Archangel's Sun Page 3

As an artist, the color was one of her greatest challenges and greatest joys.

He thrust a hand through his hair. “It’ll be a long journey for all of us before we can rest.”

Sharine felt the urge to mother him; she wasn’t certain that urge would ever pass. He’d been but a youth when Caliane walked the path of madness, and though Sharine was a fragile creature even then, the spiderweb cracks growing year by year, she’d been there. After finding his broken body on a field far from civilization, she’d covered him in the shade of her wings and she’d brushed his tangled hair back from his face, and she’d held him.

Such a determined youth he’d been, but so very wounded inside.

To see him now, strong and vibrant and loved fiercely by a woman who was everything Sharine could’ve ever wanted for him had she the imagination to consider that someone like Raphael’s consort could exist, it made her heart bloom, made her believe in happiness and in changing your destiny.

Caliane had never told her son, but at Raphael’s birth, some of the bitter old ones had whispered that this was a child bound for lunacy and decay, that his mother was an Ancient far too long in the tooth. So strange, that such a prejudice could exist in a race of immortals, but there were always those who looked for the darkness in everything.

Those same ones had whispered that Sharine was the harbinger of death.

Caliane’s boy had quieted them all. He was a shining embodiment of the best of them, a critical reason why the world wasn’t today drowning in blood and death. Not the only reason, however. “Where is Elena?” Her fingers curled into her palm at the memory of the knives she’d held under Elena’s tutelage.

“In the park with her best friend, Sara, and Sara’s child,” Raphael said, his face lighting up in a way it never did for anyone else. “We decided that we could all do with an hour away from the grim task of getting the city to rights. It shatters the spirit, to see our home in ruins.”

Sharine could not imagine the devastation of seeing a cherished city broken and burned, but one thing she knew—Raphael’s city was a place with a brave heart. It would rise again, gleaming towers of metal and glass that touched the sky, its rivers clean of the debris and gore of battle, and the scorched land rejuvenated.

“What will you do with your hour, my boy?” she said, itching to push a wayward strand of hair away from his eye.

A sudden, dazzling smile. “I’m going flying with Illium. We plan to meet Jason as he flies home.”

“I’m surprised that you even know he is in the vicinity. Your spymaster is wont to slip in and out of cities like smoke.” She knew very well that Jason had been near Lumia in the months prior to the war, but she’d only discovered that after the fact.

The Cadre trusted her, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t under watch. A decision with which she had no argument. No one had watched the one before her, and evil had thrived. Simply because she had no intention of doing the same didn’t mean the next person to have this responsibility would be as trustworthy.

Raphael laughed, making her smile, it reminded her so of his gleeful childhood laughter as he all but bathed in paints. “I’m of the opinion that Jason allowed himself to be seen. He knows we worry about him when he is beyond our help—and so, sometimes, he throws us a bone.”

Shaking her head at these games of the young, Sharine said, “I’ve received your letter.”

Astonishing blue eyes holding her own, laughter yet lingering in them. But his words when they came were of an archangel. “What do you say to our request, Lady Sharine?”

“You’re certain that it’s me you want for this task? I am far from a warrior.”

Expression wry, Raphael said, “Titus requires certain handling.” A tug of his lips. “He’s a warrior and an archangel I respect beyond many others, but he does like to get his own way.”

Sharine interpreted that to mean certain immortals were threatening to quit the service of the Archangel of Africa. “Are you saying I’m to be the go-between?” She raised an eyebrow. “Archangel Titus has run a successful court these many years.”

Sharine had never had anything to do with him, their paths simply not crossing over the years. He was millennia younger than her, for one, and her life was art, while his was the path of a warrior. But those of Lumia’s forces who’d served under him spoke of the archangel in the highest terms.

“I’m afraid it’s gone beyond that,” Raphael admitted. “His people are blood loyal, but a number of warriors seconded to him from other territories have quit.” His jaw was granite now. “Those who don’t know Titus see his current short temper as an insult—and have not the sense to understand he needs every body we can muster.”

Oh, now she understood. Some of the old and powerful ones expected sweet ways and delicate words even in exigent circumstances. “I’m surprised that you believe I can deal with him.” Angelkind had long handled her with kid gloves. As you would a delicate and cracked vase.

“I mean no insult, Lady Sharine, but we have no other option.” Grim words. “I did a weeklong stint in Africa half a month past, and it’s from Titus’s territory that Jason even now returns. Venom is also on his way home from Africa.”

Venom, Sharine recalled, was the young but powerful vampire with the eyes of a viper. “You have upheld the bonds of friendship.”

“It was beyond that. It was a duty of the Cadre—Africa would’ve been overrun elsewise.” Hands on his hips, his wings held with rigid control. “Alexander crossed the border to assist at the same time. We believed three archangels working together might eliminate enough of the reborn that Titus and his people could then clean up the rest, but the situation is catastrophic.”

“I’ve had news the infection is spreading rapidly.” Lumia was isolated, but it wasn’t cut off from the external world. More so with the arrival of Trace—the vampire was extremely good at maintaining lines of information.

“Yes—and the strain in Africa appears to be stronger and more virulent than in the rest of the world. Charisemnon must’ve been collaborating with Lijuan to create a more noxious enemy. It’s a small mercy that strain remains confined to Africa, but it leaves Titus in an unenviable position.”

Flaring out his wings, he snapped them back in. “If I could, I’d relocate to Africa until we’d erased the danger, but my territory is badly damaged—far worse than we initially believed. And then there are the vampires who’ve given in to murderous bloodlust. I must stay home and I need my strongest people here. The other territories are in much the same position.”

None of which answered the question of why the Cadre believed Sharine could deal with the short-tempered archangel. There were many who’d say that she’d break under such pressure. Sharine knew she wouldn’t—she was too angry to break, fury a forge that was tempering her cracks into hardened scars.

Caliane had another theory. “I believe your time in what you call the kaleidoscope was a desperate attempt by your mind to give you the space to heal wounds that never quite healed the first time around. The ugly ones who taunted you in the aftermath of your parents’ deaths, they caused catastrophic damage inside you at a time when you were already a bleeding, wounded creature.”

Vivid blue eyes rampant with rage. “Aegaeon’s sudden reappearance merely sped up your return to reality—but not by much. You were already partway home; you couldn’t have run Lumia otherwise.”

Sharine was starting to believe Caliane was correct in this. She couldn’t have run Lumia had she remained in the fractured landscape of her mind—her memories alone bore that out. She could detail each and every day of the past year. A few blurred edges at the start, but nothing forgotten or lost.

None of that explained why she was being asked to join Titus. “I don’t have the powers of your Seven, far less the power to take on an archangel.”

Raphael looked at her in a careful way. “My mother once told me to look at Illium with care if I wanted to see the root of his power—I didn’t understand then, but now I ask myself from whom he inherited his fidelity, his hair, his heart . . . and his speed.”

A stirring in the back of her mind, the creaking of long-buried memories. “That is why Raan called me a hummingbird.” It was a murmur more to herself than to Raphael, aged memories sighing to wakefulness.

So fast you are, my little bird. Sunshine in your eyes, color streaked across your skin, light of feet—and the speed of a hummingbird. I could not ever catch you should you seek to fly away.

She had forgotten the genesis of her other name until this very instant, forgotten that it had been a loving caress from Raan. Forgotten that he’d done a painting of her in flight, her wings and body creating streaks of color in the sky just like the small, jeweled bird.

“Lady Sharine?” Raphael’s voice, interrupting her thoughts, reminding her again of the now, of the here—but without impatience.

The blue-eyed boy’s mother was an Ancient; he understood that memories took time to unfurl within the minds of the very old. Tangled skeins with knots and, in Sharine’s case, many a cut thread, that was the repository of immortal memory.

“I accept the task,” she said with a sense of taking a step into the future. “I will make ready to join Titus.”


Titus roared to the starless sky as he dispatched another ravenous monster born of those putrid boils on the history of the world, Lijuan and Charisemnon, turning his head at the last moment so that the fetid blood didn’t hit his face. He’d had more than enough of that—but he could do nothing about the repulsive smell of the blood.

The reborn down, he picked up his conversation with his troop trainer, Tanae. “The rest of the Cadre are sending me the Hummingbird!” It came out a disbelieving shout.

“So you have said. Four times.” Dark red strands of hair stuck to her cheeks by a combination of blood and sweat, Tanae dispatched another reborn, then wiped her blade on the already wet dark of her pants.

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