Home > Archangel's Prophecy (Guild Hunter #11)(8)

Archangel's Prophecy (Guild Hunter #11)(8)
Author: Nalini Singh

“She begins even now,” Montgomery assured her.

Mouth already full of a delicious cheesy thing, Elena mumbled her appreciation. Montgomery’s eyes were smiling when he withdrew, closing the door behind himself. Elena put her phone on speaker then dug in.

“Ellie, you there?” Sara’s voice.

“Uh-huh,” Elena got out past the bite she’d just taken.

“Zoe will stretch things out for another half hour,” Elena’s best friend said affectionately. “Extra bedtime stories, bathroom visit, a glass of water—our little scam artist’s got every trick in the book down pat.”

“That’s my girl.” Elena took a drink of the vitamin-infused water on the tray. “I actually called to say I won’t make it for coffee tonight.”

“I figured that after I heard about the sinkhole. Is it bad?”

“One fatality.” She’d made the notification personally on her way home, hurt wing or not. Imani’s sadness had been all the more affecting for being so contained.

“Foolish boy,” she’d said quietly as the two of them stood in the midst of the eerily blooming rose garden. “Now he will never have a chance to gain wisdom.” Her lovely, sad eyes had met Elena’s. “You are tired and yet you offer me the respect of words spoken from your own lips.” An incline of her head. “I will not forget, Consort.”

Behind her, the roses stirred in a cold wind, petals falling to the snow.

Drops of blood red against pristine white.

Elena had left unsettled, the roses as unnerving as the unearthly voice in her head. That voice hadn’t spoken again after telling her she was going to die, and she hoped it’d stay silent forever. No one sane heard predictions of her own death from inside her own skull.

Talking to Sara was exactly the antidote she needed. After bringing her friend up to speed on the sinkhole, she said, “I managed to tear a muscle in my wing.” The increasing pain was why she’d returned ahead of Raphael—there was no point being in the field if she became a liability. “Senior healer did some work on it, slathered my shoulder in ointment then grounded me for the night.”

“How did you injure it?” Sara demanded, her tone curt in that way it got when she was worried. “Shouldn’t you be beyond that?”

Scowling, Elena told her best friend the worst of it. “Nisia said she’d only seen this injury on baby angels—actual babies—who were trying to do tricks before their bones hardened enough.” Needless to say, being compared to angelic infants who flew like drunk bumblebees had been excellent for Elena’s ego. “She thinks I must’ve been ‘too enthusiastic’ with my vertical takeoff this morning.”

“So it’ll heal?”

Elena swallowed her current mouthful before replying. “Within the week, but good news is I’m allowed to fly again come morning.” To lose the sky after gaining the beauty of flight would be a nightmare. “No verticals, but glides and low-speed wing movements are fine.”

Sara chuckled. “Remember that time you tore your hamstring jumping off a building on your first hunt?”

“Jeez, Jameisha tore a strip off me.” The now-retired Guild medic had been ancient even then, but they’d all been petrified of her wrath. “What’s she up to these days?”

“According to her last message, whatever the hell she damn well feels like,” Sara said in an excellent approximation of Jameisha’s croaky chain-smoker’s voice. “You should go rest,” she added afterward. “We can talk later.”

“No, I could use the company.” Grounded as she was, she’d just be eating and waiting for Raphael to get home otherwise. “What did you want to talk about?”

Sara took a long time to speak. “Archer,” she said at last.

Elena’s muscles bunched. Putting down the savory muffin she’d picked up, she leaned forward with her forearms on her thighs. “I’m still having trouble getting my head around it.” Hunters lived dangerous lives, but for Archer to have gone out the way he had, it just seemed wrong. “I half expect to find a message from him in my e-mail even though I went to the funeral, even though I know he’ll never message me again.”

Quinton Archer had been the Guild’s Slayer, the hunter charged with tracking down and executing those of their own kind who’d turned murderous. Hunters were trained killers after all, and had the expertise to avoid or eliminate anyone who stood in their path.

It took a hunter to track a hunter. It took the Slayer.

Archer had been so good at remaining unseen by skilled hunters that they’d called him the phantom. He’d been the Guild’s Slayer since Deacon stepped down from the position, but Elena had only met him about two years ago—at a dinner at Sara’s. The two of them had stayed in touch since; Elena knew he’d only given himself permission to begin the friendship because she existed outside the Guild. He’d never be called upon to track and execute her.

“It was seven months ago today that he died,” Sara shared softly. “I think about what his final moments might’ve been like each night when I close my eyes.”

Elena’s fingers clenched on the phone. “Do you think . . . ?”

“I don’t know.” Her best friend’s voice held the weight of what it meant to be director. “Losing his wife one year then his daughter the next messed him up—especially after he’d managed to get her into rehab, but he was upbeat the last time I saw him, said he had plans for the future. And the police confirmed skid marks on the road. It was just an accident on a rainy night.”

Elena nodded; better to believe that than to think strong, dangerous Archer had suicided by crashing his car into a closed gas station one dark, desolate night. The resulting fireball had lit up the entire surrounding town. “You need to fill his position,” she said, realizing it wasn’t only Archer’s death that haunted Sara but what it meant.

“Deacon stepped in on an interim basis,” her friend said. “But he can’t keep on carrying the load. There’s a reason he stopped being Slayer when we got together.”

“Yes.” Deacon wasn’t the kind of man who was threatened by female power; he and Sara would’ve never lasted had that been the case. But Sara desperately needed Deacon to be her husband and lover, never her subordinate. With him, she could lay down the mantle of Guild director and just be Sara as he was Deacon.

Deacon had also forged a new career path for himself; he was now a weapons-maker whose work was coveted by mortals and immortals both—to ask him to abandon that work would be to ask a gifted artist to lay down his tools. “Who are you thinking of?”

“That’s just it, Ellie.” Sara sounded as if she was moving, pacing. “Who do I ask to take this on? It’s a lonely, heartbreaking role. You saw how Archer was. The Guild is family to the rest of us, but the Slayer has to live in the shadows outside it.”

Elena thought of how Archer had never accepted an invitation that included other mortal hunters, how he’d only ever had a drink with her when it was just her and Ashwini or Honor. All hunters now associated with the Tower and thus beyond the Slayer’s purview. “The new Slayer will have me, Ash, Honor, and of course you and Deacon.”

“I just . . . I worry about him, too.” Sara lowered her voice. “He left that life behind years ago, but he’s stepped back into the darkness for me.”

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