The Archangel of Death and the Archangel of Disease may be gone but their legacy of evil lives on—especially in Africa, where the shambling, rotting creatures called the reborn have gained a glimmer of vicious intelligence.
It is up to Titus, archangel of this vast continent, to stop the reborn from spreading across the world. Titus can’t do it alone, but of the surviving powerful angels and archangels, large numbers are wounded, while the rest are fighting a surge of murderous vampires.
There is no one left . . . but the Hummingbird. Old, powerful, her mind long a broken kaleidoscope. Now, she must stand at Titus’s side against a tide of death upon a discovery more chilling than any other. For the Archangel of Disease has left them one last terrible gift . . . .
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So long ago it is a lost memory . . .
Angels aren't meant to die.
The words echoed over and over in Sharine's mind as she stood at the burial site of her beloved Raan. She hadn't known what he would've wanted because no one in angelkind prepared for death, and so she'd chosen his resting place according to all that she'd learned of him in their five decades together.
Such a short time.
She'd thought that he, older and wiser and gentle, would be by her side for an eternity. Her mentor in the art that was liquid flame in her blood had become her lover with an ease that seemed written in the stars, both of them more than content with their life together. She and Raan, they'd spent hours in the sunlight, alone with their canvases and their thoughts and their paints, yet together at the same time.
Angels aren't meant to die.
Her fingers trembled, chilled and bloodless, as she brushed them over the small sculpture Raan had loved so much that he'd never parted with it; the favored piece now marked the location on this windswept part of the Refuge mountains where her Raan lay in eternal rest.
At first, when she'd woken next to him on that morning that still seemed a nightmare mirage, she'd thought that he had decided to go into Sleep, that deep rest of immortals who no longer wished to be part of the world. It was a thing done with intent, and her first response had been a razor-sharp stab of hurt.
She'd asked him so many times never to do that. She'd worried that because he was so much older than her, he'd want to Sleep and she'd want to stay awake and he would just leave her. But Raan had laughed his warm, calming laugh, and told her not to worry.
"Little bird," he'd said, "why would I Sleep now when I've finally found you?"
So she'd been hurt and angry at the apparent broken promise. Then she'd touched his hand because even angry with him, she still loved him. His hand, gifted and strong, had been ice cold.
Her breath broken stalactites in her lungs, her blood crushed frost.
No angel in Sleep was ever that cold. Sharine knew that firsthand-she'd been a half-grown fledgling of eighty-five when she'd sat sentry at her parents' sides as they chose to slip into Sleep. She'd watched the rise and fall of their chests to the final point of stasis, hoping they would change their minds and not leave her all alone, but they hadn't.
"You'll be fine, Sharine." Her mother's voice firm but her eyes tired. "You are an adult now."
"We'll see you when we next wake," her father had added with a pat of her hand, but she could tell he was already gone, thinking of the rest he'd craved for endless years.
But long after they'd sunk deep into Sleep, they had been warm. Fifty years later, when she'd gone to their secret underground shelter to ensure no one had disturbed their rest, they'd still been warm. So she'd known that angels in Sleep didn't go cold, didn't have blood chill and blue.
She hadn't needed the healers' shocked gasps to confirm the truth.
Her kind and talented lover was gone.
Dead in the night, as he lay beside Sharine.
A thing so rare among angelkind that none of the healers in attendance had ever experienced the like. They'd had to consult dusty tomes, talk to older angels and archangels, until at last they found someone who remembered another case two millennia ago. Angels were immortal . . . but sometimes, the incidents so infrequent that they were forgotten between one lifetime and the next, an angel simply . . . stopped.
As if a long clock had finally run out.
The healers had told her all that and still she didn't comprehend the way of it. Raan had been old, but nowhere close to the oldest of them. Many angels double or even triple his age walked the earth. But it was Raan who had stopped. Stopped as he lay in bed next to her, his life slipping away while she slept unconcerned at his side.
Had he choked for breath? Had he looked to her for help?
The questions tortured her as snow dusted her cheeks, stung her skin. She watched it settle gently over the sculpture. And she wondered if, in the centuries to come, he would be remembered by anyone but her. He had been a great sculptor and painter, but a reclusive one, not a man to have many friends. So perhaps it was his art that would be remembered and she thought he would've liked for that to be his legacy.
A sob rocking through her, she fell to her knees on the stony ground. "Angels aren't meant to die," she whispered, but there was no one to hear her.
The wind ripped the words straight from her mouth and smashed them against the mountaintop. Her wings-wings Raan had called a gift of indigo light-spread out on the snow and the stone, grew cold and numb, and her knees froze into position, but still she didn't rise. Part of her kept on hoping that he would wake and tell her it had all been a terrible mistake.
She was only one hundred and sixty years old and the love of her life lay cold and dead. At that instant, the winds howling around her, she couldn't imagine a more terrible pain.
Alone in the falling snow, she mourned.
Angels aren't meant to die.
Three thousand five hundred years ago . . .
Sire, I have borne a son, strong and with such a voice to him that he keeps the entire Refuge awake! He will not flinch from anyone, this child of mine.
My eldest says that he has my eyes and my temper. The twins already believe he will follow their warrior ways, while Euphenia is the only one who can get him to sleep when he is determined to stay awake and roar out his battle cry.
His father is in astonishment at having helped create such a child. I tell him it will pass, and he will be a good father. He has a patience I lack-but this boy of mine will not be afeared of even his mother, this I know.
I will name him Titus.
-Letter from First General Avelina to
One month ago . . .
He couldn't remember his name.
His lungs fought to suck in air, his vision blurred . . . and his wings lay heavy and useless on his back. Still he crawled forward, dragging himself out of hell and toward the sunlight.
His eyes fell on the back of his hand, on his formerly ice white skin. Skin he'd pampered and protected and examined with care in the mirror each day. Skin that had highlighted the intense topaz shade of his eyes. Skin that was now mottled with green.
He had to get out.
He had to find a healer.
But he was so weak. How would he . . .
Snatching out a skeletal hand with reptilian speed, he gripped the small creature that had scuttled across his path, had his teeth sunk into its small furred body before his conscious mind could process the decision. The creature's furless tail whipped in panic, but it had little blood and died soon.
Throwing the creature aside, he wiped the back of his hand over his mouth . . . and felt a spurt of energy. So, was he a vampire now? No, that couldn't be. Vampire-angel hybrids existed only in tales spun by mortals. Immortals understood the fundamental truth that vampires and angels weren't biologically compatible . . . but that he'd gained energy from the creature's blood was indisputable.
His head jerked toward the small corpse.
Again, he snatched it up without thought. This time when he bit in, it was to eat the raw flesh, spitting out only the bristled fur. A tiny part of his mind, a mind that had once been of an urbane courtier in an archangel's court, screamed and gibbered, but it was a distant, faded sound. It couldn't stand against the rush of energy hitting his bloodstream.
Now he knew how to fly again.
How to stop the crawl of green beneath his skin, foul and debilitating.
How to clear his mind so he could think.
As for the coughs wracking his frame and the green-black sputum he couldn't stop from spitting out, it would all heal. He just needed enough fuel. Enough flesh plump and red and dripping with life.
Hawking out the chewy, indigestible tail on another cough, he crawled on, his clawed nails creating furrows on the tile and the flesh sloughing off his legs to leave a liquid trail. Caught within that sludge were feathers lovely and unique, a deep brown threaded with filaments of topaz.
Sharine stood on the railingless and flat roof of her new home in the sands of Morocco, and looked out at the buildings gilded by the rays of the setting sun. The light had an almost molten quality, a perfect kind of richness to it that appeared only at sunset. As if the star itself had been melted and was being poured over the landscape by a benevolent painter.
The vampires and mortals who walked in the streets below were busy with their business, setting up for the evening market, or heading home after a day's work, but every now and then, one of the townspeople would think to look up and they would see her. It was a thing of pride for her that the children would smile and raise a hand in excited greeting. The older ones would bow with respect.
These same people had scuttled afraid and wary when she'd first come to this place. Damaged by the oversight of an angel who'd cared more for power and cruelty than the valued responsibility he'd been given-to look after angelkind's most precious treasures. Yet Lumia, the repository of angelic art and treasures, would be a cold and lonely place without the thriving life of this adjacent settlement. To Sharine, that made the town and its people treasures as rare and beautiful as those protected in the walls of Lumia.
Spreading out her wings, she held the luxuriant stretch for a full minute before pulling them slowly back into alignment against her spine. She took care to ensure precision muscle control. It was a strengthening exercise she'd long ignored, the discipline lost in the fractured kaleidoscope that had been her self.
Large parts of the last half millennium-give or take a few decades-were shattered and confused images in the landscape of her mind, viewed through a filter that was broken and cracked. She would never get back those years. She would never get back the time during which her mischievous, laughing son had grown into a courageous and powerful man.
The hot flame of anger in her gut flared anew, searing her blood.
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.