Archangel's Prophecy (Page 74)
“Roughly two weeks after she first met Kumar and crew.”
A time when Lucy would’ve had access to other funds—she couldn’t have drained her bank account dry that quickly. A memory flared at the thought of Jenessa saying Lucy had no bank account. It hadn’t struck Elena as odd at the time because Lucy had been on the streets working in a cash profession—and unlike Jenessa, she’d been an addict.
“She always gave me the rent money,” Jenessa had said. “But anything else, she kept in a jar until she wanted to spend it. She didn’t trust banks.”
However, now that Elena knew Lucy’s true identity, her cash existence took on another cast. As the daughter of the Slayer, she must’ve known her father might be able to track her if she accessed her accounts. “She made a choice to pawn her jewelry rather than go home or ask Archer for money.”
Anger or wild grief, they would never know Lucy’s motivations. “But it’s a choice Archer will never accept.” To do so would be to accept that Lucy had made conscious decisions along the way to her descent into darkness.
That didn’t nullify her suffering or in any way excuse the abuse she’d endured—what Kumar and the others had done to her was unforgivable—but it also didn’t mean that her every action had been coerced. Kumar and Lee’d had money. They’d had no reason to force Lucy to pawn her jewelry.
Also, she hadn’t been a prisoner under the vampires’ control—it had been very early on in her life in the Quarter, probably while Kumar and Lee were still grooming her. She’d shared an apartment with Jenessa at the time, been free to come and go as she pleased. Logic said she must’ve made the decision to come to this pawn shop on her own. “Who’s the second victim?”
Ashwini’s eyes flashed. “Owner’s wife, I think. In the storeroom.”
Elena followed Ash to the small doorway just as Santiago arrived. A woman’s body lay crumpled inches from the door, her head separated from her neck. A gold wedding band twinkled on her left ring finger. “I don’t have a scent. She’s human.”
Ashwini swore. “Why the hell would Archer kill her?”
“Probably ’cause she saw his face.” Santiago pointed to a security mirror that would’ve given the woman a view out front even while she was in the storeroom. “He’s got no reason to think he’s already been made.”
Simon Blakely, Eric Acosta, Nishant Kumar, Terence Lee, even Harrison, Elena could’ve allowed that Archer’s vengeance had been justified. He’d skirted the line with Harrison, but in his grieving mind, Harrison could’ve been the reason behind all the others.
But these victims, especially the woman . . . they’d just been going about their lives, running a small business. Lucy had come to them, not the other way around. The owner hadn’t even cheated her. Archer’s lines had shifted, his justifications no longer explicable or excusable.
“Your boy’s a loose cannon,” Santiago rumbled in an unknowing echo of Elena’s thoughts. “He’s so angry he’ll find reasons to keep killing.”
“Yes.” Drawing in a deep breath, Elena ignored the noxious scents that wanted to slide into her nostrils and focused on the iron richness of blood.
Sugared doughnuts and cold winter rain.
Vampires could have peculiar scents to her hunter-born nose, but this took the cake—or the doughnut, she thought with black humor. Returning to the body of the shopkeeper, she knelt, closed her eyes, then inhaled the scent directly from the gaping wound at the dead vampire’s throat. His head was only attached to his body by a flap of skin at his nape.
Yes, he was the sugar and the doughnuts and the icy stab of rain against the skin.
Opening her eyes, she took in the violence around them. The sprays and smears of blood on the walls and on the floor. The footprints in blood that led to the back door. Archer hadn’t run this time. No, his stride had been confident but unhurried.
Child of mortals. The broken blade is close. Your destiny nears.
Heart jerking at the distress in the old voice, Elena stared directly into the eyes of an owl as she said, “I can track him.” Ashwini was a gifted tracker, but she couldn’t pursue by scent; what she did took time and patience. They needed to move fast, follow the scent before it dissipated—and once and for all eliminate the threat to Beth and Maggie.
Archer was smart, had probably already thrown his bloody clothing in the trash. But given the recent nature of the kill, he was unlikely to have had enough time to shower. And it was hard to strip away every tiny speck of blood. Droplets got in hair, or in the inside shell of the ear, and his weapon would need careful cleaning to remove all traces.
No hunter would abandon a perfectly good weapon.
She began to move, the sword she’d grabbed from her and Raphael’s Tower suite heavy in the sheath she wore down the center of her spine. She also had her crossbow as well as spare crossbow bolts in a flat sheath strapped to her thigh—plus a smaller number of bolts in a combined bolt-and-knife sheath worn on her left forearm. Those weren’t her only weapons; going up against a Slayer would require everything she had.
Santiago and Janvier stayed with the body, while Ashwini ran with her, keeping watch and acting as her backup. The owls danced right in front of her face, their wings buffeting her, but she put her head down and kept running.
It was time to finish this.
“Scent’s strong!” she called back to Ash.
Archer had more blood on him than she’d thought. He couldn’t, however, be visibly bloody, or he’d have left a trail of horrified people behind him, at least one of whom would’ve called the cops.
No one had until she’d told Santiago of the find, so he was either wearing dark clothing that had absorbed the blood and he’d wiped his face clean, or he’d taken off his coat before the massacre, putting it back on afterward to hide the evidence of his crime. When her boot came down on something disgustingly squishy, she ignored it to carry on.
Her next step crunched a syringe.
The owls flew ahead of and around her . . . and her wings began to drag through the crap that littered the streets of the Quarter. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t pull them back up. Tears clogged her throat. Her muscles were too weak. She wouldn’t be soaring aloft on her own wings again.
“I know!” She didn’t halt, even as feathers tore off her beautiful, powerful wings that were useless appendages now.
Vampires scuttled into hollows, and humans watched from the same. Many were junkies and homeless people, but she caught sight of the odd better-dressed individual stumbling home after a big night out at the clubs. That it was the middle of the day didn’t matter—in the clubs, anytime was nighttime.
A homeless woman standing by the side of an alley grinned to reveal a toothless mouth, and pointed silently to the left.
Archer’s scent was pungent in her nose.
Another homeless person screamed indignantly when she slammed by his hiding place. “Thief! Thief!” A piece of newspaper flew up in a small wind to flutter against the edge of her boot before it tore off to fly down the alley.
The wind was crisp and rising.
She didn’t have to look up to know the clouds were moving in. It was obvious from the turgid gray light. Elena could track through snow, but depending on how much it snowed, it might become more difficult. And rain—rain was the worst. If Archer got a real drenching, she’d lose the trail. He wasn’t a vampire himself, wouldn’t regenerate the scent.