Archangel's Prophecy (Guild Hunter #11)

By: Nalini Singh


“Yeah?”

“Seismic report came from a sensor located near those cabins.”

“Of course it did,” Elena muttered even as her skin tingled as if a current were arcing through her cells. “I’m about to land. Call you after I have something.”

It took her two tries to zip up her phone in her pocket again, the sensation of electricity was so distracting and disorienting on her fingertips. Her cheeks felt burned with ice, the tips of her ears red-hot.

“Normal thoughts,” she ordered herself. “Normal thoughts.”

When the starlings surrounded her as she looked for the best spot to land, she ignored them . . . even when she could swear the birds were whispering to her. She couldn’t hear the words, the shape of them just out of hearing range, but the tone was a warning.

The birds flew up higher now and then to dance in intricate patterns that kept her airbound as she looked on in fascination, but they never went far from her side. A strange, murmuring escort.

That winged escort stayed in the sky when she did finally land—in the large area in front of the hotel that was probably full of wild grasses and flowers in summer; today, it was a sheet of white barely marked by life. A single draw of the bitingly cold air and vampiric scents touched her nose, each line clean and unentangled with others.

There, a brush of aspen and the juicy extravagance of ripe peaches.

Strong. Rich. Not just a residue. Damian Hale was here.

Taking another breath while trying not to notice the electric prickling on her face, Elena triangulated the source of the scent to a particular cabin. She’d just stepped foot in that direction when the electricity vanished. The birds stopped singing. The air froze.

And the earth trembled under her feet.

She came to a halt. An unknown sound made her look up. The starlings were circling in a constant wheel as they whispered their frantic and incomprehensible warning inside her skull.

The earth jolted violently.

Bunching her wings and gritting her teeth against the renewed pulse of pain, she rose up off the shaking ground. Cabin doors flew open below her, people spilling out like disoriented ants to run in the direction of the lawn.

The ground under the cabins began to crumble.

Elena swept down to grab a young woman who was a frightening half step ahead of the disappearing earth. Elena wasn’t strong enough to carry a full-grown adult any real distance, but she managed to haul the woman to where the other guests could grab her, then yelled at everyone to go farther.

A scream split the air.

Elena twisted back . . . to see Damian Hale, his arms and legs flailing, disappear into nothingness. The ground had opened up under his feet in a rushing crash of dirt and rock. She flew toward him as fast as she could, but it was a futile effort.

Even as she reached the spot where he’d disappeared into the stygian maw of the earth, the sprawling and chillingly deep hole began to fill with a golden-red flow of magma. There was no sign of Damian, no sign of any of the cabins. Not even a smear of flesh or a splinter of wood.

The ground stopped shaking.

The earth stopped crumbling.

The birds danced.

Below Elena glowed a wound in the earth that pulsed with scalding heat.

The drinker of blood was meant to die. That was his destiny. To be the first mark in time.

Elena rubbed her hands over her upper arms as the words appeared full-fledged in her mind. As if she’d thought them up. Except she hadn’t. That had been someone else’s thought, and it had been inside her head.

She raised her eyes to the whispering starlings, wondering if they were the source of the words. But the small birds began to disperse under her gaze, moving to sit in the trees or to land around the lava sinkhole. A few flew close to the heat in movements that felt like a dance, only to sweep back up just when she worried they’d fly too close and be burned.

All at once, there were no more starlings in the sunlit winter sky. Only screaming, sobbing people on the snow-heavy ground safely distant from a lava pit that shouldn’t exist . . . and Elena’s left wing was beginning to drag. It was only when sweat dripped down her temple that she realized she was hovering directly above the lava. Far too close to the core.

She looked down at the viscous cauldron of it . . . and an invisible hand pushed her with murderous force.





4


Elena’s instincts screamed.

Her first and most overwhelming reaction was to fight—then she realized her wing was dragging even more heavily, and the unknown force was pushing her out of the danger zone. After landing safely not far from the sobbing or preternaturally silent clumps of survivors, she turned to walk to the very edge of the tear in the fabric of the earth.

Thick liquid moved ponderously below, the color a glowing orange-red. Despite the movement, it seemed quiescent now, the land on which Elena stood stable. The heat that emanated from the sinkhole to hit her face, however, was a scorching burn that made it clear nothing and no one would survive contact with the molten magma.

Liquid bones, skin turned into crackling, burst eyeballs . . . Damian Hale hadn’t deserved such a fate for the crime of arrogance and conceit. “Rest in peace, Damian,” she murmured as she crouched down to examine the edges of the sinkhole, deeply conscious that Imani would mourn his loss. As Raphael had said, the angel might be a stuffy old stick, but she wasn’t unkind.