Archangel's StormBy: Nalini Singh
Jason didn’t know how long he’d been hiding in the dark place in the ground where his mother had put him, telling him to “hush.” He’d waited so long, hadn’t even crawled out when his stomach hurt with hunger, but she hadn’t returned as she’d promised, and his wings were cramped and hurting from the small space, his face wet with tears.
She knew he hated the dark. Why had she put him in the dark?
The sticky dampness that had dripped through the floorboards above, it covered him, the taste of it thick and ripe in the air. The smell made him nauseous, and he knew he couldn’t stay here any longer, even if his mother was disappointed by his disobedience. Stretching his stiff limbs as far as he was able in the confined space, his wings still crumpled, he pushed up on the trapdoor, but it wouldn’t budge.
He didn’t cry out, had learned to never ever cry out.
“You mustn’t make a sound, Jason. Promise me.”
Digging his feet into the earth, he pushed and pushed and pushed until a tiny crack of smudgy light appeared at the edge of the door, the handwoven mat above thin enough not to blot out the sunshine. Whatever was blocking the trapdoor was heavy, but he was able to wedge his fingers under the lip of the door, touch the mat he’d helped his mother weave after they’d collected the leaves from the flax bushes. It felt rough against his knuckles as he pushed his hand through to the wrist, and the trapdoor hurt when it came down on that wrist, but he knew his bones wouldn’t break—his mother had told him he was a strong immortal, that he’d already grown deeper into his power than she had by the time of her hundredth birthday.
“So strong, my baby boy. The best of both of us.”
He didn’t know how long it took to wedge his other hand under the lip of the trapdoor, to twist his body around in the hole, the skin rubbing off his wrists, until he was holding the edge and pushing it up. He just knew he didn’t stop until he shoved hard enough to slide off the blockage, the mat sliding away with it. The door came open with a dull thud, as if it had landed on something soft. Chest heaving and arms sore, he had to wait to attempt to climb out, and even then, his hands slipped, slick with the blood from his torn-up wrists.
Rubbing them on his pants, he gripped the edge again . . . and sunlight from the sky-window hit his hands.
He froze, remembering the dark and viscous liquid that had dripped onto him while he was trapped in the hole. Crusted and dried and flaky, it had turned into a kind of rust on his skin. Just rust, he tried to think, just rust, but he could no longer fool himself as he had in the dark. It was blood that covered his hands, his hair, his face, stiffened the black of his wings. It was blood that had seeped through the mat and the wooden slats below, to the special hidey-hole his mother had made for him. It was blood that clogged his nostrils with iron as he gasped in ragged breaths.
It was blood that had spilled like water after the screams went quiet.
“No matter what you hear, you mustn’t make a sound. Promise me, Jason. Promise!”
Trembling, he forced himself to stop looking at the rust that wasn’t rust, and pulled himself out of the hole, closing the trapdoor with careful hands—and averted eyes—so it wouldn’t make a noise. And then he stood staring at the wall. He didn’t want to turn and see what lay on the other side, what he’d pushed off the top of the trapdoor. But the wall was splattered with the rust that wasn’t rust, too. Tiny bits of it had begun to flake off, baked by the hot sun pouring in through the sky-window.
Stomach all twisted and his heart a lump, he looked away from the wall and to the floor, but it was streaked with pale brown, his feet having made small prints on the polished wood. The dirt inside the hole hadn’t been wet. Not until after.
After the screams went quiet.
He closed his eyes, but he could still smell the rust that wasn’t rust.
And he knew he had to turn around.
Had to see.
Standing on velvet green grass still sparkling with dew, Jason watched Dmitri cup the face of the hunter he had just made his wife, the dawn sunlight kissing her skin, lighting up eyes that saw only the man in front of her.
The grounds of the archangel Raphael’s home, Jason thought, the Hudson rushing past beyond the cliffs and a mass of fragrant roses in full bloom climbing the walls of the house itself, had seen centuries pass, but a scene such as this, they had never witnessed and perhaps never would again. A scene in which one of the most powerful vampires in the world took a Guild hunter for his bride.
That Honor loved Dmitri was in no doubt. It didn’t take a spymaster to read the incandescent joy in her every breath, her skin radiant with it. What startled Jason was the potent emotion he saw in the eyes of a vampire who had been a pitiless blade for all the centuries Jason had known him.
Cruelty came easily to Dmitri, maybe too easily in recent times. The vampire was near to a thousand years old and jaded with it, blood and death no longer enough to cause him to break his stride, much less shock. Jason had seen Dmitri wield his scimitar on the field of battle to take off invaders’ heads, glory in the spray of their dying blood, and he had seen Dmitri seduce women with sensual elegance and a cold heart simply to amuse himself.