Archangel's Legion (Guild Hunter #6)(8)

Written By: Nalini Singh

“Raphael, I have heard of the events in your city.” Her fingers rose to the screen in a familiar gesture of love. “Your people?”

No other archangel would he have trusted with the truth, but for all that she’d done, his mother had never once backed anyone else against her son. “We mourn,” he said quietly and saw the pain in her eyes.

It was from Caliane that he’d learned how an archangel should rule. Even when her madness distorted the truth of who she was, he’d never forgotten she was also the archangel whose people looked to her with love in their eyes. He wasn’t Caliane—he inspired fear as often as not—but, like those who were hers, his men and women knew he’d fight with unrelenting fury to protect them.

“Five began their journey home this night.” Raphael had led the flight out over the dark lick of the water until Manhattan was a silhouette far in the distance, Elena on one side and Nimra on the other. Every other angel in the city who could fly, but for the squadron needed to hold it secure, had been part of the silent cavalcade, and each had held a lantern that protected the candle within, lighting the way home.

Then they’d hovered in place as Nimra and the squadron he’d placed at her command pulled away into the starless night, the fallen carried in flower-covered biers that would reach the Refuge in twenty-four hours. It would’ve been faster to send the bodies home in a jet, but they were creatures of the wind and the sky, and so it was by the sky road that the fallen would return home.

“We mourn with you,” Caliane said, a single tear rolling down her face. “I will send a squadron to the Refuge to act as an honor guard for those who are carried home.”

“I thank you, Mother, but in this time of unrest, I believe you should keep your people near.” Caliane remained Lijuan’s most dangerous foe, and she had only two winged squadrons, having taken the people of Amanat alone into her Sleep.

Her expression altering from sorrow to one that betrayed an acute political intelligence, his mother sat back in her chair, her gown a vibrant turquoise that framed her dazzling beauty, until he could hardly believe the truth of her extraordinary age.

“I know you wish to ask me if I saw anything such as this in the previous Cascade,” she said, “but I must tell you there was no Falling in my time.” A sudden shadow across her expression, and he knew she thought of the madness she believed had touched her during that Cascade. “There were, however, other strange events.”

Raphael waited while his mother thought. He knew the delay was no power play, no arrogant posturing. Caliane was simply very, very old, her memories hidden in long-forgotten corners of her mind.

“Once,” she murmured into the silence, “an entire city of angels turned against each other for a single minute. Blows were exchanged, knives thrown—then everyone seemed to wake up and no one knew why they had acted so.” A frown. “There were some who believed the chaos must have been caused by the use of a new archangelic ability, but there was never a repeat of the incident.”

It was tempting to believe the Falling had been another such aberration, but—“I can’t be complacent, not given the changes occurring in the Cadre.”

“The one who dispenses death.” Caliane’s wings glowed a sudden, lethal, brightness. “She who styles herself an Ancient, you think she has a hand in this.”

“It doesn’t appear to be Lijuan’s handiwork.” Raphael’s mind flickered with images of another time when his mother had glowed . . . during an execution that had broken her spirit and splintered their family. “But,” he added, closing the lid on the memories of his father’s violent death, “we’ve barely begun the hunt for answers.”

“You will not permit this to keep you from my lands.” It was an order.

He infused his response with unbending steel. “I’ll make that decision when it is time.” His mother had a way of forgetting that he was an archangel with a territory of his own.

Caliane’s lips curved, the music in her voice reminding him of the songs she’d sung to him as a boy, songs that had held the Refuge in thrall. “You were always a stubborn child. The only way your father could get you to let go of anger, as an infant, was to scoop you up in his arms and take you flying. Oh, how you loved to fly with Nadiel.” Love and a haunting sadness in her every word. “You always came back laughing, your hair wild and your cheeks red, my beautiful boy.”

Raphael touched his fingers to the screen as she’d done, his heart aching for the losses that marked his mother. He didn’t know if he could ever forgive her crimes, didn’t even know if she was truly sane or if this was a fleeting lull, but he knew that he loved her. “I hope,” he said as her fingers touched the screen on her end, “you will not tell such stories when we are in company.”

Her laughter was a song, her eyes iridescent. “I promise you’ll be a babe only in my eyes, always my son.” Laughter fading into sadness once more, she said, “I am sorry, Raphael. To lose any of one’s people is a deep sorrow.”

Turning to Elena once the call had ended, he found her knuckling away a tear, his tough hunter whose shell was not so tough to those who knew her. “Hbeebti.” He took her into his arms, the silk of her robe sliding over his skin.

“She loves you so much.” Elena’s whisper was rough, husky. “It’s there in her every breath, every word. I can’t imagine what it must do to her to know that she hurt you during her madness.”