Archangel's Prophecy (Page 47)
“I hope you are wrong, my friend.” Ice threaded Elijah’s voice now. “She is already almost beyond our ability to defeat. She does not need access to more power.”
“It’s also possible her people are joining her at an unknown location.” Despite her depravities and how many of her own she’d massacred in her lust for power, Lijuan was considered a goddess by many.
But Elijah shook his head. “The lost are simple villagers—not the kind to be welcome in Lijuan’s court as anything other than menial servants.” Eyes of golden brown held Raphael’s. “We cannot neglect the probability that Lijuan truly Sleeps and the disappearances have nothing to do with her. Favashi’s current behavior is not what anyone would expect from her.”
The two of them began to walk again.
“Perhaps,” Elijah continued, “she has ordered her generals to take ruthless action to instill fear in the populace and the ghost villages are only the tip of the iceberg. China is a large territory for a young archangel to control—and she is fighting an uphill battle, given her predecessor.”
“Yes.” Lijuan’s people were used to being under the hand of the most powerful archangel in the world—there was little doubt that the older vampires and angels in the territory were only giving lip service when it came to their loyalty to Favashi.
Such was the unavoidable side effect of taking over a territory where another archangel had either died or gone into Sleep. The new archangel had to earn the fidelity of those left behind—or rule by creating a primal fear that overwhelmed history and loyalty in favor of pure, animal survival.
In some cases, the balance was never struck, and those loyal to the previous archangel scattered on the winds, to find new homes and positions. The vast majority were capable of loyal and devoted service to another archangel—just not to the one who’d usurped their archangel.
Many of Alexander’s people had served others with utmost fidelity but had tendered their resignations the instant he rose again—then they’d flown home. It would be the same with Raphael’s people, should he ever go into Sleep. As for his Seven, that was a certainty. No one would be surprised when Dmitri, Jason, Naasir, Illium, Aodhan, Galen, and Venom returned to him. Even were Illium to ascend, he would be as Eli was to Caliane—forever loyal.
Some bonds did not break.
“Lijuan might’ve been mad to our eyes,” Elijah said quietly, “but to many of her people, she is a living goddess. It does not matter if she is in this world or if she Sleeps, she remains the one to whom they direct their prayers.”
Raphael watched the gyrfalcon preen Elijah’s hair. “Her most loyal people could be erasing villages in order to make it seem as if she is present in the world, so her grip on her territory never fades. Their belief in her is fanatical.” Even the horror of the shambling “reborn,” that mockery of life everlasting, hadn’t altered their faith.
Elijah reached up and the gyrfalcon hopped from his shoulder to his forearm. Stroking the wild creature, he said, “I know it is not the way of the Cadre to interfere in the affairs of another archangel, but I feel we cannot leave Favashi to stumble into war.” Elijah’s voice was of a man who had seen too much battle in his long lifetime. “Before I left to meet you, I received a call from Neha. She has withdrawn her ambassadors from Favashi’s court, and she tells me Michaela’s ambassadors are also not happy.”
Raphael considered the water, the clarity of the liquid over the stones. That Neha hadn’t spoken to him was no surprise. Their relationship had broken on the blade of her daughter’s lust for power. But that she’d taken the step of recalling her ambassadors . . .
It was a prelude to war.
“Your thoughts are sound, Eli, but we will invite war ourselves if we step into Favashi’s territory without invitation.”
“Then, my friend,” Elijah murmured, “we will have to inveigle an invitation.”
Elena had decided to see Nisia after all. Just in case. The healer made no attempt to hide her concern about the new tears in Elena’s wings, but she didn’t ground her. To a being born to flight, Elena realized, such a step was an absolute final recourse. “Can you sense anything about my left forearm?”
Nisia spent several minutes checking it, even taking a scan. “Your bones have tunnels through them,” she said afterward, her expression grim. “As if your immortal ringworms have eaten their way through.”
Too bad it wasn’t actually anything as prosaic as worms. It was fire and an energy that sought to reshape the world. “Can you fix it so my arm won’t fracture?”
A curt nod. “I am still able to stir your body to heal enough for that, but Elena, we are merely putting plasters on the wound. I cannot define a cause.” Hot flags of color rode her cheeks, but her hands were calm and competent as she worked.
“I know,” Elena said, though her throat was dry and her head stuffy with all the emotions she couldn’t afford to feel right now. “But before I ground myself so you can run as many tests as you want, I have to make sure my sister is safe. That her daughter is safe.”
Nisia pursed her lips. “Work quickly. You’re not just regressing—this bone is now weaker than a mortal’s.”
Fifteen minutes later—after a huge meal she bolted down—Elena began to go over the file on the fire that had claimed the lives of Nishant Kumar and Terence Lee, while Vivek tried to track down Jade. There wasn’t much there. The entire thing had so obviously been arson that it was as if the arsonist were advertising his work—or didn’t care about being subtle.
The investigator believed said arsonist had also rung the fire alarm to empty the building of other residents; he’d based his conclusion on the fact that multiple residents had reported a man knocking on their door to warn of a fire before they’d so much as caught a hint of smoke. All had described the man as white or Hispanic, wearing a long coat, a hat, and a scarf wrapped around his mouth.
Nishant Kumar and Terence Lee had been the sole casualties.
It held to the pattern: leave unconnected innocents alone, even save their lives where possible. But as Raphael had pointed out, Beth and Maggie were intimately connected to one of the killer’s targets.
Muscles bunching, Elena read on.
Thanks to a liberal dousing with accelerants, paired with the materials used to construct the old building, the two vampires had burned down to—as Vivek had put it—crispy critters. The problem with using fire to murder vamps was that the older ones could survive it—Elena had once rescued an eight-hundred-year-old vampire from a malicious fire. He’d been charred bone barely held together by warped tendons. Lighter than a small child in her arms. But when his eyes opened, they’d been moist and bright with pain.
She’d nearly dropped him, unable to believe the impossibility of it.
Later, another vampire had told her that the one she’d rescued couldn’t bear to be without sight and so had used the rest of his body to protect his eyes. That had been over a decade earlier and the old but not very strong vampire was yet recovering. His face had regenerated, as had most of his body, but he needed a cane to walk and his endurance was limited.
Nishant Kumar and Terence Lee had been barely out of their Contracts. Nowhere near an age to survive the fire had they been alive when it was set, but there was a good chance both men had been dead at ignition. “He amputated Blakely’s genitals and Acosta’s hand while they were alive,” she reminded herself. “And he threatened Beth and Maggie to Harrison.” The man liked to torture his victims.