Archangel's Sun Page 2

“Lady Sharine.”

She turned her head to meet Trace’s gaze. With his pretty eyes of midnight green and his moonlight skin, his languid voice that of a poet’s and his hair a silky black, the slender vampire reminded her of her son. Not the coloring, that was unique to each of them. But, like Trace, her playful boy had caused more than one heart palpitation in those susceptible to such charms in her court.

Many, many had proved susceptible.

“What is it you have for me, youngling?” she asked him with an affectionate smile.

Trace shook his head, his angular features creating shadows against his cheeks; no soft beauty was Trace’s, but beauty it was nonetheless. “I’ve told you, my lady,” he said, “I’m a fully mature man, not a boy.” Stern words, but his gaze held equal affection.

“And as I have said,” she replied, “when you are as old as dirt and the stars combined, everyone is a youngling.” Even Raphael, the archangel who’d once been an energetic little boy she’d taken to her studio so he could exhaust himself throwing paint at canvases, his little hands becoming tiny, sticky stamps—even he had accepted that he’d always be a child in her eyes.

She wondered what had become of his exuberant paintings; she was sure she must’ve stored them away in the Refuge, but those memories were hidden beyond the tangled mental pathways of the splintered madwoman she’d become after Aegaeon’s premeditated and inexplicable cruelty.

There was unkindness, and then there was what Aegaeon had done.

Sighing, Trace held out an envelope. Made of thick creamy paper and sealed with the wax stamp of the Cadre, it held a sense of the portentous, as if the news within had been imbued with the power of the archangels who ruled the world.

“A courier dropped this off a moment ago,” Trace said in a voice that had seduced many a maiden. “A vampire,” he elaborated, before she could ask why the courier hadn’t landed on the rooftop next to her.

Taking it, she said, “How did your rounds go?” Trace had come to her only a month past, sent by Raphael after several of her court had to return to their home bases—angels and vampires, junior and senior, they’d gone to help their people cope with the devastation caused by Lijuan’s attempt to become the ruler of the world.

The war had ended a month earlier, but no one had time to rest, to heal.

It wasn’t just the awful damage to cities and towns and villages, nor the shambling hordes of reborn. Over the past two weeks, a far larger than average number of vampires had begun to surrender to murderous bloodlust.

Trace had been clear in his judgment of those vampires. “No attempt to teach themselves discipline,” he’d said, his voice cold and without pity. “The blood hunger lives in all of us—it whispers and cajoles in the twilight hours, seeking to gorge—but I learned to strangle those whispers long ago.”

Many vampires had done nothing of the kind, and now with so many powerful angels wounded or dead, and the survivors distracted in the aftermath of war, the urge to feed was overwhelming their sense of reason or conscience. City streets threatened to run red with blood, the air wet iron.

Raphael’s territory was in no better position than any other when it came to the surge of murderous vampires—and it was far worse off if you took the destruction of war into account. New York had been pummeled in the cataclysmic battle of archangels, its sky-touching towers broken and battered. He couldn’t afford to lose any of his highly trained senior people, but still he’d sent Trace. Because Raphael was as much Sharine’s son as Illium.

“All is well,” Trace told her, suave as always in his tailored black shirt and black pants, his shoes polished and improbably free of sand or dust. “The foundations you put in place are good and strong.”

That was the biggest compliment he could’ve given her—and she knew that despite all his playful and sophisticated ways, he spoke the absolute truth. There was no flirtation in his eyes, no attempt to flatter. At this moment, Trace was a soldier giving a report to his liege.

When she inclined her head, he bowed and left.

Envelope in hand, she released a quiet breath as she looked out at the setting sun once more. Would she ever get used to this deference from those around her? Not that it was anything unexpected. She was, as she’d just made a point of telling Trace, old in the grand scheme of things, an Ancient in many ways. But inside . . .

No, that was foolishness. The girl she’d been was long gone, and the girl who’d once been Raan’s little bird, the woman called Sharine by her friends, had become the Hummingbird. At least she’d begun to reclaim her name, so that no one in her small and happy court called her anything but Lady Sharine.

Sliding a finger under the wax seal, she broke it. Inside the envelope was a letter from the Cadre. She frowned as she read words penned in a strong hand she recognized. Raphael had written this, but he’d not done so as the boy she’d once babysat, or the man she thought of with maternal love. No, he had written this as the Archangel of New York.

After reading to the very end, she dropped her hand to the side, letter and envelope held in one hand, and stared unseeing at the dazzling orange red of the sky. This, she hadn’t expected. But, as she thought it over under the sun’s dying light, it did make a desperate kind of sense.

So much of the world was in chaos after the combined horror of Lijuan and Charisemnon. Millions were dead, more than one archangel lost or in healing Sleep so deep that no one knew when or if they would return. Most of the rest of even angelkind didn’t know what had happened to Michaela and Astaad and the others, but Raphael had told Sharine anything she wished to know.

He understood that she’d never betray him.

All those years when she’d been lost in the twisted pathways of the kaleidoscope, it was Raphael who’d looked after her son—and the other boy who had always been a part of her life. Illium and Aodhan, twin flames of her heart. One, the blood son, the other a son of art. She’d taught him as Raan had once taught her.

Sadness bloomed in her heart at the reminder of that beloved face, those gifted hands, but it was a sadness faded to monochrome by eons . . . though she’d kept vigil over Raan’s grave since her mind shattered, her heart aching for the past in which she’d been safe and cherished and full of dreams.

The memories had given her a safe place in which to hide.

But Sharine was done with hiding, done with living in her mind. It was time to face the truth. And the first truth was that while she would mourn Raan till the day she died, she could no longer remember the piercing, beautiful pain that had been her youthful love for him. Had they grown older together, it would’ve been different . . . But there was no use living in what-ifs.

No use living anywhere but in the present.

She squared her jaw, angry again, this time at herself. Caliane, she knew, would be furious at the direction of her thoughts; her friend was firm in the belief that Sharine wasn’t to blame herself.

“Aegaeon knew exactly what he was doing,” Caliane had said soon after Aegaeon woke from his Sleep, her tone as unbending as her spine. “He knew what you’d been through, the scars those experiences left behind, and still he did something so insufferably cruel that I will never forgive him for it. He took your greatest nightmare and made it come to life.”

A grim darkness to her face, she’d shaken her head. “No, Sharine. Don’t ever blame yourself for the fractures that created in your psyche.”

But Sharine did. She blamed herself for not being strong enough. Blamed herself for her blinding grief after Raan . . . and for the mental screams that had echoed within her for years after she walked into her parents’ place of Sleep and found their bodies shriveled and dead, their blood dry in their veins. Gone while they Slept.

A bare four decades after strong, talented Raan.

Though angels weren’t meant to die except in battle.

Sharine alone, of all her kind, had buried three people who’d closed their eyes to rest . . . and never again woken. Lover, mother, father, all lay cold and long-decayed in their graves, their voices lost from the world.

It’s you, a small, vicious part of her had begun to whisper in the dead of night, when all else was quiet. Everyone you love dies. No one can stand you. No one wants to be alive in a world where you exist.

That ugly voice had taunted her and taunted her, until she’d lived in terror after falling for Aegaeon. That terror had grown by magnitudes on the birth of her son. She’d been like a glass bauble spiderwebbed with cracks no one could see. And in the end, she’d shattered, thought and reason splinters at her feet.

Yes, she blamed herself.

It was the greatest of gifts that after all that, her son loved her still.

Thinking of him, she glanced down at the letter again. He’d be proud of her if she did this, proud of her for having the strength and the courage. And so she would. She’d let him down for far too long. It was time Illium had reason to call her his mother with pride.

The last of the sun’s rays caressing her wings, she crossed the rooftop to enter the building. She then made her way to the well-appointed room shiny with technology she didn’t fully comprehend. However, she’d learned the usefulness of such things in the time since she’d stepped fully out of the kaleidoscope. Now she asked one of her loyal people to put through a call to Raphael.

She took that call in the privacy of the office suite that was her own. An aged white desk with curved legs, soft fabrics on her furnishings, fresh flowers, paintings on the walls, this was a far gentler room than the one that appeared on the wall screen in front of her.

Raphael’s office leaned more toward glass and steel, akin to his city. She could see none of Manhattan’s glittering lights in view around him, but what she did see were the shelves that held unique treasures—including a feather of purest blue that struck a pang of need in her heart.

“Lady Sharine.”

“You look tired, Raphael.” Lines of strain, knotted shoulder muscles, faint shadows under the striking blue of his eyes. So many times she’d painted that blue—first in an attempt to capture the eyes of the archangel who was her closest friend, then the eyes of Caliane’s son—always it took her an eternity to get the color just right. Crushed sapphires, molten cobalt, the mountain sky at noon, all this and more lived in Raphael’s and in Caliane’s eyes.

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