Archangel's Shadows(10)

By: Nalini Singh

Raphael’s hand had closed over his forearm, his over the archangel’s. “I hope to hear the same words a thousand years hence.”

“You will.” Both Dmitri and Raphael had come close to losing themselves to the insidious cold of eternity, but that was no longer a threat.

Today, it was Illium who concerned Dmitri. The majority of people, mortal and immortal, saw charm and a vivid zest for life when they looked at the blue-winged angel. Dmitri saw increasing power and an increasing darkness. All that held the darkness at bay was Illium’s tight-knit connection to Elena and Raphael, and to the Seven. But there would come a time when Illium became too much a power to remain in the city.

Then who would keep him . . . human?

“How long does the Umber high last?” Dmitri asked, making a mental note to speak to Raphael about Illium’s slow and near-imperceptible descent into the icy abyss that had nearly consumed the two of them. Unlike the others in the Seven, Illium couldn’t be seconded back to the Refuge to assist Galen and Venom; the distance from Elena and Aodhan, in particular, would indisputably hasten the ravages of the kind of power at Illium’s command.

“Longer than the high from a honey feed,” the blue-winged angel said in response to his question.

Dmitri frowned. A vampire’s metabolism differed from a mortal’s, meaning normal drugs, no matter how hard, metabolized too quickly to be worth the cost or the bother. A honey feed—drawing blood directly from the vein of a drug-addicted mortal who’d just shot up, snorted, or otherwise ingested their poison of choice, provided a trip that could last for up to ten minutes.

“How much better?”

“An hour per half gram of Umber.”

Dmitri went motionless. “An hour.” No other known drug on the planet had such an intense effect on the vampire population. “Unsurprising, then, that it’s become so coveted so quickly.”

“Trace has been able to pinpoint ten users so far, all gilded lilies.”

Dmitri knew the type: pretty but useless. Older, wealthy vampires who existed only to discover new indulgences, new sins. Anything to break the ennui. Dmitri had once, during the worst of his pain, joined them—only to discover he couldn’t spend his days doing nothing. It was a vapid, empty existence, and even as self-destructive as he’d been, he couldn’t sink into it. “They’re probably the only ones who can afford the drug.”

“It’s not all good times.” Illium shoved his hair back with an impatient hand. “During the high, a percentage of the junkies are hit by the urge to feed voraciously. At least one of the lilies is currently going through a vicious detox because he refuses to touch the stuff again.”

Dmitri raised an eyebrow. “Not much worries them in their pursuit of sensation.” Numb inside from centuries of indulging their every whim, the lilies’ need to grasp at the new, the bright, held a pitiable desperation.

“This lily is part of a long-term pair,” Illium told him. “He fed on his partner during the high and he wasn’t gentle—her neck was raw meat by the end, her spinal cord exposed. A few more minutes and he might’ve severed that, killed her.”

Dmitri understood the depth of the male’s horror. Such deeply loyal connections were rare among immortals, much less in the world of the lilies, and to be protected. Dmitri would end himself before laying a finger on Honor in violence. “Drop this downstairs,” he said, tapping the vial. “Have it tested for everything.”

Illium took the vial.

“Tell Trace he can report directly to me,” Dmitri added. “I want you focusing on the men and women the healers have discharged.” A significant percentage of the Tower’s forces remained down, but enough injured fighters were now walking under their own steam that he needed Illium to take charge of their physical training. It would take skillful work to get them back to full strength in a short time frame.

“Talk to Galen, come up with a workable regimen.” The weapons-master couldn’t leave the Refuge, especially after the recent tensions there, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t available to the rest of the Seven. “He’s already sent through his first set of orders, has people moving.”

Illium bowed deeply, adding an elegant flourish with one hand. “Yes, O Dark Overlord.”

Lips twitching, Dmitri hoped with every cell in his body that Illium would find his way through the crushing pressures of immortality and power, that he wouldn’t lose the joie de vivre that had been a part of him since he was a fledgling. Dmitri had once witnessed a tiny blue-winged baby angel fall hard to the earth after tangling his wings, his flight path prior to the fall that of a drunken bumblebee. Despite running full-tilt, Dmitri had been too far away to catch him.

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