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Archangel's War(9)
Author: Nalini Singh

   “Your anger is sparks in my mind. I have missed your fury, Guild Hunter.”

   Elena hadn’t realized she’d maintained the mental connection between them. It had been so effortless. “Huh, looks like your insane heart transplant’s boosted my mind-to-mind strength.” A good bonus when she wasn’t too sure about the rest of her. Because what if she literally couldn’t put on weight? What if the interrupted process meant she’d be a slightly gussied-up skeleton forever?

   No need to panic just yet. Save it for later. Plenty of things to stress over before we get to that.

   With that cheery pep talk to herself, she looked up again, squinted. “That might be the sky, though don’t quote me on that.” If so, it was a miracle they weren’t swimming in lava because they were down deep. “Were you trying to melt us a tunnel to China so we could attack Her Evilness by stealth?”

   “It is a thought.” He dug something else out of the soil next to them. “Look, Elena.”

   It was another chunk of amber, but this one held a perfectly preserved flower. Her heart flowered just like it. Rising, she put both chunks next to the statuette, then lay back down against her archangel. The tattoo brushed against something and sensation rippled through her as if she’d snagged a feather on a protuberance.

   Clenching her jaw, she forced herself to breathe. And decided to ignore that whole situation for now. Because, on the list of panic-inducing items, there was currently one clear champion. “Why is no one poking their head over that hole?” she said, and it came out a rasp. “Why isn’t Bluebell yelling down at us already?” Her throat grew thick, her eyes hot. “Why isn’t Sara ripping a strip off me for doing this to her again? Where is everyone?”

 

 

8


   The Legion


   The blinding blast had sent the Legion spiraling into the waters of the river, their wings unable to deal with the massive crush of energy. The Bluebell had gone in beside them. But they all came up through the churned-up water, having been far enough from the explosion that the impact had been painful but not catastrophic. No vessels had been close enough to suffer damage, all weaker angels already far distant.

   It did take time for them to regain their ability to fly; the concussive shock of the blast was yet ringing in their heads when they began to rise up out of the water. And though the Bluebell had feathers, his wings far heavier in the water than the Legion’s sleeker shape, he reacted the fastest. Water streamed off his wings in a shimmer of droplets that reflected the sunlight.

   Rising up beside the Bluebell’s hovering form, the Primary followed his gaze.

   Where the aeclari’s house had once stood was now a bubble of what appeared to be molten lava.

   Lava does not form huge bubbles above the earth.

   Lava does not hold its shape.

   Lava is of the earth, a luminous secret.

   Lava should not be here.

   As his brethren spoke inside his mind, he and the Bluebell rose higher in silence, high enough that they dared fly across the impossible construct. The lava was alive, sliding and moving with languid grace in hues of red and orange and yellow and everything in between. Yet it held its shape. In the very center was a small clear circle but it was overrun with molten heat before they could get close enough to view what lay within.

   Any closer and the Bluebell’s feathers would singe, the Primary’s skin begin to ulcerate and slough off.

   “Remind you of anything?” the Bluebell murmured, as sweat rolled down his face, steam a halo around him. His wet wings no longer dripped, the heat evaporating the water before it left his feathers.

   The Primary considered the furnace below, sent the question to his brethren. They all said one word and so did he: “Cassandra.”

   “Yeah.” The Bluebell drew back from the heat, an unreadable emotion on his face. “The last time she created a lava sinkhole, it swallowed a vampire. This time . . .” Darkness in eyes the color of aged coins the Primary had seen in the deep. “We wait. We watch.”

   “We wait. We watch.”

 

 

9

 

Err, Archangel? That doesn’t look like blue sky anymore.” She hoped it wasn’t sky at all—because a world with a sky molten and deadly wasn’t a world in any kind of good shape.

   Raphael’s response was unexpected. “Cassandra may still be falling into Sleep.” Gold lightning lived in his eyes, eerie and unfamiliar. “I lost her right at the end, before I earthed the power, but the descent into Sleep is a long process. If some vestige of her remains awake, she could be protecting us.”

   Elena stared up at the dot far above, saw in it echoes of the sinkhole that had begun all this. “As long as she isn’t whispering creepy prophecies in my head, I have no problem with Cassandra.” The Ancient was just a messenger.

   She sat up on a wave of effort. And belatedly realized a pertinent fact. “I’m buck naked.” All glowing skin, electrified hair, and breathless lungs. “Assuming that is Cassandra and she’ll allow us through, can you use your glamour, hide us?” She had no wish to flash New York with her bony ass.

   “Glamour is child’s play with the amount of power currently in my system.” Hair yet afire at the ends and lightning cracking his skin, Raphael sat up beside her, looked up. He was beautiful beyond compare. He was also dangerous and deadly and a power.

   His jaw muscles tightened. “Part of me does not wish to surface.”

   Chest constricting to the edge of pain, she followed his gaze. “We have to have hope.” She was speaking as much to herself as to her archangel. “Without hope, the Cascade wins.”

   “Hope.” Raphael brushed his wing over her back and the tattoo whispered sensation through her—as if she had feathers, too, over a wing understructure of bone and tendon and muscle and nerves.

   Her ghost wings were torturous in many ways, but this? Elena gloried in it.

   They rose to their feet together . . . and that was where she hit the first snag. Her spindly toothpick legs couldn’t support her body. She would’ve crumpled if Raphael hadn’t caught her, held her close. “Hope,” she said again when cold fury seared his features.

   “Hope,” he gritted out, and it wasn’t the most heartfelt pledge—yeah, her archangel was pissed—but she’d take it given the circumstances . . . and try not to let her own anger take root. Elena P. Deveraux, Guild Hunter and consort to an archangel, was not about to let the Cascade twist her personality to bitterness and despair. She was going to fucking own this new chance at life.

   Raphael spread his wings.

   “Wait!” Elena nodded to the area behind the glory of his wings. “The amber and the statuette.”

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