Archangel's Prophecy (Page 13)
There is no humor in me today, hbeebti.
“Take a deep breath and hold it,” Nisia told her, switching to English with the fluidity of an immortal who’d seen empires rise and fall.
Elena did as instructed, reaching up her hand at the same time.
Raphael’s bigger hand closed around hers, the susurration of his wings as he opened then closed them, the sound of home, of family. Never would she associate it with anyone but him.
“Sire.” Nisia frowned, her brown eyes dark. “The shadows . . .”
Only a healer would dare tell the Archangel of New York to step out of her light. Elena’s lips quirked; she tipped back her head to whisper, “I think she’s saying you’re hovering, Archangel.”
Raphael moved at once out of Nisia’s light, for he would do nothing to diminish her ability to help Elena. He did, however, keep his hand linked with Elena’s. She was so brutally fragile. A truth he managed to forget most of the time else it would drive him mad. His consort was fierce, a warrior . . . and still so easy to harm.
Seeing her brought down by pain was a sight he wished never to relive. He had nearly lost her in battle, and in that first fall, when she’d lain broken in his arms; but those things could be foreseen in the context of their lives as hunter and archangel. But to be ambushed by an attack from within her own body?
No. Raphael would not lose Elena to such an insidious foe.
“I can find nothing.” Nisia rose to her full diminutive height, her simple gown a dark blue-gray and her pointed features shouting dissatisfaction. “The cut is clean, uninfected, and there are no marks on the surface of her skin to indicate an insect bite or other contagion. I see no signs that denote sickness in her blood or bones, but tests will be done for certainty.”
“We should use the human medical device.” Keir pushed back the black hair that framed his dusky face, his uptilted eyes intent. “Elena is unique. We cannot predict how her body will change as she matures.”
Raphael stirred. “You have no news on previous angels-Made?”
“Just so.” Keir’s delicate face was calm, but his hand fisted on the wood of his desk. “I have searched the oldest records in the Medica, spoken to healers far more aged than myself, all to naught. Our medical knowledge of ancient angels-Made appears forever lost.”
“What of Jessamy?” Beloved of Raphael’s weapons-master, the angelic historian was Keir’s partner in the search for information on Elena’s predecessors.
“She has managed to speak with an Ancient one who eschews the world but does not Sleep.” Keir pushed back his hair again. “He is rumored to be five hundred thousand years of age. We may find an answer among his memories—but it will take much time for him to search the crevices and fissures where such memories might reside.”
Raphael’s free hand curled into a fist, but he knew there was no way to rush an immortal of that age. When a being got to be so old, his memories were stacked layer upon layer. Not forgotten but lost in a warehouse that held millions upon millions of recollections.
“The scan”—Nisia’s voice was crisp—“I will fly ahead and organize it. Sire, Elena, please follow.”
“I will call through there.” Keir logged off on those words.
“I feel up to the flight,” Elena said after Nisia had left and she’d pulled on clothing suitable for the cold.
“Guild Hunter, do you wish to make me watch you spiral down into the frigid Hudson because of another assault of pain or because your wing has failed?” The words came out cold, clipped.
Rather than responding with anger, Elena pressed her palm to the side of his face. “Hey. It’s Cascade weirdness. It’ll pass.”
“No one can predict the Cascade.” It followed its own rules, reshaping immortals and the world as it saw fit. “I will fly you across.”
A taut moment before his warrior consort’s lips tugged up. “One free pass,” she said firmly. “To be redeemed tonight.” She pressed a finger to his mouth before he could respond. “After that, you trust me to take precautions.”
Raphael couldn’t get the image of her plummeting from the sky as a result of a vicious slap of pain, out of his mind. That very horror had happened to Illium, though the reason for the blue-winged angel’s crumpled wings was apt to be very different from the hurt that had taken Elena to the ground.
Yet his living nightmare could not hold sway here, for he knew one thing about his consort: to clip her wings would be to kill her. “Tonight only,” he agreed, even as fear tore at his soul with clawed hands, leaving it shredded.
Scooping her up into his arms, her wings neatly pressed to her back and one of her arms around his neck, he carried her out into the snow then lifted off. Three barges made their laborious way along the Hudson, but the rest of the water was dark on this moonless night dotted with stars hard and cold.
Below them, snow haloed the world in a strange twilight seen only in winter, the effect muted the closer he winged to the brilliant heart of Manhattan. Only four days earlier, he’d flown with Elena through just such a twilight—for no reason but that he loved her and she’d wanted to wing through the winter landscape.
Tonight, the wind whistled past his skin with biting teeth, but he shrugged it off while curling Elena closer to the heat of his body, well aware she keenly felt the cold. She pressed her free hand over the archangelic heart on which she’d written her name and stayed silent as they flew to the soaring column of light that was his Tower.
Allowing a barely dressed Elena to be swallowed by the maw of the machine took teeth-gritting control on Raphael’s part.
But nothing went wrong and now his hunter—fully dressed once more—stood in front of him, leaning her back lightly against his chest. The contact soothed the serrated edges of his mood, but the change was temporary and would remain temporary until they had pinpointed the cause of Elena’s pain.
“So?” Elena said to Nisia and Keir. “Anything to see?”
“Nothing.” Lines marred Keir’s ageless face, his frown deep enough to create shadowed grooves on his forehead and at the corners of his eyes. “Other than a minor tear in your wing that’s well on the way to healing, there is nothing physically wrong with you.”
“Having eliminated all other possibilities”—Nisia folded her arms—“Keir and I believe it to be a Cascade effect. The timing is too coincidental.”
It wasn’t the answer Raphael wanted to hear. “Elena, has the cut on your forearm begun to heal?”
“It must have.” She pushed back her sleeve. “Drat, a piece of fluff caught on it.” Tugging off the lint, she stared thoughtfully at the wound. “It’s not as angry as it was before. No bleeding, either.”
Nisia was already reexamining the break in her skin. “I’m not happy with this progression. It should be close to sealed by now.”
Elena’s wings moved restlessly against Raphael. “Is it possible my body’s just funneling energy into something else and ignoring minor wounds? Because I’m starving again.”
“I understand your concern, Raphael,” Keir said, having followed along in Nisia’s examination. “But in this case, Elena may be correct.”
“I’ll continue to watch over it, regardless,” Nisia added. “Elena’s immune system is working—it’s simply slower than it should be.”