Home > Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(6)

Archangel's Storm (Guild Hunter #5)(6)
Author: Nalini Singh

Raphael’s response, too, was unruffled, the flawless blue of his eyes calm as a glacial lake. “Jason’s skill is beyond dispute.”

“He is also your spymaster.” Raising a bloody hand, she stared at it, her voice altering without warning to a shaken whisper. “Eris bled so much—I did not know he had that much in him.”

“I sorrow for you, Neha. He was your husband and your consort.” It was a solemn statement, one archangel to another.

“Yes.” The madness returned, swirling and clawing. “He was also father to the child you helped murder,” she hissed, her eyes changing in a way that was too quick for Jason to truly see before they returned to normal, but that put him in mind of her serpents once more.

Raphael didn’t back down under the venomous attack, didn’t remind Neha that Anoushka had signed her death warrant when she harmed a child in the quest for power. “You wish to do violence, that much is clear,” he said, “but rather than lashing out indiscriminately, would it not be more satisfying to torture the one responsible?”

Neha turned away from the camera to pick up what appeared to be a juvenile python, settle it around her neck. Stroking the creature like it was a cat, she seated herself in a chair of a pale wood carved with infinite patience, polished and varnished until it gleamed like a jewel. “You think me mad,” she said as the snake raised its head, tasted the air with its tongue.

“I think you are grieving. And I think this was a cowardly act.”

A lazy blink, fingers pausing on the python’s sleek body. “Do you?”

“Eris was not powerful. Beautiful in a way men are rarely beautiful but with little personal strength. This was done to hurt and spite you.”

“My poor Eris.” Another lingering caress. “You are right. I cannot trust anyone within the fort until I know the identity of the assassin . . . but if your spymaster is to enter it, he must bind himself to me.”

“That,” Raphael said with a gentleness that took the sting out of the refusal, “I cannot allow, not even for you. He is one of my Seven.”

“Would you protect him at the cost of thousands of lives?” Ice-cold and rational and manipulative, she was the Archangel of India in that moment.

“Loyalty is not so easily discarded a coat.”

For some reason, that made Neha’s lips curve in what seemed a near-genuine smile. “So attached to your men. Never have I been able to fault your fidelity.” Her smile changed, became inscrutable. “Very well then, it must be Mahiya.”

This time, it was Raphael who paused.

Eris’s child with Nivriti, Jason reminded the archangel, for it wasn’t a topic they’d had much cause to discuss. She is now just over three hundred years old.

“You think to compare so young an angel to Jason?” Raphael said.

“No, indeed. Mahiya is a court trinket, nothing more.” The archangel allowed the python to flick out its tongue at her bloody fingers. “But as I’m sure the pup has informed you, her lineage is of my family. A blood vow to her will suffice.”

Raphael held Neha’s gaze. “I will speak to him.”

Neha inclined her head in regal acquiescence before ending the call.

Turning to Jason, his wings folded neatly to his back, Raphael said, “She’s stable for the time being, but it’s a temporary reprieve. The more she stews on the murder, the more dangerous she’ll become.”

“I’m willing to take the blood vow.” It was an ancient custom, one rarely practiced by even the oldest of angelkind—in swearing a blood vow to Mahiya, Jason would become family in a sense and thus bound to protect that family’s interests. The reason the custom had fallen out of favor was that it skated too close to crossing the line into forced intimacy—for in the distant past, the blood vow had been used to seal the most private of relationships.

However, like all angelic laws and customs, the blood vow was a creation far more subtle than it appeared at first glance. While the ceremonial tie would stop no one with treacherous intentions, in making the invitation, Neha acknowledged the honor of Raphael and his Seven. If Jason then used his entrée into her court to seek and exploit any flaws in her defenses, it would be considered a declaration of war. And once the knowledge of his faithlessness spread, Jason would lose every bit of respect he had earned from the most powerful immortals.

That was no small thing, especially for a spymaster. Much of his information came to him via those immortals. Worse, his people would be in far more danger—though they were the best, it was inevitable that some were unearthed during the course of their duties. Where once they might’ve been forgiven on the strength of the older angels’ respect for Jason, they would now be executed as a sign of those very angels’ displeasure at the breach of the blood vow.

Raphael’s wings rustled as he resettled them, the only sign of his surprise at Jason’s agreement with the archaic custom. “You do not need to,” the archangel said. “The Cadre may be able to control her now that I have time enough to warn the others. And a blood vow places you at risk—should Neha judge that you have broken it, she can ask for an execution.” He shook his head. “You know she agreed too readily to your presence in her territory. She wants you in her power, plans to use you in vengeance against me.”

“Yes.” Jason had seen the calculation in Neha’s gaze, knew the Archangel of India understood what Raphael’s Seven meant to him—if Neha could not reach Elena, could not harm Raphael’s heart, she was fully capable of going after the next best thing. “But,” he added, “while Neha may be driven by the need for retribution, she’s also a creature of pride. For her to break the promise of safe passage implied by the blood vow stains her own honor—and notwithstanding what she says, that honor matters to her.” It was all she had left.

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