, this power wasn’t hers. It tasted of Raphael, a piece of him that had become detached from his body.

   The jolt from the single tendril shivered through her bloodstream, seemed to make her blood glow at a higher intensity. Her skin felt electrified. “Is my hair standing up like Einstein’s?”

   “It is my eternal regret that I could not talk that mortal into becoming a vampire.”

   “You knew Einstein? Wait, no, stop distracting me.” She gasped again.

   A second tendril of power had just dropped from the storm above to punch into her bloodstream.

   Raphael’s eyebrows drew together. “Your eyes were liquid silver when you first opened them. They’ve now faded to a more mortal shade near the pupil, but there’s a deep glow to them.”

   “A glow-in-the-dark hunter with equally high-viz eyes and probably radioactive blood. Just what I always dreamed of being.”

   Ignoring her muttered diatribe, Raphael angled his head closer. “You also appear to have gained a hint of a particular blue around the pupils. It’s extremely faint, like a stain on the edge of the black.”

   “Well, you had to go give me a piece of your heart.” Her mouth dried up at the renewed memory of how he’d literally torn out his heart for her. She slapped her hands on his chest. “You ever do anything like that again and I’ll use you for target practice.”

   His smile creased his cheeks, lit up those extraordinary eyes with an inner light that outshone the golden lightning that swirled ever faster above them, a hurricane in the making. “I will buy the knives for you.”

   Lips twitching, she attempted a scowl, failed. “I guess being a glowing toothpick isn’t so bad,” she said with a grin of her own. “I bet I can make good money on the talk show circuit.”

   His smile deepened. “You are very certainly my Elena.”

   Yes, she was. “Lemme look at your eyes, see the damage.” She’d seen nothing concerning so far, but she worried what else he’d lost. The world was a lethal place for an archangel without power. But she saw what she’d always seen: a blue so deep it was eternity.

   Her breath came easier. “Your eyes are as unearthly as ever.”

   “I am an archangel.” It wasn’t a boast, just a statement of fact.

   The donation of a piece of his heart had fundamentally changed her then barely immortal body. His own body, she realized, was too powerful to be impacted by a small human heart. “Why did you keep it?”

   He didn’t ask her what she meant. “To stay a little mortal for you.”

   Her eyes burned. Moving even closer under the warm heaviness of his wings, she brushed strands of hair off his face, the color darker than the night. The Legion mark on his right temple was dull, flat. Even as her stomach twisted at this further indication of all he’d lost to save her, a third tendril of Cascade-born power dropped onto the back of her hand . . . punched inside.

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