Archangel's Prophecy (Page 78)
“Nisia comes!” Raphael rose up on his wings to the second floor and their bedroom. “Bring her the instant she lands.”
A moment later, he lay his bleeding and badly wounded consort on the bed and he had a sudden panic. “I should’ve taken you to the human doctors.”
Bloody fingers brushed his cheek. “No. Look.”
Thick white filaments covered the back of her hand, and when he tore off her jacket and the top she wore underneath to reveal her brutal stomach injury, he found more of those delicate filaments crawling across her skin. He ripped them away in clumps, but they only regenerated. Like vines growing on her as soil.
“Cascade.” Her voice like air, Elena put a bloody hand on his. “Not human thing.”
Tearing his wrist open, Raphael went to drip his blood into her mouth. She didn’t stop him, though she made a face, his hunter fierce and wild and laughing and his eternity. Her eyes blazed golden and he thought it would work . . . right as golden streamers of energy poured out of her stomach wound to sink back into him.
Her eyes dimmed, became mortal gray again.
“NO!” It was a roar of sound. “Why is your body rejecting my energy?”
“I’m mortal.” Elena coughed up more blood.
It is time, child of flame. She must die for the other to live.
Raphael went to thrust Cassandra out of his mind—he was not Elena, who had no such ability. He was an archangel. But a fraction of sense shoved through the storm inside him. Who is the other? The one question Cassandra had not answered. Will Elena live if I destroy the other? Raphael didn’t care if the other was a being capable of ending Lijuan herself; weighed against Elena’s life, that unknown being had no value to him.
She is the other.
The words made no sense. “Cassandra says you are the other,” he said to his consort.
The thunder of feet, Nisia running into the room to jump onto the bed beside Elena.
Raphael kept his hand cupped around the side of Elena’s face as the healer attempted to seal the wound that had stained the bed a dark scarlet.
“I am the other,” Elena repeated on a bloody whisper.
It is a time of change.
Hope burst open in Raphael’s heart. Is this just a stage in her development? Like the creatures that form a chrysalis then emerge? That would explain the white filaments that were now spreading up her neck in fine tendrils, like living snowflakes. On her chest, the spot the Legion had called a mirror sat silent and dark beneath the thick covering of white.
Wrong, he thought, that was wrong. A mirror should not absorb all light, all energy.
Yes, said Cassandra’s voice at the same instant. But she will not wake. The other will wake.
Raphael found patience he’d never known he possessed. What will happen to my Elena?
Memories, thoughts, laughter, tears, these will not survive. The other will be new. A birth.
Horror clawed at him. “Elena, you must listen.” He kissed her and when she opened her heavy lids, he told her Cassandra’s words and saw the dawn of her own horror.
“I remember, hbeebti. I remember.”
I would rather die as Elena, than live as a shadow.
Words she’d said to him long ago, when he’d spoken about erasing her mind of certain memories.
Why? he asked Cassandra. Why does the Cascade kill Elena? She is my heartbeat and the reason I can fight Lijuan. Her mortality had helped create the wildfire that was the one weapon they knew worked against Lijuan.
Child of fire, child of love, you cannot carry enough of the wild, bright fire in your body to fight the nightmare that comes. A mirror is not enough this time. There must be a vessel.
His rage became ice. I do not wish to be Lijuan who feeds from others, and I don’t need anyone to turn my consort into an energy container. I need her.
End her now or let the newborn vessel rise. That is the only choice.
“Sire.” Nisia, always unflappable, was sobbing so hard she could barely speak. “I can’t make her body heal itself.” She raised bloody hands from Elena’s wound. “My power is rejected.”
“Go,” Raphael ordered. “My consort and I have a decision to make.”
Elena was barely clinging to consciousness, but she managed to meet his gaze. “Tell me.”
So he did.
A faint smile. “A glorified gas tank?”
“This is no time for jokes, Guild Hunter.” He went to cradle her into his arms, but her body was stiff with all the filaments blooming on her skin. A few thin tendrils crawled up her cheek. “We must find a third solution.”
Elena’s hand curled on the bed, a weak motion, her eyelids fluttering.
And Raphael’s mind went cold in the way that had infuriated his consort. But now, in the horror, it allowed him to think with crystalline clarity. “Elena, I can take your memories, all of you.” He’d never attempted such a wholesale gathering of memories, had only ever taken or erased discrete ones. “I’m awash in power. I can hold you inside me until your body returns.” That was all the “newborn” would be—no mind, no heart, no soul.
Never his Elena.
“Trust me, Elena-mine,” he begged. “I will not violate your mind. I will hold you safe deep inside me.”
“Trust . . .” A breath. “Always.”
But when he placed both hands around her head, those hands rippling with bolts of golden power, and tried to pull her into him, it failed. Over and over again. “NO.” His voice boomed with a power that was useless here.
“Not even an archangel,” Elena whispered as her lashes shut, “can carry two souls.”
“I have no intention of surrendering you to the Cascade.” He tore away the filaments blooming on her face, so he could see her. They bloomed again, and he tore them away again.
And again. And again.
Each time he did so, her face was thinner, her bones more prominent. Elena was being consumed. And all his power meant nothing. If the Cascade wished to turn him into a monster, it had chosen the perfect hell to break him. His skin burned with a glow that made Elena’s hair appear like fire when he tore away the filaments with relentless focus.
“Knhebek Raphael.” Her breath rattled.
She was dying in his arms, her wings stolen, their future erased.
Throwing back his head, Raphael roared out his pain and his rage. When he could see again, focus again, he saw the Primary crouched on the balcony railing outside. Hundreds of the Legion were landing around him. “Why does the Cascade care if I have the power to battle Lijuan?” The Cascade wasn’t a sentient being; it was a confluence of time and power that shaped immortals in strange, unexpected ways.
No answer from Cassandra.
But the Primary said, “It does not. It seeks only chaos. There is no chaos in one power.”
“I will not be alive without you,” he said to his warrior. “I will be another form of the dead. I will care nothing for good or evil.”
Elena’s breath was so shallow now it was almost nonexistent, but she forced her eyes open with a will he’d loved from the first. “Stay . . .”—she coughed, blood flecking his tunic—“a little mortal, won’t you, Archangel.”
“You are my mortality.” Cold and dark, Raphael’s mind cut through the shadows to see each and every essential truth. His power was being rejected because he was too immortal in nature and Elena was mortal again. Until the filaments swallowed her whole and the transition began, she would stay mortal.