Archangel's Prophecy (Page 6)
The earth jolted violently.
Bunching her wings and gritting her teeth against the renewed pulse of pain, she rose up off the shaking ground. Cabin doors flew open below her, people spilling out like disoriented ants to run in the direction of the lawn.
The ground under the cabins began to crumble.
Elena swept down to grab a young woman who was a frightening half step ahead of the disappearing earth. Elena wasn’t strong enough to carry a full-grown adult any real distance, but she managed to haul the woman to where the other guests could grab her, then yelled at everyone to go farther.
A scream split the air.
Elena twisted back . . . to see Damian Hale, his arms and legs flailing, disappear into nothingness. The ground had opened up under his feet in a rushing crash of dirt and rock. She flew toward him as fast as she could, but it was a futile effort.
Even as she reached the spot where he’d disappeared into the stygian maw of the earth, the sprawling and chillingly deep hole began to fill with a golden-red flow of magma. There was no sign of Damian, no sign of any of the cabins. Not even a smear of flesh or a splinter of wood.
The ground stopped shaking.
The earth stopped crumbling.
The birds danced.
Below Elena glowed a wound in the earth that pulsed with scalding heat.
The drinker of blood was meant to die. That was his destiny. To be the first mark in time.
Elena rubbed her hands over her upper arms as the words appeared full-fledged in her mind. As if she’d thought them up. Except she hadn’t. That had been someone else’s thought, and it had been inside her head.
She raised her eyes to the whispering starlings, wondering if they were the source of the words. But the small birds began to disperse under her gaze, moving to sit in the trees or to land around the lava sinkhole. A few flew close to the heat in movements that felt like a dance, only to sweep back up just when she worried they’d fly too close and be burned.
All at once, there were no more starlings in the sunlit winter sky. Only screaming, sobbing people on the snow-heavy ground safely distant from a lava pit that shouldn’t exist . . . and Elena’s left wing was beginning to drag. It was only when sweat dripped down her temple that she realized she was hovering directly above the lava. Far too close to the core.
She looked down at the viscous cauldron of it . . . and an invisible hand pushed her with murderous force.
Elena’s instincts screamed.
Her first and most overwhelming reaction was to fight—then she realized her wing was dragging even more heavily, and the unknown force was pushing her out of the danger zone. After landing safely not far from the sobbing or preternaturally silent clumps of survivors, she turned to walk to the very edge of the tear in the fabric of the earth.
Thick liquid moved ponderously below, the color a glowing orange-red. Despite the movement, it seemed quiescent now, the land on which Elena stood stable. The heat that emanated from the sinkhole to hit her face, however, was a scorching burn that made it clear nothing and no one would survive contact with the molten magma.
Liquid bones, skin turned into crackling, burst eyeballs . . . Damian Hale hadn’t deserved such a fate for the crime of arrogance and conceit. “Rest in peace, Damian,” she murmured as she crouched down to examine the edges of the sinkhole, deeply conscious that Imani would mourn his loss. As Raphael had said, the angel might be a stuffy old stick, but she wasn’t unkind.
Elena. Salt and the sea, a crashing wave of violent power as familiar to her as her own breath. The ocean is turbulent and rising as a result of the recent earth tremor. Get away from the coast if you’re near it.
So, the quake hadn’t been localized to this region. I’m at the foot of the Catskills—and there’s a sinkhole filled with lovely bubbling lava in front of me.
The minutest pause. Guild Hunter, we must discuss your penchant for finding danger. I am on my way.
Any damage in the city? It was full of people she loved.
Wait. Thirty seconds later. Dmitri says no damage reported. The tremor was widespread but minor except by the mountains near where you stand.
The tightness in her chest easing, Elena rose from her crouch and had to fight back a wince—damn, she must’ve hurt her wing more than she’d realized. She took care to make sure she was holding it in the right position before she walked over to the survivors.
No point exacerbating the injury with messy muscle control.
Among the huddle of mortals and young vampires on vacation was a sandy-haired vamp with a laptop under his arm; he wore a brown polo shirt with a graphic logo on one side that looked vaguely like a set of cabins against a mountain backdrop. “You’re staff?” Elena asked the man who smelled like torn paper and crushed mint.
“Manager,” he said, the whites of his eyes yet showing and his glazed attention on the spot where the cabins had once taken center stage. His freckles stood out like islands against the bloodless hue of his tanned skin.
“I don’t suppose you have the guest list on that laptop?”
He stared blankly at her for a long second before blinking and jerking his head up and down like a broken marionette. But the action seemed to jolt him out of his shock, and he opened up the laptop without further nudging on her part. While he did a roll call, she responded to Vivek’s message asking if she was all right, then returned her attention to the roll call.
The only person who didn’t reply to their name was “John Smith.” Not rocket science to figure that had been Damian Hale, but Elena got a description out of the manager to be certain. It didn’t take much prompting—Hale had only recently checked in, and the manager even remembered the small scar on his eyebrow that Elena had noticed in the images she’d been sent of her target.
The marker in time.
Shaking off a shiver that threatened to crawl over her at the memory of that otherworldly voice in her head, Elena spread then tightened her wings to her back. It was an automatic action, one she often did when on the ground for long periods. It felt good to stretch out her wings.
Stabbing twinges through her back. Razors shaped into long needles.
She sucked in a breath, breathed past the pain. At least she had no trouble keeping the survivors away from the lava sinkhole. No one wanted to end up with their flesh melted from their bones, the aural stain of Damian Hale’s chilling screams too recent to be ignored. When the manager offered to organize a bus to take his guests to temporary lodgings in the city, no one hesitated in agreeing.
Raphael arrived before the transport.
Elena heard a whimper from the knot of survivors as the magnificent spread of his wings came into view. Sunlight sparked off the white-gold filaments within his feathers, the midnight of his hair blowing back in the wind generated by his landing to reveal the clean lines of a face brutal in its masculine beauty.
“Archangel.” A soft whisper, an equally soft hand slipping into Elena’s.
Startled, she looked down to find a boy of maybe five standing there with a rapturous smile on his face. His coppery brown skin glowed, the wide and high bones beneath the baby fat of his face reminding her of a photo Ransom had shown her of his Cherokee great-grandfather. Of course it would be a child who wasn’t afraid; children never were of Raphael. You have an admirer, Archangel.
Raphael closed his wings to his back with warrior efficiency before turning to nod in greeting at the child. His eyes were a blue so pure that it nearly hurt to look at him, his skin sun-golden. He wore leathers today, a beaten-down brown that bore the nicks of past battles and sparring sessions. The tunic left his arms bare, revealing the sculptured muscle of his biceps. He had been a warrior before he became an archangel and a warrior he’d always stay.